Heart Mark

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Food FAQ

What about a low-carbohydrate-high-fat diet?

What to consider before you start a low-carb diet:

  • Carbohydrate foods include: 
    • Grains like rice, pasta, bread and maize 
    • Starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato and butternut
    • Any foods that contain added sugar, including sugary drinks and sweet foods
    • Fruits, dairy and some vegetables which contains natural sugar

Carbohydrate foods include healthy and unhealthy choices. Excluding unhealthy ones like refined grains and sugary drinks is good. Excluding healthy foods like whole grains, fruit and vegetables can reduce your intake of important nutrients.

  • Will I lose weight on a low carb diet? Many people have lost weight on a low-carb. Similarly, many people lose weight with other diets too. It is not only about the short-term weight loss, but keeping the weight off long-term. A diet should be practical, affordable and fit into your lifestyle. Very extreme diets can be difficult to maintain.
  • Is a low carb diet healthy? Eating healthy is not only about weight loss, but also about individual nutrients and foods. Too much or too little of nutrients can be a problem. Low carb diets can lack vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients, or can be too high in protein, saturated fats, salt, iron, and processed meats.

We don’t know how very low carbohydrate diets affect people long-term, but it could possibly worsen heart disease, kidney disease and even diabetes. If you have a medical condition or want to start an extreme diet, we recommend that you discuss this with your doctor or a dietitian.

How do I eat for diabetes AND heart health?
  • Eating for diabetes includes all the basics of healthy eating.
  • Once you have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, the goal of healthy eating is to keep your blood glucose (sugar) levels controlled. 
  • If you are overweight, then weight loss will improve diabetes control.
  • All foods that contain carbohydrates will directly affect blood sugar. These include:
    • Grains like rice, pasta, bread and maize
    • Starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato and butternut
    • Any foods that contain added sugar, including sugary drinks, sweets, biscuits and cakes. 
    • Fruits, dairy and some vegetables which contains natural sugar
  • People with diabetes can eat carbohydrate foods, but the type or quality of carbohydrate foods eaten is important. Carbohydrate foods should be eaten in appropriate portions and distributed equally throughout the day. There are 4 ways to do this:
    • Choose wholegrain or high-fibre carbohydrate foods as they don’t increase blood sugar as quickly as refined grains.
    • Make sure that each meal is balanced, containing not only carbohydrate foods but also a protein food or dairy, non-starchy vegetables or healthy fats.
    • Avoid adding extra sugar to foods or eating very sugary foods.
    • Eat a similar portion size of carbohydrate food at each of your three main meals.
  • Every person diagnosed with diabetes should see a dietitian to help them plan a healthy diet.
What can I eat to lower my blood pressure?

1 in 3 people have high blood pressure. This is how to eat to lower yours:

  • Weight loss - Losing as little as 2 kg can reduce blood pressure, and the more you lose the greater the improvement.
  • Eat more fruit and veg - The DASH diet was designed to improve blood pressure. Whilst the diet also focuses on lowering salt, and upping whole grains and dairy, the real emphasis is on increasing fruit and vegetable intake to 10 portions a day. 
  • Go slow on salt - Cutting back on excess salt can drop systolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg and even more in people who are salt-sensitive. 
  • More dairy - Dairy is an excellent source of calcium and potassium - two nutrients important to improve high blood pressure. 2-3 cup-sized portions a day is recommended in the DASH diet.
  • Magnesium - This mineral plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. Get enough from foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, and even dark chocolate.
  • Natural nitrates - Beetroot and dark green vegetables rich in nitrates can relax blood vessels to improve blood pressure. Whilst the science is still experimental, you can’t go wrong by eating more of these nutritious veggies.
  • It’s not just diet - Remember the other important steps: take your medication as prescribed, be more active, stop smoking, and manage your stress levels better.
How can I pack a healthy lunch?

Try to include the following for a balanced, healthy lunch box:

  • An unrefined starch – choose high fibre or wholegrain starches, such as seed breads or whole wheat breads, pitas, wraps, crackers or pasta.
  • A lean, protein rich food – anything from tinned fish, a boiled egg, beans or lentils to lean meats such as skinless chicken or trimmed beef.
  • Reduced-fat dairy – Low-fat milk, unsweetened yoghurt or reduced fat cheese.
  • Healthier snacks – Include two different colours of fruits or fresh vegetables. Veggie sticks with hummus make a good snack, and nuts and seeds are also healthy options.
  • Water is the best drink to include in a lunch box for children and adults. Add fresh lemon slices or mint leaves and freeze the bottle overnight on hot summer days.

Taking a lunchbox to school or work can be healthier than buying meals every day. And it's great for the budget too. Use these tips to make a healthy lunch when you’re working against the clock.

  • Cook meals like soup, curry or bolognaise in bulk and freeze into individual portions that are ready to take to work. 
  • Cook a little extra at dinner and pack the left-overs for lunch the next day. 
  • Prepare your lunchbox the night before and grab it from the fridge on your way out in the morning. 
  • Keep your kitchen stocked with convenient lunch box snacks - fresh fruit is easy to transport and takes no preparation.
Is it good to snack during the day?

Healthy snacks can help to keep your energy levels constant. Having healthy snacks available can tide you over to the next meal and avoid the temptation of unhealthy foods. Snacking on fresh fruit or veggies also counts towards the recommended five portions a day, and helps you get a variety of vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Healthy snacks should be low in unhealthy fats, sugar and salt and high in fibre. Knowing how to read food labels can be a help when choosing healthier snacks. Plan ahead to make sure you have healthy snacks with you when you need them. Good ideas include unsalted nuts or a trail mix, low-fat yoghurt, vegetable sticks and hummus, or homemade popcorn. And don’t forget that the easiest snacks are fruit! They don’t need any preparation.

What foods should I eat to help me stay fuller for longer?

The longer it takes your gut to digest foods and release the energy stored in them, the longer you will feel full after a meal. Slower digestion releases energy slowly, which keeps energy levels more constant and regulates appetite better.

A simple example: A 500ml bottle of cola contains the same energy as 2 slices of whole wheat bread. The sugars in the cola are absorbed so quickly that it doesn't keep you full for long. 2 slices of whole wheat bread takes a few hours to be completely digested and all the energy absorbed.

Practical ways to stay fuller for longer:

  • Choose starchy foods that are less refined, such as brown rice, oats, whole wheat flour, whole wheat pasta and coarse mielie meal. 
  • Combine different food groups for meals and snacks. For example, a peanut butter sandwich will keep your energy levels more constant than a jam sandwich. Peanut butter contains healthy fats and some protein, which slows the release of energy into the body.
  • Add beans, chickpeas and lentils to dishes. 
  • Add vegetables to a meal to increase the fibre in the meal. 
  • Eating unsweetened yoghurt together with a piece of fruit will give you energy over a longer time than just fruit on its own.
Why should I eat breakfast?

A healthy breakfast is good for your health; it helps to kick-start your energy levels, keeping you feeling alert and able to concentrate until your next meal. People who eat breakfast regularly find their energy levels are more constant, and tend to eat less during the day. Adults and children who eat a regular breakfast are less likely to become overweight compared to people who skip breakfast.

Start the day with a healthy breakfast:

  • Set the table the night before to make breakfast easier and faster in the morning.
  • If you are in a hurry, grab something to have breakfast on-the-go or at work.
  • Keep the meal simple and small if you are not that hungry.
  • Make breakfast interesting. You don’t always have to eat the same boring cereal. 
  • Try to include two food groups for breakfast to keep you fuller for longer.
    • wholegrain cereal with milk or yoghurt
    • whole wheat bread with avocado or sugar-free peanut butter
    • a piece of fruit with unsweetened yoghurt and nuts
    • an egg on whole wheat toast
  • Avoid adding too much sugar from jam or sugar added at the table, adding salt to meals, using unhealthy fats like butter or hard margarine, or using processed meats.
How can food labels tell me if a product is healthy or not?

Reading food labels or packaging can help us make healthier food choices. There are three parts of the label to look at.

  1. The ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of highest quantity to lowest. The first three ingredients listed can make up the largest portion of the food. Foods high in sugar, salt or fat often have these listed as one of the first three ingredients. Look out for the following words for foods high in sugar, fat or salt:
  • Sugar: sugar, sucrose, glucose, honey, maltose, isomaltose, maltodextrin, dextrose, cane sugar, corn syrup or fructose
  • Fat: hydrogenated oil, vegetable fat, butter, palm oil, cream, lard, animal fat
  • Salt: salt, baking soda, MSG (monosodium glutamate) and any word that contains the term ‘sodium’
  • The nutritional information table. This table lists the amount of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrate, sugar and salt in the food. Look at the ‘per 100g’ column - this column lists values per 100 g of the food - and use this to compare two similar products. For example, you can decide which breakfast cereal to buy once you know which one is lower in fat, salt and sugar, simply by comparing these amounts per 100 g in each product.
  • The Heart Mark logo. Foods with the Heart Mark are healthier choices that contain less added sugar, unhealthy fats and salt and more fibre than other similar products. Find out more about the Heart Mark.
  • What are healthy and unhealthy fats?
    • Fats are an important part of a healthy diet. Fats are a source of energy and have many vital functions in the body.
    • We divide fats into groups that have different effects on health.
    • Plant fats from oils, seeds and nuts contain mainly unsaturated fat.
    • Animal fats from meat and dairy, and tropical fat from coconut and palm fruit, contain mainly saturated fat.
    • Oily fish, some plant seeds like flax and canola, and walnuts contain omega 3 fats.
    • Replacing animal fat and tropical fat with plant oils is good for your overall health and can prevent heart disease and strokes.
    • Eat more healthy plant fats like canola oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
    • Eat less animal fats and tropical fats including butter, lard, ghee and fat on meat.
    • Omega 3 oils are heart healthy and have many other benefits. Eat more oily fish, such as sardines, pilchards, mackerel, salmon and snoek.
    • Trans Fats are unhealthy fats created by industrial modification of other fats. In South Africa legislation has helped to reduce the amount of trans fats in our foods.
    • Heart Mark endorses plant oils and certain soft tub margarines as healthy products high in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats.
    Are sugary foods bad for me?
    • Sugar is found naturally in some healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and dairy. These foods provide you with healthy nutrients and are not bad for you.
    • During manufacturing extra sugar is added to many foods like sweetened cold drinks, sweets, biscuits, cakes, chocolates, some dairy products, and many breakfast cereals.
    • When we eat too many sugary foods it adds unnecessary kilojoules (energy) to our diet, which can lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and eventually heart disease.
    • Sugary drinks like soda don’t make us feel full, leading to overeating.
    • Sugary foods should be eaten as treats in small amounts and not regularly.
    • If you are overweight, you should avoid the intake of added sugars as much as possible.
    • Check food labels, compare foods, and choose foods lower or free from added sugar.
    • Gradually try to add less sugar to your tea and coffee, breakfast cereals and when cooking.
    Should I eat less salt?
    • Your body only needs a small amount of salt. Eating too much salt can increase blood pressure.
    • You should eat less than 5 grams or 1 teaspoon salt per day. This 5 g includes the salt that you add when cooking, at the table, as well as salt already in foods that you buy.
    • Often foods don’t look or taste salty but still contain salt - this is called hidden salt. Examples include bread, sausages, processed meats, stock, soup and gravy powders, hard brick margarine, breakfast cereals and biscuits.
    • Most South Africans eat too much salt.
    • More than half of the salt we eat is added by manufacturers during the processing of foods. The other half comes from salt we add during cooking and at the table.
    • Reduce your salt intake gradually and your taste buds will adjust to less salt.
    • If you add salt at the table, change this habit first by not putting the salt shaker on the table.
    • Use less salt when you are cooking. Taste your food during cooking before you add salt, as it may not need it. If you have already added salty spices or a stock cube, you don’t need to add salt as well.
    • Instead of adding more salt, add lemon juice, herbs, salt-free spices, garlic, onion or ginger to add flavour.
    • Eat very salty foods like potato chips, fast foods and processed meat less often.
    • Start to compare foods and choose lower salt products - foods with the Heart Mark logo are lower in salt compared to other similar products.
    • Read more about salt and your health at www.saltwatch.co.za
    How do I eat to lose weight the healthy way?

    There are many ways to lose weight in the short term. Keeping the weight off or continuing to lose weight can be more difficult.

    • Be realistic - Include foods that you like and can afford. An eating plan should fit your lifestyle to become a habit for life.
    • Go steady - Losing too quickly reduces muscle mass. Once you go back to your normal diet you will gain back the weight. Don’t exceed losing 1 kg per week.
    • Avoid diets that exclude whole food groups - Extreme diets may not provide all the important vitamins, minerals, and fibre you need to be healthy.
    • Down size - Reducing portion sizes is an easy way to start and maintain weight loss.
    • Reduce added sugar and fat - Foods like sugary drinks, added fat in processed meats or biscuits, adding extra oil during cooking or sugar added to coffee provide unnecessary energy (kilojoules).
    • Start with breakfast - Eating breakfast helps to improve eating habits and control how much you eat later in the day.
    • Up the veggies - The more vegetables and salad you eat, the less space there is for other foods. Aim to make vegetables half of your main meal.
    • Drink water - Water with meals fills up the stomach so we don’t overeat. Limit fruit juices and sugary drinks. These provide extra sugar but don’t make you feel full.
    Which is better / healthier to use, butter or margarine?

    Soft tub margarine is a better choice than butter. Butter as well as most hard or brick margarines are high in unhealthy saturated fats, which raise your blood cholesterol levels and hence risk of CVD . Soft tub margarines, however, provide healthy unsaturated fats, which can help improve cholesterol levels and many of these soft margarines no longer contain trans fats.  Some margarines contain plant sterols which can effectively lower cholesterol levels (provided it is consumed in the recommended amounts). If in doubt, read food labels and choose margarines with the least amount of saturated and trans fats.

    For a product to carry the Heart Mark (HM) logo it has to pass stringent criteria as well as a laboratory analysis by an INDEPNDENT ACCREDITED laboratory  - so the public can be rest assured that the HSFSA is there to help South Africans make heart healthier food choices.

    To read more about butter and margarine, click here