Nourishing Your Heart |29 September 2022
In commemoration of the World Heart Day which is celebrated annually on September 29, we would like to pay homage to another very important organ – the Heart.
Like with most other organs most of us don’t really worry about our heart unless we start to get some warning signs or symptoms that something is wrong.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Seychelles and although there are multiple factors, poor diet is a key risk factor and it is largely preventable.
The majority of what is recommended for good heart health comes from plant sources given their immense health benefits.
More fruits and vegetables
This is a no-brainer and we’ve been talking about it for a long time. Fruits and vegetables really are crucial for good heart health. This is why we recommend you include them every day.
Fruits and vegetables are not only rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre but also thousands of phytochemicals. The greater the variety of colours eaten the more benefits you’ll get. The phytochemicals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, helping to get rid of harmful chemicals and reducing the risk of inflammation.
If you are still having a hard time getting more fruits and vegetables into your diet every day here are some ideas to get you started:
vInclude one fruit option with breakfast or lunch e.g. banana, apple, chopped papaya
vAlways include a salad/ vegetables with whatever you’re serving for dinner
vAdd one or more vegetables to your sandwich e.g. carrot, onion, tomato, lettuce, watercress
vIf you’re buying a takeaway meal always choose a main dish with added vegetables and ask for a serving of salad
More wholegrains and local starches
Wholegrains include oats, barley, buckwheat, millet, quinoa amongst many others. They provide carbohydrates and additionally are good sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Additional to promoting good gut health, fibre can help lower blood cholesterol and sugar levels therefore reducing the risk of heart disease.
Aside from wholegrains, local starches such as sweet potatoes, cassava, yam and breadfruit also provide fairly similar benefits.
On the other hand, refined grains have been heavily processed and stripped of these essential nutrients and are much lower in fibre. Therefore, they do not provide the same health benefits. Examples of refined grains include white rice and white flour.
To further improve your heart health therefore we recommend that you replace refined grains with wholegrains or our local starches. Try swapping from:
vWhite rice to brown rice, cassava or breadfruit
vCorn flakes to bran flakes
vWhite bread to wholegrain bread or cassava flatbread (‘galet’)
vWhite flour to whole meal flour
vFrench fries/ chips to baked sweet potato
More beans and lentils
For many Seychellois as close as we get to beans is baked beans whereas lentil is the red lentils we’re all accustomed to. We want you to broaden your options and include other varieties of beans such as kidney beans, black eyed beans, chickpeas and other lentils such as green and brown lentils, at least three to four times a week.
Beans and lentils are good sources of protein and can easily replace meat in a meal. They are also rich in dietary fibre as well as many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, selenium, manganese and copper which have antioxidant activities and can improve heart health.
More nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein, dietary fibre and unsaturated fats which are all essential in promoting good heart health.
Compared to beans and lentils, nuts and seeds cost a bit more but in their case a per week. little goes a long way. You only need three to four handfuls of unsalted and unflavoured nuts and seeds
More fish (especially oily fish)
Over a decade ago many households ate fish at least four times a week. Fast-forward to our present time and we find that there is a decline in fish intake in our population with many people now preferring to eat meat or processed meats.
In the heart health arena, fish, especially oily fish is highly recommended as an ideal protein source. Additional to protein, fish provides many vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12 and D; iron, zinc, copper and iodine.
Oily fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids which has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. Examples of oily fish includes trevally, bonito, mackerel and tuna.
Fish should therefore take back its place in our diet and be included at least five times a week, with the inclusion of oily fish at least twice a week.
Reduce processed meat and red meat
We cannot reiterate how important it is to cut back on processed meat (e.g. ham, salami, corned beef, luncheon meat) and red meat (e.g. beef, pork, lamb, goat).
When it comes to heart health, processed meat and red meat contain high amounts of saturated fats which increases blood cholesterol levels hence increasing your risk of heart disease. Therefore, the less you have the better.
Reduce highly processed packaged foods
Other than table salt, salt is high in many foods that we enjoy such as instant noodles, crisps, packaged sauces (soya, oyster, HP, tomato), Aromat, stock cubes, marmite, bovril, processed meat, salted fish and meat.
Excessive salt intake can increase your risk of high blood pressure, one of the risk factors for heart disease. Flavour your foods naturally with herbs and spices instead of salt.
Highly processed foods can also be high in sugar such as confectionary, cakes, biscuits, ice-cream and sugary drinks. Some may also be high in saturated and trans fat such as deep-fried foods, butter, margarine and pastries. Excessive intake of such foods can promote excessive weight gain and heart problems over time.
Reduce your risk
To further reduce your risk of heart disease you should also reduce your intake of alcohol to less than two units per day; abstain from smoking; engage in more physical activity (at least 30 minutes five times a week); get enough sleep and take care of your mental health.