Ina-Mari van Rensburg
Community Dietitian at The Caring Network


“Let food be thy medicine, not medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

This famous saying brings upon many opinions, but one that all might agree with – prevention is key. Prevention includes living a healthy lifestyle. This ensures that you make the choice of following a healthy diet every day and exercise frequently. These interventions would lower cholesterol and aid in weight loss, which already assist in preventing and managing heart disease.

There is a lot of controversy on what a healthy diet is. As a dietitian, an individual would be assessed just as that, an individual. Meaning not one shoe fits all. Therefore, consider a visit to a local dietitian for a full assessment and a sustainable lifestyle change that would assist you in preventing and managing heart disease according to your specific needs and preferences.

In the meantime, here are a few general heart healthy tips that would help with getting started.

1.  Eat a variety of foods

Include foods from all food groups: Vegetables and fruit, meat and meat products (or appropriate substitute e.g. beans and lentils, soya, tofu etc.), milk and milk products, starches and fat. Choose whole foods, which is easily identified by foods that mainly have one or two ingredients. Processed foods are the foods that have complicated ingredient lists with ingredients hard to pronounce. These foods should be avoided.

2.  Portion sizes

It is always easier with five small meals per day. Which includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. How to measure a portion of vegetables: a half a cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables. Have between 2 – 3 portions a day or fill up half your plate. Include 1 – 2 fruits a day to meet your 3 – 5 portions of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are full of fiber, which assist in feeling satiated and controlling blood sugar levels.

Avoid having “seconds” and to assist with weight loss use a smaller plate.

3.  Reduce salt/sodium intake (allowed 1 teaspoon of salt a day = 2000mg sodium)

Use alternative flavoring of food by adding lemon juice, herbs, curry powder, paprika, pepper, garlic or onions instead of salt. Taste food before adding more salt and avoid having salt at the table.

Read your labels:

Ingredient list: If salt is listed first, it means it is the main ingredient.

Nutritional information table:                                                                

Sodium Per 100g:                  Low Sodium product:                           120mg or less

                                                  Moderate Sodium product:                 120mg – 600mg

                                                  High Sodium product:                            600mg or more

4.  Choose healthy fats:

Rather use unsaturated fats, which include: Canola oil, sunflower oil, margarine, avocado, peanut butter, etc. An easy way to identify saturated fat is to observe the consistency at room temperature. If the fat becomes white or hard it is most likely a saturated fat and should be reduced. Rather steam, bake or boil food than deep-fry your food to reduce fat in food preparation. If you are boiling vegetables, avoid cutting it up to preserve the nutrients.

Remove any visible fats from meat and poultry before cooking. Choose products that use the phrases low fat, reduced oil or lean.

5.  Meal planning

Planning meals for the upcoming week will support you not to impulse-buy takeaways or fast foods. Make a list of the meals you want to prepare and compile a grocery list for the ingredients. This will serve as having healthy choices in the pantry and prevent unhealthy snacking. It is important to remember not to get overwhelmed and to start with one change at a time. Small victories serve as the biggest motivation. One should also remember that the whole dietary picture is what will have an effect and each of the changes feed into each other to make the effect last. Therefore, food can be your medicine if the prescription is sustainable for you.