An estimate 70% to 80% of heart disease and stroke can be prevented by your life choices and habits, such as eating a healthy diet. Eating well and making good nutritional choices is one of the best weapons you have in the fight against heart disease, as well as many other chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and some cancers. Even small improvements can make a big difference. Follow our simple healthy eating steps to not only lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, but also improve your overall health.
Look out for the Heart Mark logo on food packaging to help you choose healthier options. For healthy, tasty recipes, download our Cooking from the Heart recipe books one, two, and three.
Simple steps to healthy eating
Eat more healthy foods such as:
- Fruit and vegetables: Variety can be achieved by ensuring the consumption of different coloured fruits and vegetables and will provide you with important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Majority of fruits and vegetables should be consumed whole rather than as a juice.
- Beans and lentils: They are nutritious, add extra flavor to dishes and can be used to make dishes go further. Beans and legumes are an excellent source of plant-based protein. The fibre, potassium, and low-fat content in beans can contribute to heart health by helping to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- Low fat or fat free dairy foods such as milk or yoghurt for calcium, protein, minerals and vitamins.
- High fibre wholegrain starchy foods such as wholewheat bread, brown rice, oats, wholewheat pasta and barley, instead of refined cereals. Fibre is good for your heart and can help to improve cholesterol levels.
- Lean and fresh protein like fish, eggs, skinless chicken, lean mince and ostrich meat instead of processed and fatty meats like polony, vienna’s, salami, sausages and sandwich ham.
- Choose healthy fats found in canola, olive or sunflower oil, soft tub margarines, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, avocado and fish.
Choose foods high in omega 3 fats
- Especially naturally oily fish such as sardines, pilchards, mackerel and salmon. Omega 3 fats help to reduce blood pressure and risk of stroke. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa recommends that fatty fish should be eaten at least twice a week.
- Clean water and unsweetened tea or coffee
Enjoy your food and avoid overeating
- It’s good to enjoy food and share meals together but eating too much can lead to weight gain, increasing your risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- Reduce your portion sizes of fatty, starchy and sugary foods if you are overweight.
- Portion with caution. Try to portion your plate according to the ‘Plate Model’ where:
- ½ of your plate consists of non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots etc.
- ¼ of your plate consists of high fibre starches such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, sweet potato, butternut.
- ¼ of your plate consists of lean protein such as grilled skinless chicken, fish, lean mince, ostrich meat, soya.
Eat less foods with added sugar, salt and bad fats
- Cut down on unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats which can raise cholesterol levels. These can be found in foods such as fatty and processed meats, chicken skin, butter, ghee, cream and hard cheeses, pies, pastries, biscuits, crackers, fast and deep-fried foods. Trans fats are especially harmful as they raise “bad” cholesterol and also lower “good” cholesterol.
- Limit added sugars such as sweets, chocolates, and especially sugary drinks such as soda’s, fruit juices and flavoured water as they increase triglycerides (TG), a type of fat in the blood. They also provide empty-kilojoules and contribute to weight gain.
- A single 340ml canned soft drink contains 9 to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Instead of sweetened drinks carry a water bottle with you to refill throughout the day. Being hydrated will both quench your thirst and keep you from overeating.
- Cut down on sodium and salt. A high salt intake is linked to high blood pressure. Reduce your salt intake to no more than 5g (1 teaspoon) of salt, from all sources, a day:
- Reduce the salt added to your food during cooking and at the table.
- Make use of fresh and dried herbs, spices, garlic or lemon juice to add flavour to your food, without adding extra salt or salty seasonings like chicken or BBQ spice.
- Foods like packet soups, stock cubes, gravies, cheese, many breakfast cereals, breads, salty snacks, processed meats and fast foods are very high in salt, so should be used sparingly.
- Avoid alcohol. Avoid the harmful use of alcohol. Recent evidence has found that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for health and alcohol consumption increases the risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).
- Look out for the Heart Mark on foods to help you choose foods that are lower in salt, lower in sugar, lower in saturated and trans fats, and higher in fibre. All Heart Mark products comply with the latest South African legislation on trans fats and contain less than or equal to 0.2g of trans fats per 100g.
Our steps to eat better are based on the latest dietary guidelines. What does this mean?
Dietary guidelines are up-to-date summaries on how to eat to prevent diseases like diabetes, heart disease and strokes. It is not based on opinion or popular trends. Guidelines are created after carefully reviewing the latest scientific research. Dietary guidelines focus more on food choices rather than just nutrients. Here are a few examples from around the globe:
Health Chat Line
Our registered dietitians are on hand to assist you by providing free information and support on heart health, nutrition and guidance on living a healthy lifestyle. To speak to one of our dietitians, call any one of our national offices and book a slot with a professional between 8 am and 4 pm, Monday to Friday. Our head office number is 021 422 1586.
Please note: Unfortunately, we cannot give medical advice, such as guidance on medication, symptoms of cardiovascular conditions or information about heart transplants. Please contact a doctor if you have any concerns about your cardiovascular health. For detailed and personalised nutritional advice, contact a local private dietitian for a full assessment here.