Heart Health Awareness: Food for Thought

heart health food for thought from a dietitian guest post for fish and field biokinetics

Every year we reflect on cardiac health for Heart Awareness Month. An entire month dedicated to raising awareness on how to achieve and maintain a healthy heart. So in light of our “prevention is better than the cure” approach to 2021, we invited dietician Cally Frost to offer advise on how to eat your way to a healthy heart.

Heart Health Awareness: Food for Thought

Guest Post by Cally Frost RD (SA)

Heart Awareness Month is earmarked for September on an annual basis in South Africa. September is dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease and its risk factors in South Africa, and the importance of living a healthy lifestyle to prevent disease onset.

Did you know? 225 South Africans are killed by heart disease every day and the Heart and Stroke Foundation claim that up to 80% of heart diseases that occur before the age of 65 years can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle.

This is where I come in! The world of nutrition is so important and sometimes very underestimated. Prevention is better than cure and our food really is our medicine. To protect our hearts and live a healthy lifestyle there are some simple guidelines we can follow:

What is considered healthy food?

  • Fruit and vegetables: enjoy a variety, either fresh or frozen and aim for at least 5 a day.
  • Beans and lentils for high quality carbohydrates, protein, and fibre.
  • 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 Omaga 3 Fatty Acids

  • Especially naturally oily fish such as sardines, pilchards, mackerel and salmon. Omega 3 fats help to reduce blood pressure and risk of stroke.

Enjoy your food with portion control

  • 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. It is super important to be mindful and watch your portion sizes.

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.
  • Limit added sugars such as sweets, chocolates, and especially sugary drinks such as soda’s, fruit juices and flavoured water as they provide empty-kilojoules and contribute to weight gain. They also increase triglycerides (TG), a type of fat in the blood.
  • 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.
  • Limit alcohol. Avoid the harmful use of alcohol, and if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation which is no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 per day for men. One drink is a small glass of wine (120 ml), a can of beer (340 ml) or a tot of any spirits (25 ml).
  • Look out for the Heart Mark  & DSA logos on foods to help you choose healthier options.

And don’t forget to EXERCISE!

Finally, exercise! It is so important that we move our bodies every day. Your heart benefits enormously from exercise in so many ways:

Lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol, forms healthy lifestyle habits, reduces risk of heart disease, strokes, and diabetes, and reduces stress levels (which we all need).

Happy heart month, let us look after ourselves and one another!

Cally Frost, RD (SA)

My name is Cally, a registered dietitian with a love for nutrition and wellness! . I did a postgraduate degree at the University of Cape Town in 2017. And pursued a BMedSci Honours in Dietetics. I chose this degree as I am deeply passionate about nutrition and the role that it plays in healthcare. I believe that prevention is better than cure, and nutrition is where it starts.

In my spare time I love to run, be outside and surrounded by friends and family.

I am a South African certified lactation consultant with a special interest in infant and maternal nutrition, sport nutrition and gut health.

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