The best weapons in the fight against cardiovascular disease are a healthy diet and lifestyle. By making a few key changes in your diet and lifestyle you can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and improve your overall health. The food you eat can either be the safest most powerful medicine or the slowest form of poison. Changing your lifestyle or diet can be difficult and confusing, with so many different opinions about what is healthy. We compiled a list of top tips from scientifically proven studies to help you in your quest for a healthier you!
1. Control your portions
The amount we eat is just as important as what you eat. When we overload our plates we add extra unnecessary calories to our diet that leads to weight gain over time. A good rule for portion control is to stop eating before you are full. Alternatively the Diabetic plate model is a good guide for portion control.
2. Eat more vegetables and fruit
Vegetables and fruit contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that contribute to cardiovascular health. Vegetables and fruit are high in dietary fibre. Dietary fibre has many health benefits like quicker satiety, longer satiety, lowering the Glycemic Index (GI) of the meal, cholesterol lowering effect, to name a few.
3. Select whole grains
Whole grains are an excellent source of dietary fibre and certain vitamins and minerals. Whole grains have a lowering effect on blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn promotes cardiovascular health. Be more adventurous and try different whole grains like quinoa, barley, buckwheat and bulgur wheat. Try to avoid refined grains, as these tend to spike your glucose levels and do not offer the benefits of unrefined grains.
4. Limit unhealthy fats
Limiting your intake of unhealthy fat such as saturated and trans-fats can lower your cholesterol levels and increase you cardiovascular health. Fats are essential to our survival and that is why unhealthy fat in our diet needs to be replaced by healthy fats such as unsaturated fats in moderate amounts.
Trans-fats are commercial fats and should be avoided where possible. Trans-fats can be found in hard-brick margarines, baked goods, pastries, biscuits and rusks to name a few. Trans-fats are also formed when fats or oils are heated higher than their burning point. Fried food will mostly contain trans-fats.
Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products and should be limited. According to the American heart foundation only 5 – 6% of your total calorie intake should be from saturated fats. In a 2000 calorie diet only 11 -13g of saturated fat is allowed for the day. Cut off all visible fat off the meat before cooking and take off the chicken skin before cooking the meat. Buy leaner cuts of meat and lean meat products. Use low fat dairy products that have not been sweetened.
Unsaturated fats are mostly plant oils, excluding coconut and palm oil (these contain saturated fats). Extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil and grape seed oil are but a few plant oils that are classified as unsaturated fats. Oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and tune are also sources of unsaturated fats. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in certain unsaturated fats. Raw nuts and seeds, olives and avocado are good sources of unsaturated fats. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids are oily fish, flax seeds, linseeds, canola oil.
5. Reduce sodium intake
Increased intake of sodium leads to an increase in blood pressure which in turn leads to deteriorated cardiovascular health. On average South Africans use more sodium than their daily nutritional requirement. According to the American heart foundation healthy adults should use no more than 2300mg of sodium per day. That is about a teaspoon of salt daily. Most adults should ideally not consume more than 1500mg of sodium a day.
Limit use of salt and spices containing salt during food preparation and at the table. Limit use of powdered soup and sauce packets, stock cubes, canned vegetables and processed snack foods like chips, salted nuts, biltong and pretzels.
Replace salt and salt containing spices with vinegar, curry powder, fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, fresh chillies, lemon juice, pepper, turmeric or mustard powder.
Always read the nutritional labels to check the sodium content. If a product contains less than 300mg of salt or 100g of sodium per 100g it can be seen as a low sodium product.
Sources: Mayo clinic, American heart foundation,South African food based dietary guidelines
Dietician : Luzanne Grewar, DT 0039209, Practice Number: 0489484
BSc Diet (UFS)
RD (SA) (Registered dietician south africa)