Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. The prevalence of heart disease varies among ethnic groups. Immigrants from India (South Asia) have a four times greater risk of developing heart disease than other Americans. Indians are also more likely to develop premature heart disease, have heart attacks at an earlier age and develop diffuse disease due to a genetic predisposition and a multitude of lifestyle risk factors. This includes both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Genetic risk factors include: high lipoprotein (a) levels, elevated triglyceride levels and lower levels of less protective HDL (healthy) cholesterol. Indians are also more prone to have abdominal obesity, diabetes, sedentary lifestyles and diets high in fat and starches which can increase the risk of developing heart disease. The traditional Indian diet includes deep-fried foods (re-use of vegetable oil when cooking), coconut milk, roti, naan and other white breads, white rice, paneer (cheese), whole milk and high fat yogurt.
Even though Indians have a strong genetic risk for heart disease they can lower their risk by making healthy lifestyle changes.
Below are some tips that may help reduce the risk of heart disease:
- Avoid deep frying, try to broil, bake, steam instead
- Use low fat milk and dairy products
- Increase fruit and vegetable and fiber intake
- Use olive oil or canola oil, do not re-use cooking oil
- Avoid ghee (clarified butter)
- Increase intake of fish, nuts
- Decrease intake of starches like white rice, roti, white potatoes and naan
- Avoid eating all or majority of carbohydrates at one meal, do not skip meals
- Increase activity level (walking 30 minutes a day counts as exercise)
- Weight loss (lose abdominal fat, waist circumference goal men <36 inches, women <32 inches)
Lipoprotein (a) is a sub-class of LDL (Bad) cholesterol, when levels are elevated in the blood the risk for heart disease and stroke are increased. Elevated lipoprotein (a) levels are associated with premature heart disease and have little to do with diet or lifestyle, they are usually hereditary. All Indians/South Asians should have a lipoprotein (a) level checked at least once in their lifetime, preferably when they are younger since it is a marker of premature heart disease.
“Take Charge: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthier Heart” discusses how women can help control their cholesterol and other risk factors to prevent a heart attack, stroke and diabetes. “Take Charge: A Man’s Roadmap to a Healthier Heart” is due to be released Fall 2009. For more info visit www.heart-strong.com