29% of Colombians die from heart disease – protect yourself

Deep-frying patacones, a staple meal in Barranquilla. Photo credit: www.nomnompaleo.com/

Barranquilla is one of the few places on Earth where people know how to relax and enjoy life. Yet, surprisingly, it has one the highest mortality rates due to heart attacks. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease is the leading cause of death in Colombia, including Barranquilla. In 2012, 29% of Colombians died from heart-related diseases, and Barranquilla was no exception. The contributing factors for such a striking statistic may not be obvious at first because many are so embedded in the culture they’re considered “normal” and are part of an inevitable way of life. Unfortunately, normal doesn’t mean healthy.

If you live in Barranquilla or are planning to move here, it`s important to recognize and try to avoid some of these Costeño norms that may cost you your heart.

Excessive meat consumption: People in the Caribbean are known for consuming an excess amount of meat. A typical Barranquillero consumes a large portion of meat in every meal of the day, including breakfast. Consumption of too much meat leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and can potentially bring about a heart attack.

Negligible amounts of fibrous vegetables: If you ask a typical Barranquillero about vegetable consumption, they’ll either tell you they eat salad at lunch or they’ll be honest and just say they don’t like vegetables. But if you’ve ever ordered a typical corriente dish in Barranquilla, you’ve no doubt seen the microscopic salad served beside a massive amount of rice, meat and fried plantains and you may have noticed that most people leave it untouched. The unfortunate reality is that vegetable consumption in Barranquilla is negligible and from a health standpoint, that’s terrible.

Fried food is almost a “must” if you live in Barranquilla! Unfortunately, many commonly consumed main dishes and snacks, such as patacónes, empanadas, dedos, and fried arepas are prepared by deep frying. Also, many street vendors have a terrible (but cost effective) habit of adding oil to their fryer when it gets low instead of changing the old oil out. When oil is heated up again and again for long periods of time, it becomes rancid. Regular consumption of fried food, especially food cooked in rancid oil, can lead to cardiovascular problems.

Alcohol, alcohol, and then some more alcohol: This is another norm you can get accustomed to in no time in Barranquilla. Alcohol, especially beer, seems so innocently refreshing in the heat of the city. However, excess consumption of alcohol is directly related to heart disease. If you would like to take a break and cleanse your body a little, you can try a liver detox. Also, a much better beverage for the heat is a coco-frio.

Very little exercise: Living in such a hot city makes it difficult to exercise and common fitness activities such as running, biking, volleyball, and soccer are almost impossible to do during the afternoon. Most people tend to walk long distances in Barranquilla and since the heat makes them perspire, they might consider that their daily exercise but in fact, although your body`s temperature rises while walking under Barranquilla`s sun, your heart rate often doesn’t reach a level that would be considered exercise for the body and the heart. To really get the benefit of exercising without dying of heatstroke, you need to either be physically active at night or in the morning or, if you have the funds, join a gym.

So, what am I telling you? Should you pack and leave the city? Of course not! Barranquilla´s culture, like any other, is embedded with pros and cons when it comes to health and armed with knowledge, we can choose those variables that positively affect our lives while leaving the rest behind. Barranquilla also has many great aspects when it comes to health such as accessible healthy street snacks, fresh fruit, and lots of seafood. Also, many Barranquilleros take advantage of night time to go for a run, to bike, or to play soccer. The two most common exercising places at night are Parque Sagrado Corazon and Parque de la Electrificadora.

Next time your tummy is calling for food, be sure to make conscious choices; experience the best of Barranquilla while protecting your heart!

Be Happy & Healthy,

Dr. Rasa Nikanjam, ND, BSc.