The Heart of Health

PETALING JAYA: “I used to eat out every day,” said Teo Kwee Keng, 65, of her habit of 35 years.

“Char kuey teow, satay, all types of hawker food you can think of, and even instant noodles for supper.”

Last year, Teo underwent a heart bypass surgery.

“Now I stay away from such foods,” she said. 

This is especially so as more and more working adults eat out regularly.

Teo, a church worker, said her job also made her “live in a hurry” and has since given herself time to rest.

“I watch my diet now and hired a helper to help me cook at home. I only use olive oil and eat only sea fish, vegetables and fruits to maintain my diet,” she said.

Teo, who still works, said she now regularly steams her food and avoids deep frying.

She also stays away from certain types of food such as seafood and red meat.

Herbert Lee, who had a heart bypass surgery seven years ago, said he was working in a multinational company when he was diagnosed with three blocked arteries.

“I believe that it was the accumulation of the food that I ate and the stress at work that led to my condition,” the 58-year-old said, adding he ate out every day as he needed to entertain his clients.

Lee said his job was so hectic that neither he nor his wife had the time to cook at home.

However, the retiree said all that changed after his surgery when he became adamant about getting in shape and eating healthily.

“I consulted a dietitian after my surgery and the first thing I changed was the cooking oil I used in my food. The dietitian recommended olive oil, and also to reduce my salt intake,” he said.

Lee revealed that he weighed 70kg prior to his surgery and now weighs 59kg by changing his diet to include steamed food and a higher portion of vegetables and fruits.

“The whole family needs to eat well to prevent heart disease, because once you have heart surgery, your chest never feels the same anymore.

“I tend to get occasional heart pains, but it can’t be fixed, so I encourage everyone to eat a healthy home-cooked meal and only have an indulgent meal once in a while,” he said.

The Ministry of Health has estimated that approximately 73% of deaths among Malaysians are caused by heart problems, hypertension and diabetes.

It said that these non-communicable diseases are closely linked to unhealthy lifestyles.

Dr Beni laments that Malaysians have the highest obesity rates in South-East Asia. 

According to National Heart Institute cardiologist Dr Beni Isman Rusani, we can improve our eating habits by being mindful of three simple steps:

Step 1: Type of food

Step 2: Preparation of food

Step 3: Amount of food

“When it comes to type of food, for example, salmon is high in omega three fatty acids. Nuts, oatmeal and berries are all good for you, but processed food such as sausages and fast food should be avoided as they are high in salt and calories.

“In relation to the preparation of food, steaming and grilling is better than deep frying,” he advised.

Dr Beni urges people to use unsaturated cooking oil when preparing their meals, and to avoid recycling their “expensive” cooking oil.

“Cooking oils should only be used once,” he said.

When it comes to amount of food, Dr Beni said: “I tell my patients to look at their plates and divide it into half, a quarter and another quarter. Half of the plate should consist of vegetables or fruits, the next quarter should be your protein and the other quarter is for carbohydrates like rice.

“As long as people stick to their recommended portion of calories in their daily diet, they are on the right track.”

The food pyramid is designed to make healthy eating easier. Eat food from each shelf of the food pyramid in the correct amount each day.

The food pyramid is designed to make healthy eating easier. Eat food from each shelf of the food pyramid in the correct amount each day.   

Dr Beni said Malaysians generally fill their plates up half full with a meat produce and only a quarter with vegetables or a fibre-related food.

“We have the highest obesity rates in South-East Asia,” he lamented.

Dr Beni stressed that it is not necessary for people to go on an extreme food diet in order to maintain health.

“What is important is that in the long run, having a balanced diet is what really matters. You can avoid heart disease by practising dietary habits as recommended by the food pyramid,” he said.

The food pyramid is a tool used as a guide for healthy eating.

It consists of levels that represent various food groups, and indicates the recommended number of servings per day from each group.

Eat food from each shelf of the food pyramid in the correct amount each day.

In addition, Dr Beni remarked that that are some dietary habits that are just plain bad for health.

“People need to stay away from sodas. I recommend you stick to good old plain water – it doesn’t have any calories and it hydrates your body,” he said.

Dr Beni also does not favour juices as it “takes away the natural fibres contained in a fruit”.

“It is much better to take the whole fruit as it also helps aid your digestive system,” he said.

Besides food, people also need to be aware of their overall lifestyle.

“Are you leading a stress-free life? Do you have an exercise

routine? Do you smoke? These are all important factors,” Dr Beni noted.

“The food you consume is a contributing factor to heart disease, but I want to remind everyone that it is not just food but also your overall lifestyle that can contribute to heart disease.”

He advises people to improve their fitness level by participating in a “moderate intense workout of about 150 minutes in a week” as recommended by the American Heart Association.

“Brisk walking is moderate, or any other exercise that does not make you feel out of breath.

“What research has found is that for anything beyond the recommended level, there is a risk of a sports-related injury,” he said.

Dr Beni stresses that prevention is better than treatment when it comes to caring for the heart.


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