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.

Michael’s Heart Failure Story

Michael Delapp is 69 years old. He lives in Clifden with his wife, Jane. He has two adult sons.

He is also living with heart failure.

Michael suffered a heart attack in 2005, causing permanent damage to the heart muscle. As a result, Michael had a stent fitted to help blood to flow freely, and subsequently was fitted with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is small electrical device that monitors the rhythm of your heartbeat. When it detects an abnormal rhythm (arrhythmia) it works to restore the normal heartbeat.

Michael was diagnosed with heart failure very soon after the heart attack because of the damage this caused to his heart. He experienced the common symptoms of heart failure, including fatigue, shortness of breath when at rest and fluid retention.

He said his heart failure had a significant psychological impact on him. “I had been a powerful guy…after the heart attack, it was like I’d aged 50 years…It also had a huge impact on my family. I was no longer the invincible Dad. I really hit rock-bottom. Unfortunately when I left hospital I felt quite alone, I didn’t know where to turn.

I feel it’s very important for people to get as much information as possible on the condition, and on the support that’s available. Once I was put in touch with a heart failure Nurse Specialist, Mary O’Sullivan, I felt much better. She told me to forget the life I had, and to focus on the one I have now. That had a major impact on me – I realised I wouldn’t be able to recover if I didn’t accept where I was at.”

Michael went on to be referred by his doctor to Croí’s CLANN Programme, a specialised 10-week, healthy lifestyle initiative which aims to help individuals achieve a healthy weight and shape through physical activity and healthy eating.

Michael said the programme had a huge impact on his life. He was able to cut down his weight and he says it helped him build his confidence back up, as he had been afraid to exercise after his heart attack. He went on to say “I didn’t realise I could do as much as I could. Everyone was closely monitored, and your programme was individually tailored to you. Partaking in the programme helped me with my confidence, and with managing my diet and lifestyle. It also gave me much more independence.

In addition, it had a profound impact on my outlook. I now have a very positive mindset, and I’m much happier in myself. I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t gotten some support.”

When asked if he had any advice for those experiencing symptoms, or those who have been recently diagnosed with heart failure, Michael said “Get as much information as you can… find out what’s available to you when you get diagnosed, it can make all the difference to how you feel going forward.”

Michael was interviewed by Croí on his experiences of Heart Failure as part of the Global Heart Hub ‘Red Flag Campaign’. This project aims to highlight the signs and symptoms of heart failure – and encourage those experiencing these symptoms to go to their GP and ask “Could it be heart failure?”

Croí is joining The Global Heart Hub and other organisations across 15 counties in this campaign to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure. The campaign can be followed online at #raisetheflag and www.globalhearthub.org.

Michael is raising the flag on heart failure this May.

Raise the Flag

“Get as much information as you can… find out what’s available to you when you get diagnosed, it can make all the difference to how you feel going forward.”

Marc’s Heart Failure Story

Marc is 44 years old. He lives in Roscommon, near Carrick on Shannon, with his wife Geraldine and their two children who are 10 and 5 years old. He now works as a Surveyor, but used to work for Irish Rail as a breakdown mechanic.

He is also living with heart failure.

Marc suffered a suspected stroke in 2009, and was then diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy in 2011 – aged just 36. He subsequently developed heart failure.

Marc’s first symptom of heart failure was a feeling of fatigue. “At the time I was working in a very physical job, and had to travel a lot for work – sometimes working 60 hours a week. This meant I was away from home a lot, staying in hotels and eating on the go. I don’t think it was a very healthy lifestyle, and thought that was why I was feeling so tired.”

Marc was fitted with an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) to treat the underlying problem that led to heart failure. The ICD monitors Marc’s heart rhythm and paces the heart or shocks it back into a normal rhythm. “My life has changed a lot since my diagnosis. I have had to change jobs, and it’s been difficult with a young family. But I’m feeling much better now with the ICD, it has improved my symptoms.” 

When asked in he had any advice for those experiencing symptoms of heart failure, he said “Go to the doctor. I didn’t until I was in a bad way, I thought I had just been working too hard and was feeling tired. If you’re worried – speak to your doctor.”

Marc was interviewed by Croí on his experiences of Heart Failure as part of the Global Heart Hub ‘Red Flag Campaign’. This project aims to highlight the signs and symptoms of heart failure – and encourage those experiencing these symptoms to go to their GP and ask “Could it be heart failure?”

Croí is joining The Global Heart Hub and other organisations across 15 counties in this campaign to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure. The campaign can be followed online at #raisetheflag and www.globalhearthub.org.

Marc is raising the flag on heart failure this May

Raise the Flag

“Go to the doctor. I didn’t until I was in a bad way, I thought I had just been working too hard and was feeling tired. If you’re worried – speak to your doctor.”

Kay’s Heart Failure Story

Kay Flynn is 67 years old. She lives in Sligo with her husband, Michael, where she worked as a registrar for the HSÉ. She has two grown up children and one grandchild.

She is also living with heart failure.

Kay had a heart incident in November 2012, while on her lunch break from work. She went into cardiac arrest on her way into the hairdressers and was in an induced coma for three days. Following on from this incident, Kay was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Because of the damaged caused by the cardiac arrest, Kay then went on to develop heart failure.

As part of her treatment for Cardiomyopathy, Kay was fitted with an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator). Both of Kay’s children also have this condition, with her son experiencing a very similar cardiac arrest aged 42, for which he was subsequently fitted with an ICD. Her daughter was then fitted with an ICD as a precautionary measure.

Kay experienced no symptoms prior to her cardiac arrest, and doesn’t recall experiencing symptoms of heart failure prior to her diagnosis. She had been ill with cancer two years prior to her cardiac arrest, and had received chemotherapy. Kay also had a family history of heart problems, with both of her parents dying from heart incidents.

When asked if she had any advice for those experiencing symptoms or worried about heart failure, she said “Go and get checked – if you have any symptoms, even if you might think they’re innocent – get checked. I would especially urge those with a family history or more than one symptom to get checked immediately.”

Kay is currently doing a cardiac rehab course in Sligo – and is now feeling much better thanks to the care she has received, though she does still experience some symptoms, such as breathlessness.

Kay Flynn was interviewed by Croí on her experiences of Heart Failure as part of the Global Heart Hub ‘Red Flag Campaign’. This project aims to highlight the signs and symptoms of heart failure – and encourage those experiencing these symptoms to go to their GP and ask “Could it be heart failure?”

Croí is joining The Global Heart Hub and other organisations across 15 counties in this campaign to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure. The campaign can be followed online at #raisetheflag and www.globalhearthub.org.

Kay is raising the flag on heart failure this May

Raise the Flag

“Go and get checked – if you have any symptoms, even if you might think they’re innocent – get checked. I would especially urge those with a family history or more than one symptom to get checked immediately.”`

David’s Heart Failure Story

David Best is 79 years old. He lives in Sligo with his wife, Dympna, where he worked in banking and went on to become a company representative for a financial company. He has five grown up children and two grandchildren.

He is also living with heart failure.

Prior to having a triple bypass in 2004, he was very active, “I’d cycle 50 miles up to the mountains in Sligo. I also loved to swim. After the operation, I managed to keep up the swimming.”

“It all came as a surprise. I was having a medical done and was sent for a scan and they discovered I had 3 blocked arteries. After I came out of the operation I was a new man – it was like a re-birth.”

Because of the damage to his heart muscle, David went on to develop heart failure. Heart failure, sometimes known as congestive heart failure, occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.

When asked if he had any advice for anyone experiencing symptoms of heart failure, he said, “I would say to anyone experiencing any symptoms to go and get checked sooner rather than later. You might think some of the symptoms are innocent. Just get it checked out.”

He continued, “Men are desperate at getting checked when they think there’s a problem… you make excuses. I thought how I was feeling was a normal part of getting older. I worked in a high-pressure job and I was very busy with work. I think that’s why I didn’t take much notice of how I was feeling.”

He continued,  “It suddenly hits you that it’s having an impact on your family too. They worry about you. That’s why I enjoy going to heart failure support classes and meeting other people who have had similar experiences. You build up a bond and it has helped me build my confidence back up.”

David Best was interviewed by Croí on his experiences of Heart Failure as part of the Global Heart Hub ‘Red Flag Campaign’. This project aims to highlight the signs and symptoms of heart failure – and encourage those experiencing these symptoms to go to their GP and ask “Could it be heart failure?”

Croí is joining The Global Heart Hub and other organisations across 15 counties in this campaign to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure. The campaign can be followed online at #raisetheflag and www.globalhearthub.org.

David Best is raising the flag on heart failure this May.

Raise the Flag

“I would say to anyone experiencing any symptoms to go and get checked sooner rather than later. You might think some of the symptoms are innocent. Just get it checked out.”

Attracta’s Story

Attracta is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Heart Failure, working in Sligo University Hospital. When asked why she chose to specialise in heart failure, she answered “I’ve always been interested in the heart. I was working in coronary care, and decided to specialise in heart failure.”

She continued “I understand it can be very worrying for people living with heart failure – but in my experience, if people get the right support – and there is support out there – patients can live full lives. It’s so important for heart failure patients to have that outlet. There are support groups people can join, and we also have a support line where patients can ring into the clinic if they have any questions. We’ve been running the support group in Sligo for around four years now, and this has been hugely advantageous to our patients.”

“I’m raising the flag this May to let people know there is a lot of help and support out there – don’t be afraid to ask for it.

If you are experiencing any symptoms, don’t wait. Go and get checked immediately. It’s important to get diagnosed in order to receive the right package of care. It’s important once you have your diagnosis to reach out for support– join a support group, find out what’s available in your area. A lot of our patients also do modified exercise classes, and this can make a big difference to how you’re feeling.”

Attracta Madden was interviewed as part of the Global Heart Hub ‘Red Flag Campaign’. This project aims to highlight the signs and symptoms of heart failure – and encourage those experiencing these symptoms to go to their GP and ask “Could it be heart failure?”

Croí is joining The Global Heart Hub and other organisations across 15 counties in this campaign to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure. The campaign can be followed online at #raisetheflag and www.globalhearthub.org.

Attracta Madden is raising the flag on heart failure this May.

Raise the Flag

It’s important to get diagnosed in order to receive the right package of care.

Gerald’s Heart Failure Story

Gerald McTernan is 72 years old. He lives in Leitrim with his wife Nora, where he worked for the ESB and used to farm. He has two adult children as well as two grandchildren.

He is also living with heart failure.

Gerald had open heart surgery in September 2014. Subsequently while in for a check-up, he complained of shortness of breath and fluid retention – and has now been diagnosed with heart failure. 

He continued, “I was very strong, which meant I recovered. I used to play football, tug of war and I did weight lifting. I also worked on my farm which kept me fit. This illness has been very hard on me, it changed everything. Having to travel to Galway and Dublin for treatment and surgeries was very hard on my family, especially my wife.”

When asked if he had any advice for anyone experiencing symptoms of heart failure, Gerald added; “Get checked. Don’t put it off. I was relatively healthy and I didn’t smoke, so I wasn’t expecting it. It’s also very important you have a good doctor that you trust… that made all the difference.”

Gerald McTernan was interviewed by Croí on his experiences of Heart Failure as part of the Global Heart Hub ‘Red Flag Campaign’. This project aims to highlight the signs and symptoms of heart failure – and encourage those experiencing these symptoms to go to their GP and ask “Could it be heart failure?”

Croí is joining The Global Heart Hub and other organisations across 15 counties in this campaign to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart failure. The campaign can be followed online at #raisetheflag and www.globalhearthub.org.

Gerald is raising the flag on heart failure this month as part of the 'Red Flag Campaign'

Raise the Flag

“Get checked. Don’t put it off. I was relatively healthy and I don’t smoke, so I wasn’t expecting it. It’s also very important you have a good doctor that you trust… that made all the difference.”

Making changes for life – Terry’s story

One of the programmes here at Croí is a Phase IV Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme, designed to provide ongoing support and motivation to individuals with cardiovascular disease to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.

Terry Small is a dedicated member of Croí’s Phase IV programme and joins us every Tuesday for exercise at Croí House. Terry was referred to Croí after having a stent inserted. He started with Croí’s Active Heart Cardiac Rehab programme back in 2017, before continuing on with the Phase IV class.

“I wasn’t doing much exercise before…You can get lazy when you’re retired! My wife used to go for walks on her own, but now I love joining her and getting out for some fresh air and exercise. Now I am as fit as I can be,” says Terry.

“It’s been a lifestyle change. I’m not a worrier and I just enjoy life. I’ve started relearning how to play the piano, and for me, exercise was like learning an instrument. You have to practice and you have to be patient. Consistency is key!”

The team at Croí are so proud of Terry’s journey to a healthy lifestyle. Terry even took part in Croí’s Annual 5km Night Run last year, “I love showing off my medal… I hadn’t won a medal in 40 years!”

“I look forward to Tuesday and coming to Croí…it’s an excellent facility, I can’t praise it enough.”

Well done, Terry! We look forward to seeing you again on Tuesday.

Terry Small, left, pictured with fellow programme participant, Darach Flanagan.

Heart Valve Disease – a brief introduction

Written by Croí’s Cardiovascular Nurse Specialist, Patricia Hall

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for all types of disease that affect the heart and blood vessels. Most commonly it refers to coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack) and stroke. However, there are other heart conditions that can affect your heart’s valves, muscle or rhythm.

Heart valve disease is when one or more of the valves in your heart become diseased or damaged, preventing them from opening or closing properly. You have 4 valves in your heart (2 on the right, 2 on the left) that keep blood flowing in the right direction.

These valves can be affected in 2 ways:

  1. the valve area can become narrowed, not opening fully and causing an obstruction or blockage to the flow of blood. This is called valve stenosis; or
  2. the valve may not close properly allowing blood to flow backwards in the wrong direction. This is called valve regurgitation or incompetence.

Common causes of heart valve disease include congenital heart birth defects, infections and degeneration over time. Due to wear and tear or high blood pressure, the prevalence increases with ageing.

You may not experience any symptoms of heart valve disease for many years or they may seem vague and non-specific.

Common symptoms can include:

  • shortness of breath particularly on exertion;
  • fatigue or feeling excessively tired;
  • swelling of the ankles;
  • chest pain or tightness;
  • dizziness or fainting.

Sometimes valve disease is only discovered when your doctor listens to your heart with a stethoscope and hears an abnormal heart murmur (heart sound).

Many people with heart valve disease can live a normal life for many years, with little treatment. In some cases the valve may need to be repaired or replaced. This depends on which of the valves is affected, the severity of your condition and if it is getting worse. Increased awareness and early detection of this condition can mean heart valve disease is entirely treatable. Lifestyle changes and medicines often can treat symptoms successfully and delay problems for many years. Eventually, though, you may need surgery or a less invasive procedure to repair or replace the damaged valve.

Remember, heart disease – and heart valve disease in particular – is easier to treat when detected early, so keep an eye on our website for a full article on heart valve disease coming shortly.