FREE High Blood Pressure Check

Do you or someone you know have high blood pressure or are you taking medication to manage blood pressure? If so, you are invited to a FREE Blood Pressure Check and Public Talk by heart expert Dr. Faisal Sharif on Wednesday, July 10th in the Croí Heart & Stroke Centre, Newcastle, Galway.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart problems and stroke. Because there are no obvious symptoms of high blood pressure, very often people assume it’s nothing to worry about. However, high blood pressure needs to be treated and managed so as to avoid a serious heart event or catastrophic stroke.

The Clinical Research Facility, Galway (CRFG), have teamed up with local Heart & Stroke Charity, Croí and the Department of Cardiology, GUH to provide FREE Blood Pressure Checks for those with known high blood pressure or those taking medications to manage their blood pressure. In addition, there is an opportunity to attend a talk by an expert on blood pressure management and treatment, and the opportunity to be involved in clinical trials.

Places are limited – call Croí now on 091-544310 to book your free appointment.

A collaborative initiative by the Clinical Research Facility, Galway (CRFG), supported by Croí, the Department of Cardiology, GUH; and the National University of Ireland, Galway – Supporting research and public education.

Low Carbohydrate Diets

By Divya Ravikumar, Health Promotion Student and Registered Dietitian

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of 3 macronutrients (nutrients that form a large part of our diet) found in food – the others being fat and protein. Hardly any foods contain only 1 nutrient, and most are a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in varying amounts. Typically, carbohydrates can be divided into the following categories:

  • simple/free sugars (jam, sweets, fruit juice)
  • complex/starchy carbohydrates (bread, rice, potato).

What counts as free sugars?

Free sugars are any sugars added to food (e.g. biscuits, chocolate, cake) or sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. There is a lot of media and public interest in ‘sugar’ and the sugar debate can be very confusing as sugar can be found in many foods. Recent recommendations have suggested that it is important to be aware of ‘free sugars’ and to limit our intake of these. It is recommended that adults consume no more than 30g free sugar (approximately 7 teaspoons) per day. Make sure to be label aware as some carbohydrate foods (particularly processed items such as ready meals) can contain high levels of free sugars.

Where are free sugars found?

Table sugar, syrup, treacles, honeys, coconut sugar and fruit juice are all examples of free sugars.

What does not count as free sugar?

Natural sugars found in milk, fruit and vegetables.

Why do we need carbohydrates?

All carbohydrates will be converted to glucose, which can be used by our body as a source of energy, to keep our muscles and organs working.

Should I cut down on carbohydrates?

While we can most certainly survive without sugar, it would be quite difficult to eliminate carbohydrates entirely from your diet. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. In their absence, your body will use protein and fat for energy. It may also be hard to get enough fibre, which is important for long-term health. Healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as higher fibre starchy foods, vegetables, fruits and legumes, are also an important source of nutrients, such as calcium, iron and B vitamins. Significantly reducing carbohydrates from your diet in the long term could put you at increased risk of insufficient intakes of certain nutrients, potentially leading to health problems.

Cutting out carbohydrates fully from your diet could put you at increased risk of a deficiency in certain nutrients, leading to health problems, unless you’re able to make up for the nutritional shortfall with healthy substitutes. Replacing carbohydrates with fats and higher fat sources of protein could increase your intake of saturated fat, which can raise the amount of cholesterol in your blood – a risk factor for heart disease. When you’re low on glucose, the body breaks down stored fat to convert it into energy. This process causes a build-up of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis. Ketosis as a result of a low-carbohydrate diet can be linked, at least in the short term, to headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability. Try to limit the amount of sugary foods you eat and instead include healthier sources of carbohydrate in your diet, such as wholegrains, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, legumes and lower fat dairy products.

What happens if we don’t get enough carbohydrate?

If we do not have enough carbohydrate in our diet, our bodies can convert fatty acids into ‘energy’ to meet the demands of our brain. This causes the increase in levels of ketones in our bodies, which in rare cases has caused serious problems. It is very rare that you would have insufficient carbohydrate in your diet unless chronically malnourished or following an extremely low carbohydrate diet which is also lacking in protein. Some people with diabetes can be at risk of hypoglycaemia (too little blood glucose), which can be a result of a mismatch of dietary carbohydrate with medication and exercise. This potentially can also happen in some athletes performing endurance exercise. For most people this is rarely an issue, and if symptoms of low blood sugar occur, these should be medically investigated. Our brains tend to favour using glucose for energy, if we don’t have enough in our diets, then our brains have to adapt to using fats called ketones. While this adaptation is happening, the body has to breakdown protein, which could lead to loss of muscle.

Low – carb diets and weight loss

Low-carbohydrate diets (i.e. defined as diets containing between 50g and 130g carbohydrate) can be effective in managing weight, improving glycaemic control and cardiovascular risk in people with Type 2 diabetes in the short term i.e. less than 12 months (Diabetes UK 2018). This is probably due to the accompanying reduction in energy (calorie) intake and subsequent weight loss (Diabetes UK 2018).

More research is needed to ascertain the long-term health impacts of low-carbohydrate diets, including on heart health. For this reason, it is best to adhere to Irish healthy eating and portion size guidelines as detailed below. 

If you choose to adopt a low-carb diet

It is still possible to adhere to standard portion sizes and serving guidelines and adopt a low-carb diet.

For example, having one portion of oats at breakfast, 2 slices of bread at lunch and 4 baby potatoes at dinner, along with an apple, orange and a banana would add up to approximately 123g carbohydrate. This falls within low-carbohydrate guidelines and would still meet Irish eating healthy guidelines for carbohydrate and contributes towards your fruit and vegetable intake for the day.

We do not recommend restricting fruit intake as it does not contain large amounts of carbohydrate in the correct portion size and fruit is an excellent snack and source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Eating Healthy When Out and About

By Christine Houlihan, Sligo IT student on placement with Croí

Whether it’s the Monday morning breakfast roll to work or high tea on Sunday with the girls, there has never been more reason or temptation to eat outside of the home. More and more we find ourselves spending less time at home and more time out and about for things like work and meeting with family and friends.

It is estimated that one quarter of our calories come from foods and drinks cooked and prepared outside of the home. Cafés, restaurants, bars, canteens, delis, takeaways, meetings and markets, the list is endless. In general the foods and drinks served tend to be high in calories, fat, sugar and salt, which makes them oh so tempting but not the greatest for our waistlines or long term health.

Eating out is here to stay, but how do you experience all of the joy but none of the guilt that eating out has to offer? Here are some tips on eating healthy when out and about.

Tips for Eating Out the Healthy Way

  • Fail to plan and plan to fail, take time to plan your meals in advance. If you find yourself eating out a lot then try and have a healthy go-to spot. Some places have a sample menu on their website giving you a taste of what’s on offer and even sometimes the calorie content of meals.
  • Don’t arrive too hungry, as you are more likely to make poor decisions and overeat at your meal. It’s more difficult to avoid nibbling on bread sticks beforehand and overeating if you arrive too hungry. Avoid overdoing it by eating healthy snacks like fruit and nuts between meals if hungry.
  • Downsize your portion, ask for a half portion of your meal. In asking for a half portion it allows you to enjoy your preferred meal without overeating and feeling bloated. Many restaurants will be able to package up the remainder of the meal, meaning you get to re-visit the experience in the comfort of your own home.
  • Fill up on lower fat foods, eat a variety of vegetables, salads, fruits and legumes with your meals. Filling up on these foods helps you to feel fuller for longer and avoid overeating richer foods served as part of the meal. Try snacking on fruit if hungry before a meal, having salad as a sandwich filler, and ordering a side salad or bowl of vegetables instead of additional chips and potatoes.
  • Skip the extras, don’t be afraid to ask for alterations and substitutions to your meal. Ask that butter or mayonnaise not be added to sandwiches, salad dressings and sauces on the side, boiled vegetables without added butter and for a cup of soup or side salad instead of chips or wedges.
  • Embrace a challenge, try and opt for a more veggie-based option. Eating out is the perfect time to try tasty meals you would not normally prepare at home. Whether it’s a veggie lasagna or three bean Shepherd’s pie, very few of your favorites no longer have a meat free counterpart. Opting for a vegetarian option can make the meal more exciting and give you some inspiration on how to incorporate more vegetables, salads, fruits and legumes into your diet.
  • Focus more on the people. Try and focus your attention on the people at the meal. Sharing a meal with others is a wonderful way to socialize. Directing your attention to those you are sharing a meal with can draw you away from temptations on menu boards whilst also slow down your eating and dining experience.
  • Mindful Eating: eat with intention and attention. Mindful eating is a way of caring for your body. It can help you avoid overindulging whilst still enjoy the food experience to the full. Slow down and take time to scan the menu, take in the atmosphere, eat slowly, stay present noting all of the smells, tastes and textures of the meal. And when it’s time to stop, STOP. Don’t dwell on your mother telling you to clean your plate. Once full, leave a napkin over the plate or ask to have what’s left over boxed up to take home.
  • Skip dessert or split dessert, and go for a walk. It’s no easy task to turn a blind eye to a selection of pastries at a meetings or the “special” on a desserts board. If you know you are going to be faced with a not so sweet decision try and pack a naturally sweet snack like fruit or a healthier homemade dessert. If temptation wins then why not share your delicious treat with someone and follow it up with a brisk walk to avoid going back for more.
  • If having a little holiday, pack a picnic. With the summer months upon us and the sun coming out, it has never been a better time to pull out the picnic blankets and dust off the plastic cutlery. Have a rummage through your fridge and get planning a tasty selection of sandwiches and salads filled with seasonal fruits and vegetables. You will know exactly what’s in your lunch and will be amazed by how much money you save and fun you have in the process.

Men’s Health Matters…Make the Time. Take the Time.

This week is International Men’s Health Week! Here is Val’s story about taking control of his health:

Val Browne, aged 69, joined the Ballina Men’s Shed last year following the death of his wife.

He attended a Croí HeartSmart screening last September in the Shed as part of a health initiative. Val had no previous history of heart disease or particular risk factors, but at the screening a Croí nurse discovered he had high blood pressure and was advised to attend his GP. “I got the shock of my life. I’d be the last person you would think had high blood pressure… I never had any health problems,” says Val.

High blood pressure can damage your arteries and increase your chances of heart disease, stroke and suffering kidney damage. Two days later Val still had no plans to see his GP: “The Croí nurse called me and urged me again to see my GP, so I finally went.” Val’s high blood pressure was persistent, so his GP arranged further monitoring and treatment. “I had no symptoms, but that’s why they call it the silent killer,” says Val.

He is now very aware of his blood pressure readings and understands that it is important to look after your blood pressure and to keep it at healthy levels. “The Croí screening was the best thing ever. You saved me and you saved one or two more on that day too!” says Val.

Men’s Health Matters…Make the Time. Take the Time.