Why go under the knife when changes in lifestyle and diet can reverse heart disease? (photo: Jyotsna Shahane)
Several unsuspecting souls, getting on a treadmill in the course of a routine stress test, find themselves on the fast track to bypass surgery.
Yes, coronary heart disease is the largest cause of death in India today. Stressful and sedentary lifestyles, diabetes and hypertension are cited as the main causes.
While a bad result on the treadmill is a cause for alarm, it does not need the kind of panic reaction that most people have; a panic which is increased by the prompt call for angiograms, angiography and surgery.
What we are not often informed is that we have a choice. If the disease is asymptomatic, that is without accompanying pain, angina, breathlessness, you might want to make a choice against surgery. What are the options? It has been scientifically proven that changes in lifestyle and diet can reverse heart disease. It is actually possible to stop arteriosclerosis, reduce cholesterol and hypertension and the risk of a cardiac incident by these changes.
Obviously regular exercise is a major part of this lifestyle change. Yoga is the next imperative for the health of body and mind. And the third vital requirement is a completely fat free vegetarian diet which has been shown to result in the improvement of blockages in the arteries without stents.
One of the most popular books on the subject of this kind of diet is by Dr Dean Ornish who is responsible for making the facts about reversing heart disease more widely known. Most of the recipes in his book call for exotic ingredients which would be difficult and expensive to source in India.
So how can one go on a fat free diet here, where the preparation of almost every dish begins with a generous amount of oil to fry the herbs and spices and ends with another few teaspoons to “temper” and “season” the food?
The secret is to modify the method of cooking. Instead of frying onions, chillies and garlic in oil, sauté them in half a cup of water on medium heat till the onions are soft and translucent. Then continue with the recipe you are following. Finish by adding roasted, popped whole spices as required, like mustard seeds and red chillies, instead of spices fried in ghee or oil. Another way of getting that authentic “Indian” flavour is to caramelise the onions.
Onions become brown or caramelised because their natural sugars are released during the cooking process i.e. when heat is applied. So this can be achieved by dry “frying”. This means sweating them in a kadhai without a drop of oil till brown and sticky. Stir frequently during this process of cooking. As with the method of sauteing onions in water, you can carry on with the rest of the recipe once the base is prepared. When spices have to be fried at the start of a recipe, just dry roast them and then add vegetables and a teaspoon of water, cover tightly and cook.
You will find there is no significant decrease in taste when using these methods and most Indian dishes can be cooked in this manner.
The Reversal diet, as explained by Dr Ornish, calls for a stop to nuts, olives, coconut, seeds like pumpkin or sesame, egg yolks, whole fat milk and yogurt, chocolate and avocados, tea and coffee. To that list add pickle and processed masala pastes in which all kinds of fats may be lurking.
Whole grains are encouraged like barley, millets/bajra and others, sorghum/jowar, corn, bulgar/lapsi rawa, and oats, amaranth/rajgira, besides wheat and rice. These are complex carbohydrates which take longer to digest and hunger pangs don’t hit as soon after a meal containing these grains. Legumes and lentils are a must. All the fruit and berries and vegetables you can think of are good.
It is really quite difficult to starve on a diet which allows you to eat practically everything except oil. Yet losing weight will happen quite painlessly when on this diet. That’s a plus for a regime the focal point of which is your heart. So don’t let it sink if disease is discovered.
Take care. Take heart.
(As with all diets please check with your doctor before beginning this one. If advised, check its efficacy with a non-invasive scan after a period of about a year.)