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Sweet heart

For a healthy heart, you need to know the good sugar from the bad, says Dr Anjali Mukerjee.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 02, 2009 16:45 IST
Dr Anjali Mukerjee
Dr Anjali Mukerjee
Hindustan Times

For a healthy heart, you need to know the good sugar from the bad

Over the years, saturated and trans fats have received primary attention in the fight against heart disease but recent evidence has shown that the amount of sodium and sugar in your diet also play a crucial role in maintaining your heart health. The amount of white or refined sugar you eat determines your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

‘Sugars’ exist in different forms — sucrose (as in sugarcane and sugar beets), fructose (in fruits) and lactose (as in milk). The amount of sugar you have has a direct impact on hormones that regulate blood sugar levels and the risk of diabetes and heart ailments you face. After years of consuming cakes, pastries, soft drinks, chocolates, tea, coffee, milk shakes — all of which tend to deplete the body of nutrients — your glands give up trying to process them.

What sugar does to the heart
Overindulgence of processed and refined foods with added sugar creates an environment that’s ripe for heart problems. The problem begins when excessive intake of refined sugar makes the blood sugar regulation mechanism go awry. Eating meals high on sugar leads to an ever-increasing amount of insulin in the body, which over a prolonged period, leads to a condition known as insulin insensitivity or resistance.

Is there some good news here?
As it turns out, yes. Like fats, not all sugars are bad for health. Naturally occurring sugar present in fruits, whole grains and vegetables is not harmful. In fact, it also provides vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The fibre content in fruits and vegetables slows the release of sugar into the blood stream and the naturally-occurring minerals help in using the sugar efficiently.

Therefore, foods like carrot, beetroot,yams, corn, sweet potato and sugar cane should be eaten as part of a balanced diet. But sugar extracted from them as corn starch and refined sugar promotes disease. Natural sugars like honey, dates, jaggery are rich in minerals but when used in excess, cause imbalances in the body’s blood sugar.

How to prevent disease

Choose foods with naturally occurring sugar like whole grain cereals (whole wheat, brown rice, jowar, bajri, nachni), fruits and low fat milk.

Drink a glass of ‘green juice’ regularly — like wheat grass, mint and coriander juice.

Consume 2 tablespoons of alsi seeds powder, as they are rich in omega-3 fats, which are beneficial for the heart.

Include raw onions, ginger, black mushrooms, garlic and green tea in your daily diet as these foods help to fight blood clots and protect your heart.

Consume a bowlful of black or green chana. Boil and toss into a salad with a teaspoon of olive oil as dressing. This is rich in soluble fibre which helps bring down cholesterol levels.

Go for brisk walks for 30-40 minutes regularly. This keeps blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol in check.

Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre

First Published: Apr 02, 2009 16:44 IST