Ever since the pandemic strikes, Covid-19 is constantly in the spotlight and it has become the main health issue that most of us are concerned about. However, we should not forget that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) still exist as a huge health threat in our country. Here’s a question for you - Which NCD is the biggest killer in Malaysia?
Let’s reveal the answer – Ischaemic Heart Disease!
According to the Malaysian Department of Statistics, Ischaemic heart disease remained the main cause of death among Malaysians in the year 2019, taking up 15% of all medically certified deaths!
Maintaining good heart health and lowering the risk of heart disease is achievable through some mindful eating. A heart-healthy diet should be rich in fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats – which helps to protect your heart by lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and preventing the build-up of plaque in the arteries. Here are the top 7 foods you can include in your everyday diet for a healthier cardiovascular system.
Almond is a nutrient-dense nut and it is packed with healthy fat, protein, micronutrients, and antioxidants. It contains two nutrients crucial for your heart health - monounsaturated fats and fiber. These nutrients help in lowering your LDL cholesterol and thus reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
You may know walnuts as the "Brain Food". With its appearance resembling the human brain, walnuts are good for our brain health and cognitive function. However, their benefits go way more than that. Similar to almond, walnut also serves as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, plant sterols, and fiber. Having a small handful of them daily offers protection against inflammation in your arteries!
Oats contain a rich amount of beta-glucan - a type of soluble fiber that reduces your total and LDL cholesterol. Beta-glucan can achieve this by binding with the cholesterol-rich bile acids, which will then increase their excretion. Besides, they are also a source of phenolic compounds and phytoestrogens - plant chemicals that possess anti-inflammatory properties to reduce the damage brought by chronic inflammation. When choosing oatmeal, remember to go for the unsweetened ones and add your favorite fruits and nuts for an extra nutrient boost!
Berries are rich in polyphenols, micronutrients, and soluble fiber. Anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found in berries, may have the health advantage of lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases. These compounds are powerful - they offer protection against oxidative stress and decrease inflammation that may lead to heart disease. Consider having a mix of berries as your everyday snack or add them into your yogurt - Again, avoid the sweetened ones for dried berries.
You can’t miss fatty fish when talking about heart health. Some examples of fatty fish would be salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, and sardines. The nutrient I would like to highlight here is no doubt the omega-3 fatty acids, which are helpful in reducing the risk of heart rhythm disorders, preventing inflammation, as well as lowering triglycerides levels and blood pressure. However, note that certain types of fish may have a higher level of mercury, like sharks and swordfish. Besides avoiding the consumption of fish with high mercury levels, it is recommended to eat a variety of fish to help lessen the potential adverse effects caused by environmental pollutants.
Both black tea and green tea contain flavonoids that help dampen inflammation. Other cardiovascular benefits they may provide include improving blood vessel function and lowering cholesterol. Avoid buying bottled tea beverages that contain added sweeteners. To obtain the greatest benefits of tea, brew your own tea at home and serve it plain or without too many additives. Not only because too much sugar is not good for you, additives such as sugar, milk, or cream may also decrease the polyphenol content in your tea.
Soy is popular for being a high-quality protein. Other than this property, soy-based foods are also known to lower the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. The reason behind this is still not clear, but it may be due to the content of phytoestrogens or soy proteins. Besides, soy is also rich in fiber, low in saturated fat, and contains omega-3 fats, which may serve as some of the factors too. To increase your soy intake, add whole soy foods such as soy milk, tofu, and tempeh into your diet. Note that whole soy products would actually give a greater effect when it comes to lowering your cholesterol compared to the processed ones - So make a smart choice!
Written By: Yong Ke Tian
BSc Hons Nutrition
University of Nottingham Malaysia
Reviewed by: Jasmine Lim
Love Earth Organic Nutritionist
Bachelor of Science Degree in
Dietetics (major) & Food Science (minor)
Iowa State University, USA