Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Sri Lanka. Around 55,200 people die of cardiovascular diseases every year, with more men than women falling prey to them. The prevalence of these diseases has been gradually rising over the years, a phenomenon that is believed to be related to an increase in sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.
What Are Cardiovascular Diseases?
Cardiovascular diseases (or CVDs) include all disorders of the heart or blood vessels. Among the most well-known CVDs are coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. The root cause behind these diseases is atherosclerosis, a condition in which fat and cholesterol build up inside blood vessels, and impede the flow of blood to different parts of the body. Other CVDs include congenital heart disease, rheumatic heart disease (which is caused by bacterial infection), and thrombosis followed by embolism, which can further result in conditions like ischemia, stroke, and heart attack.
Lifestyle and diet are pivotal aspects when it comes to preventing cardiovascular diseases. A reduction in the intake of saturated fats, carbohydrates, and salt, coupled with a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, fibre, and polyunsaturated fats, can drastically lower the risk of CVDs. In recent years, whole grains such as oats have emerged as a superfood in the fight against cardiovascular diseases.
What Are Oats?
Scientifically known as Avena sativa, oats are a grain derived from a cereal plant. Oats are harvested for animal feed, skin products, and for human consumption. As a source of food, oats can come in the form of oatmeal, porridge, flour, or can be mixed into drinks. Oats can also be used for baking and food preparation.
What makes oats a good crop is that it can grow throughout the year and withstand poor soil conditions. Once harvested, the oats are cleaned, hulled, and roasted. The purpose of roasting the oats is to bring out its distinctive flavour.
Oats are hailed as the world’s healthiest grain as they contain a high amount of nutrients, including manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, copper, biotin, vitamin B1, magnesium, fiber, chromium, zinc and protein. Furthermore, oats also have many nutritional benefits, such as lowering cholesterol, enhancement of immune response to infection, stabilisation of blood sugar levels, and many more—and, of course, as a great food to help fight cardiovascular illnesses.
How Can Oats Help Ensure A Healthier Heart?
Oats assist in lowering cholesterol levels as they contains a fiber known as beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has proven benefits on cholesterol levels and therefore will in turn decrease the risk of developing heart disease. High cholesterol levels create plaques in blood vessels and if they are damaged or grow too large, they can block blood vessels and cause a heart attack, stroke, or blood clots elsewhere in the body.
Oats also possess antioxidants that can act as a cardioprotective mechanism. They also remove cholesterol from the digestive system, preventing it from entering the bloodstream. Oats contain a unique antioxidant known as avenanthramides that prevents free radicals from damaging low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Due to its high fiber content, oats can combat the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack. Oats and other whole grains also contain a type of phytochemical known as plant lignans. The plant lignans are converted to mammalian lignans. One such mammalian lignan is enterolactone, which is known to protect the body against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers, as well as heart disease.
Oats also offer significant cardiovascular benefits for postmenopausal women. Studies conducted on postmenopausal women proved that consuming oats at least six times a week resulted in improvements in cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other signs of cardiovascular disease.
The lifelong management and treatment of CVDs can place a heavy financial burden on families, societies, and the healthcare system. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to focus on the prevention of these diseases, such as through proper management of exercise and diet—so adding oats to your daily food intake is a great place to start your journey toward ensuring a strong, healthy heart.