According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, 225 people are killed by heart disease every day, while 10 people suffer a stroke every hour in South Africa. The good news is that, 80% of heart disease and strokes can be prevented, by simply adopting a healthy lifestyle which includes healthy eating, physical activity, nil tobacco smoking, moderate alcohol consumption and managing day-to-day stress[1].

Prof Pamela Naidoo, the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa states “A key risk factor for heart disease is overweight and obesity”. Healthy eating habits are therefore very important. While it can be difficult to change established poor eating habits, a little effort to modify eating patterns by following a balanced eating plan is not as tough as it’s often made out to be. A little focused effort to live well goes a long way in preventing the onset of heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions. It is necessary to be aware of which foods can increase the risk of heart disease and ill health, in order to know which food items you should include in your healthy eating plan.

Below are the top five heart-healthy eating lifestyle tips according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa: 

1. Portion size control

How much you eat is just as important as what you eat – use a small plate or bowl to help control your portions. Eat larger portions of low-kilojoule, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-kilojoule, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods. This will help shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline.

2. Eat more vegetables and fruits

Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals, low in kilojoules and rich in dietary fiber. And like other plants or plant-based foods, they contain substances that may help prevent cardiovascular disease such as fiber. Featuring vegetables and fruits in your diet can be easy – keep vegetables washed and cut in the refrigerator for quick snacks and a mixed fruit in a bowl visible so that you’ll remember to eat it. Choose recipes that have vegetables or fruits as the main ingredients, such as vegetable stir-fry or fresh fruit mixed into salads.

3. Replace unhealthy fats

Replacing unhealthy saturated and trans fats with healthier fats helps to lower your risk of heart disease. Healthier fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6). These good fats help the cholesterol balance in your blood by decreasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase the good (HDL) cholesterol[2]. Sources of monounsaturated fat include avocados, almonds, cashews, peanuts, cooking oils made from plants or seeds like canola, olive, peanut, and sesame oil.  Sources of polyunsaturated fat (both omega-3 and omega-6) include oily fish like salmon and pilchards, soybean, flaxseed and soybean, sunflower oil and margarine and spreads made from these oils.

4. Choose low-fat protein sources

Protein contains essential amino acids needed to maintain many aspects of your health, including regulating growth and development and supporting lean muscle mass. Unfortunately many good sources of protein are also high in fat. Fats that come from animals, such as saturated fat and cholesterol, can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels, heart disease and stroke[3]. Choosing lean meats and other low-fat protein sources helps you get the amino acids your body requires without the added fat and calories. Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are some of your best sources of protein. However be sure to choose lower fat options, such as fat free milk rather than full cream milk and skinless chicken breasts rather than fried chicken[4].

5. Reduce the sodium in your food

You might be getting more sodium than you need, even if you never pick up the salt shaker. That’s because more than 70% of the sodium we eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods[5]. That makes it hard to control the sodium as it’s added to your food before you buy it. It’s important to choose packaged and pre-prepared foods carefully, compare labels and pick the product with the lowest amount of sodium (per serving) you can find. When preparing food, avoid using salt, and rather use onions, garlic, herbs and spices to add flavour. When eating out at restaurants ask for no extra salt to be added.

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