Farmers Health

I recently visited the Listowel Food Fair which I really enjoyed. I met some of the nicest warmest people in the country and even had a chance to meet up with some of the kids in the local schools. I spent one day at the local cattle mart meeting with the local farmers offereing a few dietary tips. It was actually filmed by RTE’s Ear to the Ground and we had a great day. Read on to see what words of wisdom I had for the local farmers….

Farmers enjoy one of the most physical and demanding jobs around. In fact you could almost refer to it as a way of life as opposed to a job. With long hours often from sunrise to sunset and for most a seven day working week it is hardly surprising that many Farmers health may suffer…and it appears to predominately heart health that does suffer. One study reported in the Irish medical journal found that 70% of men aged between 50 and 70 in the Cork and Kerry area had high cholesterol and half had high blood pressure. It is estimated that half of the Irish male population are overweight in Ireland and less than half of Irish men partake in regular physical activity.

The main risk factors for heart disease include lifestyle, diet, being overweight and inactive. Because of the physical demands in farming being overweight and inactive may not be as big a concern but as farming becomes more modernised it is not as physical as it once was but many diet habits haven’t altered with reduced activity…Smoking is another serious heart disease contender along with high fat and high salt diets.

The first port of call is to look at weight…when we focus on weight it is important to look at
fat distribution…e.g. body fat that accumulates around the waist and stomach area (abdominal fat) poses a greater health risk than fat stored in the lower half of the body. A high waist circumference is associated with an increased risk for certain diseases including diabetes and heart disease. Waist circumference needs to be measured 1 cm below the belly button after having slowly breathed out.

Substantial Health Risk Increased Health Risk
Men >94cm (37″) >102cm (40″)
Women >80cm (32″) >88cm (35″)

Carrying weight around your middle is often referred to as an apple shape and if you fall into this category you need to take extra care with your diet and lifestyle…So where do we start? Let’s concentrate on encouraging 5 key heart healthy habits for the Irish farmer…

1. High intakes of saturated fat can directly raise your blood cholesterol. Saturated fat tends to be hard at room temperature and come from animal sources e.g. fat on meat, butter, hard cheese and cream. We need to reduce our intake of these types of fats and replace them with good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats in small quantities can actually help reduce our cholesterol. Good fats include olive oils, rapeseeds oil, fish oils and the natural oils present in nuts and seeds. Try replacing your butter with an olive based spread and use minimal amounts of fat in cooking. Ideally we should avoid using fat in cooking as much as possible and opt for grilling, steaming and baking our food instead. Research also indicates that eating oily fish in the diet at least twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease. Oily fish include salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and fresh tuna.

2. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide plenty of heart healthy vitamins A, C and E. These vitamins are called aantioxidants, which are substances that are known to help protect against heart disease and certain cancers. Make sure every meal contains some colourful vegetable, salad or fruit and try steaming vegetables where possible to maintain maximum nutrition. It is a good idea to include some green vegetables in the diet daily which provide the heart healthy vitamin folate. This vitamin converts in to folic acid after it is eaten and is known to protect the heart.

3. Fibre is an essential component in a heart healthy diet. Good sources of fibre include wholegrains, potatoes, beans and oats. Oats are high in soluble fibre which can help reduce blood cholesterol. So starting the day with a bowl of porridge will not only provide you with a slow release of energy throughout the morning but will also help reduce your risk of heart disease.

4. There are also functional foods available nowadays that promise to help reduce your cholesterol levels. The most popular of these are plant sterols. Plant sterols are phytosterols, essential components of plant membranes. They have a similar structure to cholesterol. Plant sterols help to block cholesterol absorption from the intestine by competing with dietary cholesterol and cholesterol made by the body for absorption. As the body does not require plant sterols it returns them back to the intestine. The result of this process means that less cholesterol is absorbed by the body.

With regular use, plant sterols can result in a reduction in blood Cholesterol levels. There are functional foods available where plant sterols have been added e.g. spreads, yogurts and milk.

5. Keeping your heart active…Physical activity has many health benefits including decreasing stress, lowering blood cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, helping maintain a healthy weight and protecting your heart. We should aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. The best way to do this is to incorporate as much physical movement into your usual daily activities as you can.

Top Ten Healthy Heart Tips
1 Increased intake of fruit & vegetables
2 Aim to include oily fish in the diet twice a week
3 Try to include oats, seeds and pulses in your diet
4 Reduce intake of bad fats e.g. butter, fat on meat,
5 Chose low fat dairy products
6 Cut back on salt intake
7 Avoid smoking and excess alcohol intake
8 Exercise regularly
9 Watch portions sizes
10 Enjoy Food!