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Know how stress and cholesterol are interlinked: Follow these important tips to stay fit

In today’s fast-paced world, stress is a part of everyone’s life, with frequent complaints of having little or no time for health and fitness-related activities. Long sitting hours, unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, increased screen time, smoking, tobacco and alcohol consumption affect not only our physical health but also mental health, thereby increasing our risk of heart disease. With World Heart Day around the corner (celebrated every year on 29th September), one must aim to increase awareness about stress management and healthy lifestyle to keep heart disease at bay. 

Sheryl Salis, Registered Dietitian & Certified Diabetes Educator and Founder of Nurture Health Solutions said, “Our body’s response to stress is supposed to protect us and help us cope better. But, if it’s constant, it can harm us. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress. Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure which are common risk factors for heart disease. According to the global burden of disease published in 2016, nearly a quarter of all deaths in India is due to heart disease. It is shocking to see young people succumb to the disease today. Multiple studies have found that in different professions, job-related stress was linked to high cholesterol, including high LDL and low HDL cholesterol.”

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A healthy diet coupled with regular physical activity, adequate sleep and medication if required and prescribed by the doctor can help in reducing stress and high cholesterol levels. Here are five tips by Sheryl Salis to help you stay healthy and fit to reduce cholesterol:  

1. Consume a wholesome balanced diet-
It is time that we revisit our traditional diets and consume a wholesome balanced diet which comprises of whole grains and pulses, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, lean meat, fish, nuts and seeds and reduce intake of processed, refined foods high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and trans fats.

Studies have shown that consuming plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds were associated with lower risk. Avoid use of margarine, vanaspati, butter, bakery products, fried foods, processed meats, red meat, fried chicken, and fried fish.

2. Choose the right cooking oil-
It is a myth that one oil has fewer calories than the other. All oils have similar calories and therefore must be used judiciously. Both quality and quantity of oil are important to consider. Using different oils for cooking different foods or even more convenient is using commercially available multi-source oils formulated with the help of research and understanding of the benefits of the two oils to help acquire a good balance of fatty acids like MUFA and PUFA which offer protective benefits to the heart. The National Institute of Nutrition also recommends a combination of groundnut/sesame/rice bran + mustard oil or groundnut/sesame/rice bran + soybean oil to maintain the desired Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.

Sheryl Salis, Registered Dietitian & Certified Diabetes Educator and Founder of Nurture Health Solutions

3. Fill up on Fiber-
Many studies have shown that adequate fiber intake helps in lowering cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease. According to the National Institute of Nutrition and the recently published consensus document on fiber by an expert committee, the recommended fiber intake is 25-40 g/day. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important to lower cholesterol levels. In spite of awareness and recommendations in place, it is observed that individuals consume inadequate amounts of fiber in their diet.

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We can meet our fiber requirements by adding fiber rich foods like wholegrain cereals, millets, fresh fruits and vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, psyllium husk. Swap unhealthy processed foods made from refined flour and sugars with whole-grain foods. If consuming packaged foods, ensure you read the nutritional labels and choose products high in fiber. Choose whole fruit over fruit juice and rolled or steel cut oats over instant oats to get the benefit of fiber.

Word of caution: While increasing fiber intake, it is advisable to step it up gradually and consume adequate water to avoid bloating, abdominal discomfort, and flatulence.

4. Use Kitchen as your Pharmacy-

As rightly quoted by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Certain foods that are easily available in our kitchen have bioactive compounds and have shown immense benefits in improving blood cholesterol levels. Include foods such as barley, oats, bengal gram, kidney beans, chickpeas, cinnamon, fenugreek seeds, apple cider vinegar, cluster beans (gavar), garlic, psyllium husk, green tea, soybean, nuts and seeds for their phytochemical properties.

5. Get Moving!

Ensure that you indulge in regular physical activity. As mentioned, staying active can also help you relieve your stress therefore lowering the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or a combination of both) per week. Include moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity at least two days a week.
“Remember sitting is the new smoking”. Studies have shown that exercise helps lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and raise your “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels.

Bringing about these simple, sustainable lifestyle changes will help lower cholesterol and keep heart disease at bay!

Disclaimer – The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and healthcare professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy.

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