By Dr. Deborah Field

You are what you eat may be an old cliché.  But, as a doctor I see all too often the impact of bad diet on my patients health.

The link between the food, drink and quantities we consume on our overall health could not be clearer.  But for many of us, taking the step from knowledge to action is hard.

Habit, time pressures and not wanting to give up the things we enjoy can all prevent that vital step of improving the fuel and reducing the amounts we feed our bodies daily.

The food we put in our bodies has a direct impact on our cardiovascular system.  So if you're concerned about heart health, here's the simple guide I give my patients to get on track with what and how much they eat.

  • First up, don't punish yourself, ever. Aim initially to reduce rather than eliminate high fat foods in your diet, starting with halving the amount of high fat foods you've been consuming.

  • An easy tip to remember is that if you can see fats, butter and oils in your food, reduce them. While all oils increase bad cholesterol, olive and vegetable oils are a lesser evil. Life without butter is still tasty if you limit it to a treat every now and then.

  • Treat yourself once a month with a small amount of your favourite foods and really, really enjoy without guilt.  Eat slowly, shut your eyes and revel in the taste. As time passes on, you will find that your desire for fatty food decreases, as does your tolerance.

  • Say goodbye to deep frying and use a non stick pan or wok instead, flavouring up food with delicious herbs and spices.

  • When it comes to dairy, if you drink two or more glasses a day of full fat milk or yoghurt, halve your intake, or change to low fat varieties. Remember, dairy is the best source of calcium and three serves per day are recommended for strong bones. Wondering what a serve means? It's equivalent to one cup of milk, or one thin slice of cheese or one cup of yoghurt.

  • Halve your intake of chocolate, snack foods and takeaways.

  • Use only lean meats.  Remove skin and visible fat before cooking and grill or BBQ instead of frying in oil.

  • Halve your intake of cakes, biscuits and pastries, as they're full of butter and oils.

  • Unless you're allergic to seafood, increase your intake of marine Omega-3 fatty acids. Eat naturally oily fish such as salmon, trout, herring and sardines 2-3 times per week or take 2000mg - 4000mg of high quality (300mg EPA / 200mg DHA) fish oil in capsules daily.

  • Double your daily intake of fruit and vegetables as these contain plant sterols and plant Omega-3 fatty acids.

  • If you're overweight, reduce your old serving sizes by 30% and eat slowly.  Your brain registers stomach fullness 20 minutes after it's full.  So eating slowly means you'll eat less. Using chopsticks instead of cutlery makes you eat slower. Drinking 1-2 glasses of water before each meal will fill your stomach a little before eating, to reduce your food consumption at each meal.

  • When you feel that hungry sensation, reach for a glass of water first. Thirst and dehydration are often confused as a hunger sensation. If, after you're glass of water you still feel hungry, reach for a sensible snack.

  • When you look at your dinner plate, aim for it to look roughly like this - 1/2 vegetables or salad, 1/4 protein such as lean meat, and the remaining 1/4  complex carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, couscous or whole grain bread.

And of course, don't forget the final piece of the puzzle, moderate physical activity. A healthy diet is one of the best investments you can make for your heart and overall health. But add physical activity into the mix, around 150 minutes a week, and you're hitting the heart health jackpot. Increase your activity to four hours per week and you're also lowering your risk of cancer.

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