There’s no doubt about it: Filipinos love to eat. Over lunch, you’re already thinking about what to have for dinner, there are restaurants found on practically every floor of our ubiquitous malls, and Pinoys often greet other people not with “How are you?” but “Have you eaten?”
This love for food permeates through Filipino culture, relationships, and, quite literally, blood—Filipino food, though rich and delicious, is largely unhealthy. This gastronomical enjoyment—oily sauces that go so well with unlimited rice, a distinct preference for sweet flavors (even our local version of spaghetti is sweet!)—unfortunately leads to health issues: In the Philippines, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death. The World Health Organization estimates that heart disease deaths account for nearly 20% of total deaths in the country. And we are not alone—in the U.S., for example, one person dies every 37 seconds from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You don’t have to give up all things delicious for the sake of your heart. The key is moderation and a hefty dose of heart-healthy food.
Your Cardiac Diet Plan
Overhauling your diet can seem daunting (and, let’s face it, takes the fun out of eating) so you can try introducing food to strengthen your heart little by little. Gradual changes can make it easier to transition to a healthier lifestyle. In general, go for foods that are packed with fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Fiber and heart health are closely linked as fiber helps lower bad cholesterol as well as triglycerides—both of which increase your risk for heart disease. Begin with the following food items:
Oats. Rich in bad cholesterol-fighting fiber, oats are also full of other good stuff like omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health cites a number of studies and reviews that suggest that this breakfast superfood is beneficial to heart health. Oats and other whole grains have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. One Danish study, in particular, found that adults aged 50 to 64 with the highest whole grain intake had a 25% to 27% lower risk of heart attack.
Add them to your diet: Make overnight oats so you have something to grab and go when you’re in a rush. If you find oatmeal bland and flavorless, top it with slice fruit, seeds, and nuts for a more interesting flavor and texture. And who says you have to limit oats to breakfast? Try making oatmeal risotto for dinner!
Chia seeds. These seeds have a gluey consistency once they come into contact with water and they pack a powerful punch in their tiny forms: They’re rich in cholesterol-lowering fiber, full of bone-strengthening minerals like calcium and magnesium, are a complete protein (unlike many plant proteins), and—most beneficial to your heart—have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, gram for gram, they have more of these healthy fats compared to salmon! These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, which help protect the heart. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, omega-3s “have shown a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health (lowering cholesterol, regulating heart rhythms and blood pressuring, preventing blood clots, decreasing inflammation.”
Add them to your diet: Sprinkle it onto salads, soups, cereal, smoothies, sauces, or even bread batter. Take care not to eat dry chia seeds then follow it up with water, as this may cause the seeds to expand and block the esophagus.
Beans. Beans, or legumes, include chickpeas or garbanzos, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, and green split peas. They’re another fiber- and omega-3-rich food, plus they contain loads of protein compared to other plant sources. They are thus a great alternative protein source if you’re trying to cut back on saturated fat-rich animal proteins that may be harmful to your heart. Another bonus: Canned versions are no less healthy and can save you time when it comes to meal prep. (Just go for unsalted versions and rinse them well.)
Add them to your diet: Beans make a great addition to salads, soups, and casseroles. Replace some of the meat in your stews with beans. Use chickpeas to make hummus, which you can spread on whole-grain bread or use as a dip. You can even use black beans to make brownies! (Just watch the sugar.)
Flaxseed. This plant-based food is full of (you guessed it) fiber, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and antioxidants. A review published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found the effects of flaxseed’s fatty acids on cardiovascular health to be encouraging, especially since the studies in the review had large sample populations and/or long collection periods.
Add it to your diet: Just like chia seeds, you can add flaxseed to oats (for an extra heart-healthy meal), cereal, and smoothies. By adding flaxseed to your first meal, you start the day already loaded up with nutrients for heart health.