The power of Mind-Heart connection

As a practitioner of evidence-based medicine, I am impressed by all the research that looks at the effects of regular exercise, good nutrition, quitting tobacco and adequate sleep on the heart, but am disappointed that very few doctors are looking into how much matters of the mind can affect the heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reason is straightforward: it is easy to measure the number of hours of exercise and sleep, the amount and type of food intake and even the number of times someone smokes or chews tobacco in a day; but it is rather difficult to quantify and qualify peoples’ feelings and emotions. Leave alone a healthcare professional, even you yourself may not be able to accurately say what makes you happy or sad or angry or afraid.

Nevertheless, we know for sure that the mind and the heart work in unison. One cannot be separated from the other. Both are mutually interdependent on each other. In other words, there is a strong connection between the mind and the heart and they have to be equally well cared for to prevent diseases as well as to cure them. So come, let’s embark on a mindful journey to feel the power of the mind-heart connection, which in turn has the power to heal all our diseases.

  1. Understand that all feelings are natural

You would agree with me if I said there is no night without day and no autumn without spring. These are natural phenomena that keep the earth going. You don’t compare one with the other or pray for one over the other. So, why would you think that happiness and contentment are superior to sadness or fear or disappointment? Each of these feelings is natural and genuine. There is no need to hide or mask any emotion. As long as there is a reason or a situation for your particular emotion, you should just feel the emotion and let it pass.

For example, we often tell our kids “don’t cry like a baby”; and we even tell ourselves “I should feel happy all the time”. The former does not help kids realise what makes them happy or sad and the latter is an impractical and unrealistic goal to achieve. A positive attitude is something we should all aim for but that only means that we should not brood over spilt milk for too long; it doesn’t mean brooding is wrong.

  1. Look inwards and reflect, the answer is often within

With a fast-paced life and several roles to fulfil in a day, many of us forget to look inwards and reflect. There is such an overload of tastes, smells, sights, textures and sounds in today’s world that a few minutes of calm and quite without any external stimuli is hard to find. And to top it all, we have our smart phones that give us all of these stimuli at one shot even when we are alone.

In my humble opinion, today, a few minutes of self-refection every day is the need of the hour. It is the only way one can understand his/her emotions, likes and dislikes and priorities in life. And if you’re constantly stressed out due to various happenings around you, looking within and modifying your responses to stressors or external triggers is the only way out.

  1. Work on your coping skills

While it’s true that a crisis doesn’t strike too often, nobody is immune to unexpected turns in life like an estranged marriage, a bad investment or the death of a loved one. What we don’t want to do is feel so downhearted and blue that we end up with depression, suicidal tendencies or a heart attack.

Coping skills are nothing but ways in which we can bounce back to normal after a blow in life. That is why we often say invest time in building your friends, family and faith (religious or non-religious) in the days that you don’t need them so much. The investment will pay off when a crisis strikes; your friends, family and faith will serve as shock absorbers and help you get on track again.

  1. Identify your passion and fuel it

Not many of us know what our passion is. We do our work, we care for our family, we take a vacation once in a way and we grow old. That’s fine, but if there are some aspects of your daily routine that give you immense pleasure and make you loose track of time, that is the thing that you are passionate about! It might be singing, dancing, reading, writing, cooking, being creative, solving puzzles, gardening, stitching, playing with kids, cleaning the house, helping someone in need, praying, playing a sport, being one with nature, etc. The list goes on and on. Basically, it can be anything in which your mind and body is actively engaged (there are only a few things that do not qualify: television watching, spreading false news and hatred, and destructive thinking and actions). You just need to create time or free up more time from your daily tasks to spend at least half an hour everyday to grow your passion.

There is scientific evidence to prove that when you are passionate about something and have a meaningful life, your longevity goes up significantly.

  1. Challenge yourself more often

Yes, this is where most of us are lagging behind. We are afraid of challenging ourselves for fear of failing. We don’t want to push our limits as we are currently comfortable and feel no need for any challenges. We often blame our age for this attitude. But that’s exactly when you need to challenge yourself to something new like learning a new language, scaling new heights at the work/home front or developing a completely new skill. Have we not come across men and women who run marathons in their 70s and 80s, people who get PhDs after retirement and individuals who become a sensation overnight for overcoming serious obstacles to health and life?

Research shows that the best ways to avoid dementia, depression and other chronic ailments are a healthy lifestyle combined with a thirst for new knowledge and skills.

In short, caring for our minds, nurturing our souls and taking some time out for ourselves on a daily basis will go a long way in keeping us healthy and happy as long as we live!

If you are interested in attending a workshop on mind-heart connection and would like to learn from experts in the field of psychology and yoga, please see the event details on: https://www.facebook.com/events/253339935338681/

Fruits & Diabetes: Friends or Foes?

Diabetes Mellitus (DM) commonly referred to as diabetes is one of the most rampant chronic conditions affecting humans today. It occurs when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin or when the cells of the body become resistant to insulin. It is a lifestyle disorder in which the body struggles to control the levels of blood sugar but is unable to do so due to unhealthy eating, exercising and stress management habits.

We all know that eating fruit is a delicious way to satisfy hunger and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Although we know fruits and vegetables are good for us, people with diabetes are often told they should avoid fruits because they are too sweet or contain sugar. All fruits contain natural sugars along with a good mix of vitamins, minerals and fibres. As a nutritionist, the question that I get asked most often is “I am diabetic, can I eat fruits?” So, are fruits really advisable for you if you have diabetes?

 

In this blog post, I hope to shed some light on the important issue of fruit intake for people with diabetes. First, let me explain two key concepts related to diet and diabetes: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load.

Glycemic Index (GI)

GI is a number that gives you an idea about how fast your body converts the carbohydrates in a specific food into glucose. Two foods with the same amount of carbohydrates can have different glycaemic indices based on whether they contain more of simple sugars or complex sugars.

The smaller the number, the more time the body takes to convert it into glucose and so the more desirable for diabetic individuals.

55 or less = Low (most desirable in diabetics)

56 to 69 = Medium (less desirable in diabetics)

70 or higher = High (least desirable in diabetics)

The purpose of knowing the GI is to eat foods that are less likely to cause sudden steep increases in blood glucose levels. If you have diabetes, you must choose low GI foods in your daily diet. Research has proven that a low GI diet not only helps keep your blood glucose and blood cholesterol under control but also reduces insulin resistance and thereby the risk of complications likes heart attack and stroke. A recent research article explains how a low GI diet can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar better https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006296.pub2/full.

Glycemic index of some fruits:

 

Glycemic Load (GL)

The GL of a food item is a number that indicates how much that food will raise a person’s blood glucose level after eating it and it is mostly based on the glycemic index (GI). Large research trials have shown that people who consumed lower glycemic load diets were at a lower risk of developing diabetes and heart disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23364021

The formula for calculating the GL of a particular food or meal is:

Glycemic Load = GI x Carbohydrate (g) content per portion ÷ 100.

Foods with a GL below 10 are regarded as “low” and those with a GL above 20 as “high”. Examples are:

Low GL foods: Apples, Pears, Oranges, Grapes, Peaches, Strawberries, Tomatoes and Watermelon

High GL foods: Dates, Raisins, Dried fruits.

Here’s a look at some common myths about fruit intake and diabetes:

Myth – Fruits are not suitable for diabetic patients

Fact – If you want to manage your blood glucose, cholesterol level, blood pressure and body weight you must include fruits in your daily diet. In fact, most fruits have low to medium glycemic index. (Refer glycemic index above)

Myth – Diabetic patients can have added sugar in the form of brown sugar, sugar substitutes etc.

Fact – All added sugars should be avoided. Alternatively, you can opt for a sugar-free balanced healthy diet. Natural sugars are present in fruits, vegetables and milk so you can go with natural sugars instead of adding sugar to your diet.

Myth – Diabetic patients can eat special ‘diabetic’ foods available in the market

Fact – ‘Diabetic-friendly’ labelling tends to be used on sweets, biscuits and similar foods that are generally high in fat and sugar. As a dietician, I wouldn’t recommend eating sugar-free diabetic foods like diabetic sweets, biscuits and beverages. They have been found to worsen your diabetes and also lead to complications of liver, kidneys etc. Opting for natural foods is the best.

Myth – Fruit juices are safe for diabetic individuals

Fact–Fruit juices are to be avoided mainly because juices lack the goodness of fibre present in the whole fruit and quite often extra sugar and preservatives are added. Fresh home-squeezed juices without any added sugar and with the pulp are preferred to readymade juices. However, nothing to beat the fruit eaten as a whole.

Myth – You should stay away from chikoos, mangoes and bananas

Fact – These fruits are by themselves a treasure trove of nutrition and there is no need to consider them a taboo. But portion size is very important while taking these fruits to manage your blood glucose levels. In fact, grapes and bananas are very beneficial because they are high in fibre, low in fat and full of vitamins and minerals. Mangoes too are rich in nutritive content. And all these fruits protect against heart disease, cancer and certain digestive problems.

The longstanding concern amongst our people is that fruits contain high levels of natural sugars which will inevitably increase blood glucose level. Due to the low glycemic index of most fruits they do not lead to a sharp rise in blood glucose levels. In contrast, processed foods like white bread, packaged sugary drinks, chocolate, biscuits, cakes etc. have a very high GI and are definitely to be avoided.

As a dietician, my advice would be to keep a food diary to help track your fruit and vegetable consumption, as well as the other foods that you eat in a day. In this way, you can get professional help to ensure the intake of a well-balanced diet that helps nourish your body and keep your diabetes under control.

Dietary Tips to Control Blood Glucose:

  • Try to eat whole fruits as much as possible, as some nutrients are lost in fruit juices
  • Add a wide variety of fruits – rainbow colours – in your daily diet to prevent chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke, obesity, constipation and certain cancers
  • Avoid excessive intake of dried fruit because it has high GI value
  • Avoid health drinks, aerated drinks and packed drinks.

Incorporating fruits into your diet is the best way to lower the risk of various health problems. Whether you have diabetes or not, you need to consume a healthy portion, that is at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables, every day.