Your heart works hard. And never has a day off. So, you need to do your part in keeping it healthy. Herbalife Nutrition’s Florencia Braga shares five easy pointers to strengthen your heart.
Chew the fat
For long-term heart health, some fats are better than others. There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated: This ‘bad’ fat is found in red meat, full-cream dairy products, cheese and many commercially prepared baked goods. Major sources of saturated fat are fast, snack and processed foods such as pizza, dairy desserts, bacon, hamburgers, and cookies.
Unsaturated: This is a healthy fat, and there are two kinds – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, also known as Omega-9, -6 and -3. Omega-9 fats are mostly present in olive oil, almonds and avocados, while you can get Omega-6 fats from sunflower oil and seeds, corn and soy oil, pine nuts, pecan nuts and Brazil nuts. Fish-sourced Omega-3 fats are also useful for our heart health. They can be found in fatty fish like herring, salmon and sardines, and can contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure, blood triglycerides concentration and heart functions.
(Don’t) spill the salt
Excessive sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, which can put strain on your heart. Healthcare experts advise that you limit your sodium intake up to 2g per day (or up to 5g = 5ml of salt per day). Tip: Keep a 2.5ml measuring spoon in your salt container to know how much you are adding, rather than grabbing the salt shaker.
Be moderately merry
You can still enjoy a drink with a kick, but don’t go overboard – no more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men. One drink is a small glass of wine (120ml), a can of beer (340ml) or a tot of any spirit (25ml).
Getting your heart rate up through exercise not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, but it also improves your bones and muscle tone. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week.
Portion with caution
Try to portion your plate according to the ‘plate model’ where half of your plate consists of non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots), a quarter of your plate consists of high fibre starches (brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, sweet potato, butternut) and a quarter of your plate consists of lean protein (grilled skinless chicken, fish, lean mince, ostrich meat, soya.)
Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries can significantly reduce the build-up of bad cholesterol, a culprit contributing to heart disease and strokes.
Black beans: They are packed with heart-healthy nutrients. Folate, antioxidants and magnesium can help lower blood pressure. Their fibre helps control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Swiss chard: This dark green, leafy vegetable is rich in potassium and magnesium. These minerals help control blood pressure. Swiss chard also has heart-healthy fibre, vitamin A and antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.
Oats: The antioxidants present in oats are beneficial for heart disease, and the dietary fiber helps lower the bad cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol.
Tomatoes: A high-potassium food, tomatoes also contain the antioxidant lycopene. They may assist in lowering cholesterol while also keeping blood vessels open. This in turn lowers your risk for heart attacks.
Dark chocolate (at least 60–70 per cent cocoa): Contains flavonoids called polyphenols, which may help blood pressure, clotting and inflammation.
Chocolate balls A healthy treat – date and chocolate balls
You’ll need: 40g dark chocolate (broken into pieces); 15ml cocoa; 45ml low-fat milk; 5ml vanilla essence; 250g pitted dates (finely chopped); 100ml desiccated coconut; extra coconut and cocoa to decorate with.
How to: Place chocolate in a glass bowl and melt over gently simmering water. Mix cocoa with some of the milk to form a paste and mix with remaining milk and vanilla. Stir some of the melted chocolate into the milk mixture until smooth. Mix into the warm chocolate. Stir in dates and coconut. Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto baking paper and sprinkle with coconut or cocoa and allow to set. Alternatively, allow to cool slightly and then roll into balls. Roll balls into extra coconut or cocoa, if preferred. Cool in the fridge.