Studies have shown that the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases is projected to conservatively account for 30% of all deaths in Nigeria. In the last decade, we have seen a rise in fried and fast food consumption especially in urban areas, proportionately contributing to an increase in cholesterol levels. While many have chosen to lead an unhealthy lifestyle with their food choices, others can’t be faulted as the increased poverty level in the country has forced many into a non-mutual relationship with malnutrition.
However, when you consider the numerous benefits that healthy food choices provide us, and understand the gravity of the statement, “you are what you eat”, you might have a change of attitude towards your food choices and consider adding healthy varieties to your diet profile to reduce consumption of unhealthy options.
Let’s start with the basics. Have you considered the fact that some of the complimentary spreads you consume with your popular staple food- bread, are unhealthy and responsible for increasing cardiovascular challenges, contributing to obesity and diabetes, with attendant complications of increased stroke, heart failure and ischemic heart disease?
Undoubtedly, spreads are an important part of our diet and for a fact, many have discovered that they can’t do without popular spreads like margarine, butter and mayonnaise with their staple foods. However, consumers might be ignorant of the fact that the trans-fats contained in margarine increases bad cholesterol (i.e. low-density lipoprotein and triglycerides) while reducing the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein). As a result, there has been an increase in incidences of atherosclerosis and overall cardiovascular risk in individuals.
Nigerian medical health expert, Dr. Jimi Sodipo, Head of Department, Family Medicine, Lagos State University and Chairman, Lagos Medical Guild, in an interview with Punch Newspaper on the effect of food choices made by Nigerians on their health, cited the use of popular spreads mayonnaise and margarine with staple foods like bread as example. Citing reasons why mayonnaise is a healthier and more nutritious option than margarine, he said, “Spreads are an important part of our diet and recently we have found out that we can’t do without popular spreads like Margarine, butter and Mayonnaise on our staple foods. However, the trans-fats contained in margarine increases bad cholesterol ( i.e. Low density Lipoprotein and Triglycerides) whilst reducing good cholesterol (High density lipoprotein). As a result of this, there is an increase in incidence of atherosclerosis and overall cardiovascular risk in individuals. The unsaturated fats as seen in spreads like mayonnaise, on the other hand, increase the good cholesterol and reduce the bad cholesterol thereby reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk.”
Did you know that the leading ingredient in margarine – palm oil has been said to pose high health risks if consumed regularly and in high amounts too? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some studies link consumption of palm oil to increased ischemic heart disease mortality, raised low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other adverse conditions.
Contrary to this, unsaturated fats, as seen in spreads like mayonnaise, increase good cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular risk.
As a medically favoured healthy spread, mayonnaise is largely made up of soybean oil, with unsaturated fats that help to control cholesterol levels and improve skin and vision; vitamin E, which acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the skin against harmful free radicals; as well as omega 3 fatty acids that help cell membranes, including the quite delicate and dangerous areas of the eyes and skin. Mayonnaise is made from eggs, which are a good source of protein such as homocysteine and vitamins (Vitamin A, C, selenium). It is particularly important for the growing and middle-aged population, as it helps with muscle and bone development, brain, immune system and vision. It is also beneficial for the elderly population as nutrition becomes a challenge when a person ages due to a reduction in food choices.
Beyond the nutritious composition of mayonnaise, its versatility makes it highly desirable. The healthy spread can be used in multiple ways – as a dip, a spread over sandwiches, bread or other snacks, and as dressing for salads. Even more interestingly, a number of recipes can be made out of the combination of mayonnaise and other ingredients, which tastes well with chicken wings, bread loaves, salads, fish and other seafood.
Although many other factors, such as lifestyle and genetics, play a role in the development of cardiovascular diseases, heeding your health expert’s advice on healthy food choices, maintaining moderation in food choice selection and focusing on lifestyle changes that are possible to improve overall health and well-being would go a long way in impacting your heart health and overall well-being.
Dr. Oluwajimi Sodipo is a medical consultant and the Head of Department for Family Medicine at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital. He is also the Chairman, Lagos Medical Guild and an advocate of healthy food choices.