Be good to your heart: Tips on how to cut back on ultra-processed food – Philstar.com

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MANILA, Philippines — The modern diet is replete with ultra-processed food products (UPPs), which are food items that contain preservatives, colors, flavors, emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners.

This category of food includes softdrinks, ice cream, hotdog, corned beef, meatloaf, sausages, instant noodles and, yes, even breakfast cereals.

The problem with constant consumption of unhealthy UPPs is that it has a direct adverse effect on the heart. In layman’s terms, UPPs “hurt the heart,” warned the Healthy Philippines Alliance (HPA), which is a network of civil society organizations working to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The HPA cited a multinational study, published in The Lancet Regional Health-Europe in 2023. The study found that high consumption of UPPs is associated with higher risk of developing multi-morbidity, or a combination of cancer and cardio-metabolic diseases (which include heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease).

The study examined more than 266,000 men and women from seven European countries who consumed UPPs that constituted more than half of their daily intake. These men and women come from seven European countries, so the study covers good ground and the result is painfully reliable.  

Just how do you save your heart in such a situation?

Adopt a healthier diet.

“One way of showing extra love and care for our hearts is to cut down our consumption of UPPs to save ourselves from cardiovascular diseases. Replace UPPs with healthier choices like fresh fruits, vegetables and home-cooked meals. A healthier diet will, in the long run, also save us from the economic burden of health care costs,” said Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, former Health Secretary and convener of the HPA. 

Implement front-of-pack labeling on food items.

UPPs often contain high levels of sugar, sodium and fats, which are critical nutrients for NCDs like cardiovascular diseases. Hence, the HPA is echoing the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommendation for governments to implement nutrition labeling such as front-of-pack labeling (FOPL) as one of the “best buys” intervention to reduce unhealthy diet and lower the intake of sugar, sodium and fats. 

“We are optimistic that, if the Philippines adopts front-of-pack labels or FOPL, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease can be reduced. FOPL will be simpler interpretations of nutrition facts and when placed at the front of food packages will be clearly and quickly understood. This tool can guide consumers away from UPPs and other food products with excessive amounts of sugar, sodium and fats, which harm the heart,” added Dr. Galvez Tan.

Monitor blood pressure.  

The HPA encourages Filipinos, even those below age 40, who regularly consume UPPs, to monitor their blood pressure and check for hypertension, as many may be unaware.

Hypertension is a common risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, prevalence of hypertension among Filipinos rose from 22% in the 1990s to 37% in 2021, according to the PRESYON 4 study by the Council for Hypertension of the Philippine Heart Association. 

Meanwhile, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that from January to July 2023, ischemic heart disease that leads to heart attack is the No. 1 cause of death in the country, with more than 65,000 cases. 

As for the WHO, its Country Profile on NCDs for the Philippines ranks cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of death countrywide, killing about 250,000 Filipinos every year.

So be good to your heart. Cut back on UPPs or remove them from your diet for good.

RELATED: Enjoy good food and keep heart healthy too: Tips on how to be heart smart

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