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Heart Pains

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Heart disease accounts for the death of more Canadians than any other disease with about 79,400 deaths annually. Yet, many Canadians do not understand, or perhaps refuse to believe, the potentially life-saving power of food.

Heart disease accounts for the death of more Canadians than any other disease with about 79,400 deaths annually. Yet, many Canadians do not understand, or perhaps refuse to believe, the potentially life-saving power of food. These Canadians included my father.

In his larger-than-life way, my father was livelier than anyone I knew. His laughter was contagious. He loved life. But perhaps it was his faith in life that caused him to refuse nutritional advice when he had his first heart attack, and continued to maintain an annihilating diet. He was only 47 when he died of a second heart attack. My father’s death from cardiovascular disease may have been prevented if only he had taken time to understand the power of food.

Is it our fear of admitting we might not be invincible? Or, is it simply that Canadians don’t believe that food truly has healing powers? Whichever it is, no one should have to die from heart disease when we know of so many ways to help nourish the heart to health.

Fruits and vegetables are underestimated. Results from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study were reported in the Journal of Nutrition in 2003. This study of 1,950 men noted that a high fruit, berry, and vegetable intake may be associated with reduced risk of mortality.

The Cardio2000 study of more than 1,800 people in Greece revealed subjects who ate five or more fruits a day had a 72-per-cent lower relative risk of cardiac disease than those who consumed less than one serving a day.

How is it that fruits and vegetables aid the heart? They offer three major factors: antioxidants, fibre, and folate.

Antioxidants are able to reduce oxidative damage to tissue. This is important as free radicals can damage cells that maintain the integrity of blood vessels and heart valves. Antioxidants are also thought to block the tendency of LDL cholesterol to stick to arterial walls, which causes atherosclerosis.

Fruits and vegetables contain fibre that does not dissolve in water and therefore can move into the intestine to trap cholesterol, rendering it unavailable for absorption across the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. Dietary fibre can help reduce cholesterol levels in the body.

A major risk factor in heart disease is the amino acid, homocysteine. Among the more than 285 risk factors for heart disease, it is gaining recognition as one of great concern, as homocysteine may cause atherosclerosis. Folate, which is found in many fruits and vegetables, lowers homocysteine levels by encouraging the remethylation process, which leads to the metabolic degradation of homocysteine.

Heart disease need not shorten the lives of more Canadians. Fruits and vegetables, combined with a heart healthy diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fibre but low in trans fats may help prevent and treat heart disease. Empower yourself with knowledge, and enjoy a happy, heart-healthy life.

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