Health Q&A

Heart Healthy Food

October 18, 2018

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term used to describe heart and blood vessel diseases. Heart disease and strokes are the second biggest disease killer in South Africa after HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 210 South Africans dying from heart disease every day. The Heart & Stroke Foundation supports the view that up to 80% of these deaths can be prevented by eating better, moving more and living cleaner.

The development of cardiovascular disease is often the result of poor lifestyle choices rather than inherited genetics. Following a nutritious diet, exercising and adopting clean-living habits (for example not smoking) is the best course of action in the fight against this disease.

How the heart works

Your heart beats, on average, 3 billion times from birth until 90. It’s a muscular pump that keeps blood flowing around the body. The heart receives blood from organs and tissues, which is then pumped to the lungs to be enriched with oxygen. Oxygenated blood is then supplied to the tissues and organs around the body.

Types of cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease includes conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart. The most common types include:

Angina
Atherosclerosis
Cardiac arrest
Cardiomyopathy
Congenital heart disease
Heart attack
Heart failure
Heart valve disease
Ischemic heart disease
Peripheral artery disease
Rheumatic heart disease
Venous thromboembolism

High risk factors for cardiovascular disease

Most cardiovascular diseases develop because of gradual damage to the heart or blood vessels over time. There are many contributing risk factors, such as genetics, lifestyle choices or heart defects. Your risk of developing the disease increases exponentially if you have a combination of one or more risk factor.

1.Uncontrollable risk factors

  • Age
  • Gender, as men are more susceptible, but postmenopausal women are also at risk
  • Family history of the disease
  • Inherited genetics, like a heart defect

2.Controllable risk factors

Many risks can be prevented or properly managed through healthy living practices. Some of these risk factors include:

This is how your body weight affects heart health

Maintaining a healthy body weight will be a great help in protecting your health. People with a body mass index of between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. A high BMI increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease as it compromises the heart’s ability to function properly and contributes to a host of other health concerns, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

In South Africa, two out of three women and just under a third of men are overweight or obese. This condition is often the result of poor eating habits and low activity levels. Basically, it’s when you consume more food that your body can realistically burn off.

So, stick to a healthy diet and an exercise programme. If you’re unsure about what sort of exercises would suit you, speak to your doctor or a biokineticist. Otherwise, check out our article on Tips To Starting An Exercise Routine That Works For You so you can get started on the road to heart health wellness.

Heart healthy food

Eat a variety of wholesome foods every day so you get all the energy your body and mind require.  Nutritious foods to include are daily portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, high fibre wholegrains and complex carbohydrates. It’s also important to be aware of portion sizes so check food labels to make sure you’re only eating the recommended amount. If you are concerned about your heart health, consult a dietician or nutritionist to work out a heart healthy meal plan for your dietary needs.

Food to eat in moderation includes those with a high sugar or salt content like fizzy drinks or salty snacks, trans or saturated fats like baked goods or deep-fried food, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods.

Some of the best heart health foods include:

  • Unsalted nuts and seeds, like walnuts or chia seeds
  • Monounsatured oils, like olive or canola oil
  • Cruciferous vegetables, like spinach, broccoli and kale
  • Legumes, like beans
  • Avocados
  • Whole grains, like bran or brown rice
  • Fruit, like apples or blueberries
  • Oily fish like salmon, sardines or tuna
  • Low-fat dairy, like yoghurt
  • Raisins
Nutritional tips

Plan meals ahead of time to avoid having to grab unhealthy fast food when you’re hungry and get into a routine of eating three nutritious meals each day. Fuel up on healthy fibre for breakfast with whole grain foods like cereal or oats. For lunch try a salad or sandwich with plenty of leafy greens or low-fat cheese.

Make sure the condiments or dressings you use are the healthy options. Avoid those with a high fat or sugar content and opt for vinaigrettes or get creative with nuts and seeds. For dinner ensure that at least half your dinner plate contains vegetables and try to opt for lean protein like fish or chicken. Snack on fruit or vegetables during the day and remember to hydrate with at least 6 – 8 glasses of water each day.

Cardiovascular disease is a growing concern in South Africa with many of the contributing risk factors being within our control. At Topmed we encourage our members to adopt a healthy lifestyle, so learn to manage your diet and promote heart health. Get in touch today and sign up for cover for yourself and your family.

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