India is facing a growing burden of heart-related ailments, which have now replaced communicable diseases as mass killers. Heart attacks kill 80 people every day in Mumbai alone, according to a recent revelation by the city’s municipal authority. Nation-wide, cardiovascular diseases account for 2.5 million deaths each year; worse, they are affecting Indians much sooner than elsewhere in the world. The average age of a heart patient in India is in the early 50s, compared to 70s in the US.
An unhealthy lifestyle, stress, lack of physical exercise, obesity and bad diet are driving more and more people towards cardiovascular troubles. Apart from elevated levels of blood pressure, high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. A high level of cholesterol circulating in the blood gradually gets deposited over the walls of arteries, narrowing them down and reducing blood flow to the heart, triggering a heart attack. Preventive healthcare is the key to preventing cardiovascular diseases. Lowering one’s cholesterol is not difficult if people know about mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and saturated fats, and the role they play in our health.
In these days of obsession with low-carb or low-fat diets, it is important to understand that our bodies cannot survive without fat. Not only is fat a major fuel source, it helps absorb certain nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins. There are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats, such as butter or coconut oil, tend to become solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats, like olive oil or canola oil, tend to remain liquid. Unsaturated fats are again of two types: MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) and PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids).
Unsaturated Fats are Healthy
Most Indians today consume too much fat and cholesterol sourced from dairy products, meat and processed foods. The trick to good health is to eat the right fat in right quantities. While we need both saturated and unsaturated fats in our diet, the majority should comprise of unsaturated fats. It is recommended that we should get about 25 to 30 per cent of the total number of calories we consume every day from fat. However, saturated fat should not account for more than 10 percent of this.
Replacing products high in saturated fats with lower fat alternatives like butter with margarine, adding products with high MUFA & PUFA to diet and reducing fat from meats is a great way to lower our intake.
Unsaturated fats like MUFA and PUFA are considered healthy fats. MUFAs are also rich in vitamin E which protects body cells from damage. Peanut butter, peanut oil, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil are good source of MUFAs. These are found in oils such as soybean, corn and safflower, seeds like flax and sunflower, walnuts, soy milk, and fatty fish like tuna, salmon and sardines. Nowadays many products like fat spreads and some cooking oils are enriched with Omega-3 to help you get your daily quota of unsaturated fats.
(Dr Vijay Viswanathan, is the Head and Chief Diabetologist, M V Hospital for Diabetes, Royapuram)