Heart-friendly versions of your favourite meals

A mealie meal and corn bake goes well with a salad, braaied meat and barbecue sauce
DELICIOUS FARE: A mealie meal and corn bake goes well with a salad, braaied meat and barbecue sauce

Now more than ever, South Africans need to take better care of their hearts as Covid-19 may pose a higher risk for patients with chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

However, maintaining a nourishing diet to keep heart and body healthy can prove rather difficult for some and may require the help of an expert.

With help from Pharma Dynamics’ Cooking from The Heart healthy eating programme, all you have to do is follow heart-friendly recipes for healthier versions of some of your favourite meals.

Developed by healthy food consultant Heleen Meyer and dietitians from the Heart and Stroke Foundation — the Cooking from the Heart programme consists of more than 100 breakfasts, lunches and suppers with a healthy twist that will tantalise everyone’s taste buds.

Regardless of whether the world is in the midst of a fight against a global health pandemic, nutrition plays an important part in supporting a strong immune system and curbing the onset of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, Pharma Dynamics spokesperson Nicole Jennings said.

“Following a diet which includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, and one which is low in salt and sugar, as per Pharma Dynamics’ Cooking from the Heart healthy eating programme, is recommended,” she said.

“Fad diets don’t work, and it’s important that people stick to a healthy and balanced meal plan that they can follow for life.

“Very restrictive diets will likely result in short-term weight-loss, but most people can’t maintain it and it’s not healthy over the long term.

“It’s best to follow a healthy meal plan.”

A simple approach to a change in diet, she advises, is to become aware of salt and sugar intake, as well as portion control.

Reading food labels helps to keep track of how much fat, sugar and cholesterol the food contains.

“Try as far as possible to cook with fresh ingredients and to avoid using overly processed, pre-prepared ingredients, which are often high in sugar, unhealthy fats, salt and refined fibre.  

“A variety of ingredients for every meal is a good starting point.

“Enjoying something from every food group is the best way to include all the important nutritional elements, enough fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to keep you healthy and nourished.

“Continuously eating the same foods without much variety could mean that you are excluding certain nutrients from your diet,” she said.

Jennings shared some tips on what to include and avoid in your diet:

1. Enjoy a variety of foods

Eat pulses such as dry beans, split peas and lentils regularly. These are good sources of protein, low in fat and high in fibre.

You can replace meat in some meals with these ingredients and they are excellent  plant-based proteins for vegetarian meals. Keep in mind that these contain both protein and carbohydrates.

2. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables daily

Remember to eat vegetables and fruit from the different colour groups (red, green, yellow and orange). The vitamins, minerals and fibre in these foods help to protect you against diseases.

Enjoy veggies or salad at least twice a day. Aim for a total of five portions of vegetables and fruit every day, of which some should be raw.

3. Make unrefined starchy foods part of most meals

These foods are high in fibre and can help you feel fuller for longer, and lower your risk of developing obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Good choices are unrefined, unprocessed or whole grains, like brown or wholewheat bread, coarse maize (mealie) meal, oats and brown rice. This could also include starchy veggies like butternut and sweet potato.

Remember to enjoy these in controlled portions. This is especially important at a braai, as there are often too many starchy dishes on the table.

Try to include tinned or fresh fish as part of your diet at least twice a week
SOMETHING FISHY: Try to include tinned or fresh fish as part of your diet at least twice a week
Image: 123RF

4. Fish, chicken, lean meat or eggs can be eaten daily

Choose lean or lower fat options with less bad (saturated) fats. Bad fats can increase your cholesterol and block your blood vessels, which can lead to a stroke or heart disease.

Remember to remove any excess fat from meat and chicken before cooking or braaiing these. Try to include tinned or fresh fish as part of your diet at least twice a week. Good examples are pilchards, snoek, sardines or tuna.

5. Use salt and foods high in salt sparingly

Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke, heart attack and cancer.

Some salt in your diet comes from salt added at the table or during cooking, but more than half of the salt you eat can come from processed foods. Examples are stock cubes, soup powders, crisps and processed meats like polony.

Gradually cut down on adding salt and soon you won’t notice the difference. Shop-bought spice mixes, marinades and sauces used when braaiing can be very high in salt — rather make your own

6. Have milk, amasi or yoghurt every day

Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium. This can help protect your bones, prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.

Good options are unsweetened, low-fat or fat-free dairy products or reduced-fat cheeses.

7. Use sugar and foods and drinks high in sugar sparingly

Too much sugar can make you gain weight, which increases your risk of chronic diseases. Sugar in your diet comes from sugar added to cold and hot drinks, cereals and when cooking.

High amounts of sugar are also found in cakes, biscuits, doughnuts, sweets, chocolates, sweetened dairy products and sweetened cold drinks.

Shop-bought marinades and sauces used when braaiing can contain more sugar than you may realise — rather make your own.

8. Use fats sparingly

Choose vegetable oils rather than hard fats. Eating too much fat and fried food can cause weight gain and raise cholesterol levels. If you want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, this is important to note.

Limit the amount of fatty red meat, butter, hard margarine, cream, lard and ghee you use. Rather use good (unsaturated) fats like oils (canola, olive or sunflower oil) and soft-tub margarine in small to moderate amounts.

Nuts, seeds, peanut butter and avocados are sources of good fats.

It is important to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
STAY HYDRATED: It is important to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
Image: 123RF

9. Drink lots of water

You need 6-8 glasses of water a day. Most of this should come from water and include drinks like tea or coffee without any sugar.

Remember that fruit juice has a high concentration of fruit sugars which can affect the amount of energy added to a meal or snack. Rather dilute juice by a third with water or choose fresh fruit instead.

If you do drink alcohol, drink in moderation.

“The Cooking from the Heart cookbook series, which comprises of four recipe books, will provide readers with ideas and recipes on nutritionally balanced meals that are affordable and easy to make,” Jennings said.

Get the recipe books and more tips on www.cookingfromtheheart.com

  • The Cooking from the Heart initiative forms part of Pharma Dynamics’ overall wellness campaign to promote healthy eating among South Africans in a practical, affordable and tasty way.

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