Let’s walk a marathon – Part three – Taking in the right fuel.

I am going to take you back to the original images that I shared of a healthy and a fat encased heart in the first of the posts on this marathon challenge.


Images and article courtesy of: http://www.impianemasmedicalcentre.com/visceral-fat-more-dangerous-than-you-think/

You cannot survive without your major organs, although they have developed some workarounds…If you stop breathing they can put you on a ventilator and this includes if you suffer brain death, and provided your heart is beating you can be kept alive indefinitely.

However if your heart stops, unless they can get it beating again within in 4 to five minutes, brain cells will start to die. Without a heart you will die.

The purpose of this challenge is to achieve a better level of internal fitness, and the primary target of our efforts has to be the heart.

For elite athletes diet is key and food is carefully monitored to provide the optimum energy at a specific time. For example managing carbohydrate intake before a marathon is key.

In the week before a race, the athlete will reduce training and increase carb intake gradually until two days before the marathon when each meal with have carbs with a reduction in proteins and fats. This method means that the muscles which are the body’s fuel tank are topped up and ready to power the 26 miles. Although athletes keep away from the white refined carbs usually there is a more relaxed approach the day or so before a race as the sugars are faster to fill the tank.

How about for our marathon challenge?

Unless you are already fighting fit and ready to to a full marathon tomorrow in 3 hours or under, you do not need to carb binge or add loads of sugar to your diet. In fact all you need to do is follow a healthy heart diet which includes all food groups with the exclusion of certain foods that contain too many chemicals.

This of course plays right into my hands as an advocate for the Cook from Scratch approach to eating, losing weight and getting fit.

The Healthy Heart Diet.

The aim of this eating plan is to help maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of diabetes, atherosclerosis and high blood pressure all of which are contributory factors to heart disease.

The eating plan will be all the more effective when combined with the increased activity level as you complete your marathons. Even in the first stages when that might be reasonably slow, you will find that areas of persistent internal fat around the waist will reduce. Belly fat is a key indicator of an unhealthy heart and reducing this is a key element of the challenge.

Firstly, it is more than likely that you already know that certain lifestyle choices you have made may be contributing to heart disease. If you are a smoker you are at a higher risk of developing arterial disease and a heart attack. If you eat too many junk foods, high in saturated fats and sugars, you are risking high cholesterol and probably diabetes. If you drink excessive amounts of alcohol then you are again taking chances with your heart health.

The good news is that eating a healthy heart programme need not be boring. In fact it will mean that you get to spend more time in the kitchen experimenting with all the wonderful alternatives to fats and sugars that are available everywhere. You need not compromise on taste and after a few weeks you will wonder how you managed to eat food that was so full of artificial fat, salt and sugar.

The aim is to eat all natural, unindustrialised foods that have been unadulterated by chemical additives and preservatives. Certain foods are processed by the nature of their origins. For example your milk will have been pasturised for safety.. Your cheese will have gone through a process as will natural unsweetened yogurts. Your fresh home-baked bread even if made with organic wholegrain flour will have an element of processing especially.  Extra-virgin olive oil has been processed the least but has still needed to be extracted.

This is why I use the term industrialised for foods to avoid and they generally come in some form of plastic packaging or are very cheap.

I am going to give you a list of foods that have a specific role in preventing artery damage and heart disease. In that list are some foods that are high in Potassium, along with the minerals Calcium and Magnesium. Potassium is a mineral that is essential for heart health and calcium and magnesium are essential to balance the potassium in the body.

I hope that by seeing the foods and discovering how good they are for our hearts you will include them in your good shopping and cookery.

However, it is easier to detail the foods that you should EXCLUDE in your healthy heart eating plan as you can eat everything that is natural and unindustrialised, limiting any other foods to a maximum of 20% of your daily diet. Notice that I say avoid – this does not mean cut out all together as that is impractical – but there is a huge difference between having two biscuits each time you have a cup of tea and having two once or twice a week.

Ice cream is delicious and having once a week is not going to be the cause of a heart attack – but it will do if you have every day in combination with bacon, ready meals, cakes, sausages, processed sauces, biscuits etc.

Avoid all processed foods, including:

Hams, Bacon, Ready meals, Sausages, Canned food, Biscuits, Cakes, Ice Cream, Packaged sauces, Frozen prepared meals.

These contain extremely high levels of salt and phosphorus, as well as harmful additives and colorants.

White packaged breads tend to have a great many additives, cheap brown bread that comes wrapped in plastic has probably been treated to a caramel colour rinse as well as having a white flour base.

In house bakery whole grain bread is about the best option if you do not want to spend the time making yourself.  There are some great breads from local bakers in our Tesco here in Gorey and I am particularly fond of Irish Soda Bread which has a delicious crumbly texture and unique taste.

Although some margarines may be low fat they contain hydrogenated fats and additives and it is better for your health to have a little butter on your bread and potatoes.

Do not drink fizzy or condensed fruit drinks as they have extremely high levels of sugar and colorants. Also Aspartame is still raising its ugly head despite manufacturers wishing it into the healthy column.

Moderate your intake of alcohol to no more than two average size glasses of wine per night or one spirit. It is better to have a glass of wine per night than binge at the weekend with a bottle or more. Your liver can handle a moderate amount of alcohol per day but finds it hard to process if taken in excess.

Sodium is essential for the body but it occurs naturally in certain foods and there is no reason to add much more in the way of seasoning. One of the worst culprits for too much sodium is mineral water…ensure that the one that you buy has levels marked as below 1.0 per 100ml.. or says that it is low sodium

SODIUM: This is an electrolyte (cation), which is a positively electrically charged atom that performs essential tasks within each cell. It is very easy to have too much sodium in your diet as it is added in too large quantities in cooking and in processed foods. It is naturally occurring in vegetables, more than sufficiently for normal needs. Excess sodium is related to elevated blood pressure levels when combined with chloride as common salt and should be reduced significantly in the diet. Sodium contents should be multiplied by 2.5 to identify the actual amount of salt being consumed and an area to look closely at if you have high blood pressure is the amount of sodium in any mineral water that you are consuming daily in quantity.

A brief look at Potassium which is one of the important minerals for heart health.

POTASSIUM: This is the main cation (positively charged electrolyte). It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell. It allows the transmission of nerve impulses and helps maintain the correct fluid balance in the body. It also regulates levels of acidity and alkalinity in the body. It is also required for carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It is connected to normal heart rhythms. The best food sources are dried apricots, figs, bananas, pumpkinseeds, almonds, potatoes, green leafy vegetables, fish, avocados, beans, milk and most fruit and other vegetables.

Generally any fresh produce across the food groups that is fresh and cooked from scratch is healthy for your heart.

I am a firm believer in eating foods that are packed with nutrients. If you need to lose weight you need to eat less calories, but that should not be at the expense of nutrition.

The following ones in particular contribute to a healthy heart and help prevent high blood pressure, blood sugar and elevated and oxidised LDL cholesterol levels. These include the currently demonised wholegrains which have played a part in our body’s nutrition for several thousand of years and have only really caused a problem when they became combined with refined sugars and unhealthy fats.

Include some like oats on a daily basis and the others at least three to four times a week. Oats contain fibre called beta-glucan which helps lower cholesterol and prevents plaque from forming in your arteries. Wholegrain rice and pasta are fine in moderate amounts and even a heaped tablespoon will give you a boost of nutrients without adding too many calories.  Wholegrains in the form of unprocessed, fresh baked bread and natural cereals, without additives, provide B vitamins, fibre and magnesium.

I believe in eating at least seven or eight portions a day of fresh fruit and vegetables and they have the added benefit of being low in fat and calories as well as nutrient packed. All vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants, which remove free radicals from the system and also promote the growth of healthy cells and tissue. They can all be eaten freely on your healthy heart diet, but here are some in particular that are very beneficial.

Onions in particular which contain sulphur compounds that along with B6 and chromium help lower homocysteine levels in the blood- homocysteine causes platelets to clump so that they can attach themselves to the walls of the arteries and block them. One of the major causes of high blood pressure.

Potatoes for kukoamines to reduce blood pressure and eat the skin for its fibre.

Avocados with their healthy fat that actively helps to reduce cholesterol. They also contain potassium. Eating half an avocado with some fresh salmon and a salad makes a great light lunch or supper.

Bananas are high in potassium contain fibre. They are higher in carbohydrate than some fruits so are very useful to take with you when on a longer walk to maintain energy levels.

Beans for fibre to keep arteries clear, potassium, low fat protein and magnesium.

Broccoli contains calcium and magnesium to help balance the potassium in your blood stream. Brussel sprouts for their antioxidants and potassium. Cabbage for its alkalising effect on the body. Spinach for many nutrients but also potassium and calcium. Shitake mushrooms that have so many therapeutic benefits apart from their definite effect on heart health. Tomatoes for antioxidants and potassium

Figs for their alkaline effect on the body and potassium levels.

Green tea with its antioxidants, which inhibit the enzymes that produce free radicals in the lining of the arteries. This not only prevents plaque from forming but also improves the ratio of LDL (lousy cholesterol) to HDL (healthy cholesterol)

Kiwi fruit for Vitamin C and potassium – Oranges with fibre to help keep arteries clear and their Vitamin C which prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Oranges are also high in potassium. Salad vegetables with their high water content and vitamin C.  Prunes and no sugar added prune juice for antioxidants, potassium and fibre. Raisins for potassium.

Olive oil for essential fatty acids.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are necessary fats that humans cannot synthesise and must be obtained through diet. There are two families of EFAs Omega-3 and Omega-6. Omega-9 is necessary but non-essential as it can be made by the body if the other two fatty acids are present.

EFAs are essential because they support our cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems. We need these fats to manufacture and repair cells, maintain hormone levels and expel waste from the body. They are part of the process that regulates blood pressure, blood clotting, fertility and conception – and they also help regulate inflammation and stimulate the body to fight infection.

Omega-3 (Linolenic Acid) is the principal Omega-3 fatty acid and is used in the formation of cell walls, improving circulation and oxygen. A deficiency can lead to decreased immune system function, elevated levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. It is found in flaxseed, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, avocados, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, sardines, scallops, halibut, sardines tuna and salmon. Walnuts and salmon also contain calcium and B6 important for heart health.

Omega-6 (Linoleic Acid) is the primary Omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 can improve rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. Found in flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, evening primrose oil, chicken and poultry and smaller amounts in salmon.

Fresh, free range eggs are a great source of EFAs and their natural cholesterol is not going to increase yours unless you fry them in a lot of fat. Boiled, poached and even scrambled with a little butter and semi-skimmed milk and they make a complete meal with some tomatoes, spinach and some new boiled potatoes.

Tofu as a vegetarian option for low fat protein, calcium and magnesium.

Walnuts, most unsalted nuts and seeds with their monounsaturated fat which lowers lipoprotein in the blood. Remember, Lipoprotein causes platelets to clot which in turn can lead to strokes or a cerebral aneurysm. Walnuts also contain B6, which is very important for a healthy cardiovascular system in general.

If you are attempting to decrease the body fat around your belly then you need to have cheese as a flavour enhancer rather than the main course. I love cheese but find that if I grate a little extra mature cheddar and sprinkle on top of a meal I get the flavour without the calories. I also will have a little full fat milk in my tea and coffee but wil drink a semi-skimmed glass of milk once or twice a week.

I use full fat butter rather than margerines or reduced fat options since they have been chemically altered. A spread of good butter tastes great provided you do not use lashings.

I hope that you have seen something you like on the menu and that you will include these foods in your regular diet. Now that we have the ingredients I will next look at how to put them together in a meal plan to maintain your energy levels for your marathon but also to help your body repair with a boosted immune system.

The other posts in the Marathon Challenge can be found in this directory.


33 thoughts on “Let’s walk a marathon – Part three – Taking in the right fuel.

  1. Thanks, Sally. I’m behind – not a great week, but I’m still in it. I appreciate all of this information. Sounds like I should bring out my breadmaker again?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Let’s walk a marathon – Part three – Taking in the right fuel. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. Thank you for this list to remind me to eat right. I love everything you listed and eat my share! LOL! Will keep working at the extra pounds until they melt away. I wish it were that easy to get off. Hugs xx ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this list of foods to eat Sally. I am vegetarian and trying to be vegan by the end of the year, so many of the things on your list are very palatable for me. Two exercise classes under my belt this week, so I am on my way.

    Liked by 1 person

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