Heart health. This is something we are all thinking about. Or rather we should be. Eating the right food substantially increases your heart health and eating the wrong food does exactly the opposite.

Earlier this month we shared exercise for heart health and tips on how to be active as a family, from household chores to walking the dog and training hard. All this is essential for heart health and combines healthy activity with healthy food, both of which supports good heart health. Only if you have underlying health issues or if genetics have not been kind, will you not fully see the benefits of this healthy combination. About 80% of heart disease can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices that include healthy eating and exercise.

We live in an age where we are bombarded with health advice. With all the different opinions, how do we know what works and what doesn’t? There is no real one-size-fits-all but there are basic guidelines that we can utilise to make sure we’re on the right track.

Here are 5 general heart health eating tips to help guide you along on your health journey:
1. Control your portion size:

Use a smaller plate or, if someone else is dishing up for you, either remove half of your portions or put some of it on your side plate. This you can have later or the following day. Rather eat 6 small, nutritious, low-carb and low-sugar meals a day than 3 large meals.

Here’s a plate portion model to get you started:

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 and butternut.

– ¼ of your plate consists of lean protein such as grilled skinless chicken, fish, lean mince, ostrich meat and soya.

2. Control carbohydrate and calorie intake, taking into account your activity level:

If you know you won’t make it to the gym or go for a run that day, lower your carb and calorie intake. Always keep in mind to eat heart-healthy food: good oils and whole grains together with fresh fruit and vegetables everyday.

3. Eat more fruit and vegetables:

Fruit contains a lot of sugar so limit your fruit intake to one or two pieces a day, but make sure you get some fruit in every day. Vegetables are the stars of the heart health show. Eat them raw or steamed, as they are super nutritious. Take in as much veg as you can. Everything in moderation, yes, but you can really go big with vegetables. Also remember to keep it colourful. Have a mix of colours when it comes to veggies. This ensures you take in a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

. Select whole grains:

White, refined food is no good. The nutritional value in these is very low and will not sustain your body very well. White rice, pap, bread, bread flour or cake flour and pasta have all been refined or processed to some extent. Rather eat wild and brown rice, seed loaf or whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta.

5. Avoid bad oils:

There are many good oils and fats that are essential to include in your diet. There are a few bad oils that you really should avoid though. Staying away from saturated and trans fats is an important step to reducing your bad blood cholesterol levels and lowering your risk of coronary artery disease.

A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Trim the fat off your meat or choose lean meats for meals. Also reduce the amount of butter or margarine you cook and bake with. Get a non-stick pan for sautéing and look up a few recipes with no oil or butter or very little. There are many to choose from. A little effort in this regard will go a long way.

Here is a list of heart health food to help you make healthy choices daily:

Fruit and vegetables – either fresh or frozen and aim for at least 5 varieties a day. Chop vegetables and fruit ahead of time and keep them handy for snacks and cooking.

Beans and lentils – for high quality carbohydrates, protein and fibre. Use these great, versatile ingredients to make everything from hummus, to stews and soups. Sprinkle them over salads to add some body and make them less like ‘rabbit food’.

Low fat or fat-free dairy foods – such as milk or yoghurt for calcium, protein, minerals and vitamins. Keep in mind that yoghurt tends to have a lot of sugar so opt for plain or limit the amount you eat.

High fibre whole grain starchy foods – such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats, whole wheat pasta and barley, instead of refined cereals.

Lean and fresh protein – like fish, eggs, skinless chicken, lean mince and ostrich meat instead of processed or fatty meats.

Choose healthy fats – found in canola, olive or sunflower oil, soft tub margarines, peanut butter, nuts and seeds and avocado. Moderation with these oils is also essential. Don’t over do it but take in a few portions of these a week for healthy blood cholesterol levels.

Choose foods high in omega 3 fats – which are good for your heart and can help to improve cholesterol levels, especially naturally oily fish such as sardines, pilchards, mackerel and salmon, which should be eaten at least twice a week.

Clean water and unsweetened tea or coffee
Healthy snacks
–nuts are great for snacking and for eating on the go, adding to salads, and a host of other things. Heart-healthy nuts, like almonds and walnuts are a must-have staple for your kitchen cabinet.

On a final note, remember to limit your sugar, salt, fat and alcohol intake. Your body needs very little of these. Healthy foods naturally contain enough sugar, most cooking spices contain sodium and alcohol is fine at a low dosage but can be very harmful to your health when consumed too frequently or in too large quantities.

Happy healthy eating for your heart is delicious and nutritious. So don’t delay, make the healthy choice today!