A heart-healthy diet is likely to bring to mind images of food that’s boiled and bland. On the contrary, a heart-healthy diet is one that is interesting, flavourful, and colourful as it should include an abundance of deep-coloured veggies and fruits, coarse grains like millets, legumes of all kinds (soy, nuts, and seeds), low-fat dairy, along with some portions of fish or poultry.
Among all the foods required to keep the heart healthy, the ones that are eaten in far less quantity than recommended are vegetables and fruit.
This is a matter of concern that has been highlighted in various reports like “What India Eats” by ICMR-NIN, 2020. A heart-friendly diet must include at least five servings per day of this food group.
Other than eating diverse ingredients, the cooking process also plays a role in terms of the taste, texture, colour, digestibility, absorption, and nutritive value of the dish.
“Preferred cooking methods such as stewing (cooking in a covered pan using a small quantity of liquid that is simmering) and steaming (surrounding the food with steam produced by boiling water) score well. Among the methods of frying – stir-frying or sauteing (tossing food in a small amount of fat in a frying pan) is acceptable and healthy,” says Neelanjana Singh, a dietitian and wellness consultant.
“Even though each of the cooking methods has its set of advantages and limitations, it’s useful to remember these overarching guidelines for ideal heart health,” Neelanjana tells IANSlife:
. Short cooking time: Overcooking should always be avoided, no matter what the cooking method. Overcooking destroys the nutrients as well as colours and textures of the food. Methods that employ shorter cooking time is preferred – pressure cooking and microwaving are prime examples.
. Minimal use of water: When cooking in water, use as little as needed. This will minimise the leaching out of water-soluble nutrients. Try to use the leftover water in a sauce or gravy. Also, avoid adding baking soda to veggies when cooking. They may retain the colour but the Vitamin C content drops.
. Avoid very high temperatures: This is particularly important in the case of dry heat methods like grilling, baking, broiling, and frying. Cooking at very high temperatures (above 180 degrees Celsius) can form acrylamide, a compound that has been linked to cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. The fat dripping onto the meats/paneer/potatoes at high temperatures causes such chemicals to form.
. Use multi-source cooking oil: One of the most commonly asked questions about diet pertains to cooking oils and which of these is the best for our health. Multi-source cooking oils have the added advantage of low-absorbance technology and better heat stability, which is desirable for high-temperature cooking methods like baking and frying. Fried foods are very much part of our celebratory menus, which we can enjoy occasionally in limited portions, without increasing the risk of disease.
This brings us back to the fact that diet can play a big role in preventing disease conditions. The importance of using ingredients that are minimally processed and nutrient-dense cannot be overemphasized.
While the focus of a heart-friendly diet is on what we should do but being cognisant of the don’ts is crucial too. Excess salt, sugar, and saturated fat should be on the ‘watch out for’ list. Trans fats, ultra-processed foods, and processed meats fall in the category of ‘to avoid’ foods.
All in all, the dietary choices you make can go a long way in preventing not only heart disease but many other chronic conditions.