Heart Attack: Risks from Food Intake

By Dr. Goke Akinrogunde
Harmful life style remains a major point to consider when it comes to triggering factors in heart attack and coronary artery disease in general. Prominent among the factors for consideration are eating habits, excess salt intake, cigarette smoking, exercises, alcohol intake, psychological factors among others.
We are what we eat
Experts now believe that fats can have both harmful and beneficial effects.
Harmful fats
Everyone should limit and try to avoid saturated fats, predominantly in animal products, including meat and dairy products. Among these are trans-fatty acids, which are created during a process aimed at stabilising polyunsaturated oils to prevent them from becoming rancid and to keep them solid at room temperature. Hydrogenated fats are used in stick margarine and in many fast foods and baked goods. (Liquid margarine is not hydrogenated.)
Beneficial oils
Public attention has mainly focused on the possible benefits of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in vegetables oils. Researchers are most interested, however, in the smaller fatty-acid building blocks contained in these oils called essential fatty acids. Studies indicate that in a healthy balance, all of these fatty acids are essential to life:
Omega-3 fatty acids
This is further categorised as Alpha-linolenic acid (sources include canola oil, soybeans, flaxseed, olive oil, and many nuts and seeds).
Indications that it is heart protective
Extra virgin olive oil in one study was associated with lower blood pressure. Many studies have singled out nuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, as being particularly beneficial for the heart by lowering LDL and total cholesterol without increasing triglycerides.
Docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaneoic acids (sources are oily fish). May not have much effect on cholesterol but they may benefit the lining of blood vessel (the endothelium) and therefore improve blood flow.
Omega-6 fatty acids
This is further categorised as linoleic, or linolic, acid (sources are flaxseed, corn, soybean, and canola oil). Omega-9 fatty acids: (Source is olive oil).
Some experts recommend maintaining a relatively high intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (about 32 per cent of calorie intake), with saturated fats representing no more than eight per cent. Others believe that a very trim diet, 20 per cent fat with as little as four per cent saturated fat, is ideal. Still others recommend fat intake somewhere in between these extremes.
Meals overly rich in carbohydrates tend to set off angina attacks, possibly because they raise insulin levels. One study suggested, in fact, that in women, sugar may pose an even higher risk for heart disease than fats do. Whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables (particularly dark-coloured ones), however, are very important. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, and other important nutrients that are heart-protective. Natural chemicals in cooked tomatoes, garlic, nuts, apples, onions, wine, and tea also appear to offer protection for the heart.
Soy is proving to be a particularly excellent source of protein. It is rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and provides all essential proteins. It has estrogen-like compounds that might be as effective as estrogen therapy itself in slowing progression of heart disease without increasing triglycerides or the risk for breast cancer (as estrogen therapy does). Much evidence suggests that eating fish two or three times a week, particularly oily fish is protective.
Studies now indicate that sodium (the major constituent of table salt and common sauces) intake may be a major contributor to heart disease in overweight people. Its effect on people with normal or low weight may not be as severe, although everyone would do well to keep salt intake to a minimum.
Vitamins and Supplements 
B Vitamins: Sufficient amounts of folic acid, B6, and B12 are certainly important to prevent high levels of homocysteine (abnormally high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine are strongly linked to an increased risk of coronary artery disease and stroke).
Vitamin E: A number of small studies have found an association between a lower risk for coronary artery disease with doses of vitamin E between 100 and 400 IU.
Vitamin C: Little evidence has emerged to prove any protective effects from taking vitamin C. Of interest, however, is a study suggesting that long term administration of vitamin C may improve endothelial function, a factor affecting blood flow.
Beta Carotene: Studies have reported that a high intake of beta-carotene and other carotenoids from dark coloured fruits (tomatoes, cherry fruits) and vegetables (but not from supplements) may reduce the risk of heart attack. By and large a combination of appropriate intake of appropriate food, salt and other addictive organs with regular physical exercises remain uncontroversially beneficial to our heart.