Avoid binge eating for a heart healthy Christmas and New Year

It’s Christmas Day today and the festive season is in full swing in all homes celebrating this holy and joyous event of Christ’s birth with its message of peace and love to all mankind.

With travel restrictions being relaxed and many relatives flying home to be with their loved ones in Sri Lanka for the festive season, they are certainly looking forward to a Christmas and New Year with a difference this year.

With the school vacation now on and working members of the family on a brief holiday for their family reunion, it is a time when most housewives temporarily replace their usual rice and vegetable meals with spicier, tastier albeit less nutritious meals. Fried rice, yellow rice, fried chicken, batter fried cuttlefish, cutlets, ham, kalu pork all of them seasoned with artificial flavors have now replaced the usual healthy diets, followed by sugar-laden desserts like ice cream, plum pudding, butter cake and of course the rich Christmas cake. Wine, arrack, beer flow freely while ‘no smoking’ rules are temporarily forgotten.

Even those with compromised immune systems due to diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, heart related problems and other non communicable diseases (NCDs), are tempted to put their controlled prescribed diets on hold for a while as they freely indulge in the titillating spread.

These tasty delicacies rich in carbs, oil, and saturated fats however can lay the foundation for long lasting damage to your health no matter what age or gender, warns a Heart specialists, reiterating that excessive fatty meals can lead to myocardial infarctions especially, in prone people during the festive night itself. Alcohol indulgence and smoking with very irregular eating patterns during festive periods aggravate the same, he warns.

“Instead replace them with healthier alternatives such as salads, nuts, more vegetables, fruits and natural fruit drinks instead of drunks with artificial flavors or sugar,” says a senior cardiologist.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Senior Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Karapitiya Hospital, Dr. Namal Gamage shares little known facts about the adverse impact of diet-related heart diseases, including its close link to those prone to diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases ( NCDs).

He is concerned about the increasingly risky indulgent food eating habits of young people which exposes them to such diseases at an early age without them even being aware of it. “Over-eating sweets and starch is bad for diabetics, salt worsens high blood pressure, heavy fatty meals sometimes trigger off bad heart attacks which may prove fatal at times,” he warns.

Most importantly, he tells us how to detect early onset of NCDs such as diabetes and heart problems and thereby prevent them. He also responded to our request to share with readers easy to follow useful tips on healthy cooking.


Q: Today is Christmas Day. With a week before the dawn of a new year, the festive season has already begun. This is a time when many people including those with lowered immune systems have put their controlled diets on hold. Do you think this is a wise decision? Can eating too many sweetmeats and spicy food served at every meal during this week aggravate the health impacts on those with low immune systems and also lead to the onset of early diabetes and heart problems?

A. Yes, that type of eating serves as a starting point to create the habit of bad eating. Given the large number of religious, cultural and seasonal festivals in the country, the cumulative effect on people who are vulnerable would be significant.

Q: What are the foods likely to cause the most harm to our body system if taken in excess?

A. Sweets, fatty or oily food, excessively salty food and artificially flavored or colored food.

Q: As you are a specialist in the cardiac field, do you see a close link between overeating and excessive eating for cardiac diseases? Is there a danger of this happening during festive seasons when people put their usual eating habits on hold?

A. Yes. Over-eating sweets and starch is bad for diabetics, salt affects high blood pressure, heavy fatty meals sometimes trigger off bad heart attacks which may prove fatal at times.

Q: Excessive fatty meals, alcohol indulgence and smoking during this time – how do they impact on our health?

A. Excessive fatty meals can lead to myocardial infarctions especially, in prone people during the festive night itself. Alcohol indulgence and smoking with very irregular eating patterns during festive periods aggravate the same.

Q: Diabetes Melitus, especially Type 2 is said to be the most widely prevalent form of diabetes in Sri Lanka and is usually caused by obesity, lack of exercise and eating too many fatty, starchy and sugary foods. A recent study shows that around 30 percent of Colombo’s population including children as young as 8 years old are pre-diabetic. Is there a connection between diabetes and heart diseases?

A. Yes nearly 70 to 75 percent of patients with ischemic heart disease also suffer from diabetes.

Q: Will changing our diet and eating habits help reduce these risks?

A. Certainly. Bad eating habits start early in childhood in most people leading to diabetes, high blood pressure, hypercholesterolaemia or elevated blood cholesterol levels, and ischemic heart disease in early adulthood.

Q: To bring us back to the subject of eating the right foods at this time around, what role does the way we prepare our festive season play? For example, sweetmeats like kavum and kokis, butter cake, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, brewer, milk toffees and coconut toffees, jellies, ice creams, and fruit salad served in almost every home that celebrates the festive season?

A. We should move away from gifting sweetmeats, oily food, ice cream, alcohol, cigarettes to friends and neighbors. Instead we should cultivate the habit of giving fruits, nuts and natural beverages. to our beloved ones. Of those mentioned, fruit salad is very good but without ice cream. Consuming the others must be in modest amounts and one must be restrictive to one’s own self.

Q: What methods do you recommend as safe for our health? Frying? Steaming? Baking? Microwaving? Why?

A. Steaming, baking and microwaving are not bad. Frying – especially deep frying is not very good. Using the same oil over and over again is a disaster as too many toxic substances tend to accumulate in the oil.

If frying is essential, one may use unsaturated oil, such as soy oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, and olive oil. Air frying is a much better way. Always try to eat vegetables and fruits raw, unadulterated and as fresh as possible.

Q: What about bites like fried cutlets, cuttlefish, peanuts, cadjunuts and manioc chips served with drinks?

A. Except for peanuts and cadjunuts the rest are problem creators. Cuttlefish, prawn, crab, and red meat originating from mammals are food with a high amount of cholesterol. Frying them worsens the situation by adding saturated fatty acids to them.

Alcohol in addition damages the liver which may end up one day as fully blown cirrhosis. Therefore, one should be aware of holding or participating in cocktail parties as singular organs such as the heart and liver (and the brain) are hampered.

Q: Iced coffee? Sugary drinks?

A. Just one or two sips only.

Q: Who are those most at risk? Children? Youth? Elderly? Or any other? Why? Explain in detail how and what the impacts are on each category.

A. All are vulnerable in various ways. As mentioned above these bad eating habits mostly start in childhood and in adolescence.

Most non communicable diseases take their starting point very secretly and without the knowledge of anyone at a very young age.

Q: Do you have a list of Do’s and Don’ts to prevent heart diseases?

A. Prevention is the only hope these days as cure may not be possible most of the time. Therefore, as pointed out earlier proper control of risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, good eating habits, proper regular exercise and quitting smoking are very important.

Q: Have you sent a message to the parents about their role in laying healthy heart foundations for their children?

A. It is easier to acquire good habits in early years than trying to acquire them in later life. Good habits acquired as a youngster remain for the rest of the life and later learned habits are non-static. Hence, parents should teach children good eating habits and lifestyles from the time they are able to understand what is happening around them.

Q: Do you have a message for the Sri Lankan public in general on preventing non-communicable diseases including heart disease?

A. Most of the non-communicable diseases have more or less the same origin and heart diseases. Hence, if you can avoid heart diseases, then you are protected against most other non-communicable diseases.


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