Heart disease is still one of biggest killers in Australia. Did you know that it’s often preventable?
While hereditary factors are unavoidable, key elements of our lifestyle can have a profound long term effect on our heart health. One of the most important of these is your diet!
The most important thing to remember with your diet is that good health is not determined by individual foods or nutrients. One piece of cheesecake doesn’t cause a heart attack, just like one plate of vegetables doesn’t mean you’ll never have a heart attack. There’s a bigger picture at play here.
Health is determined by your overall eating patterns and is the accumulation of the foods that you eat each and every day.
Eating cheesecake every day is probably not the best choice for long term heart health, but eating a plate of vegetables every day is definitely a good choice! So, in the spirit of encouraging you to make healthy choices everyday – here are 8 foods to eat daily that can help you get started!
1. Green vegetables
Rich in fibre, vitamin C, folate and other phytochemicals, eating green plant foods everyday will be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health. Green vegetables are not only nutrient dense, but they help create large, volumous meals, keeping us feeling full and better able to manage our weight.
Try mixing up your salad with some different greens: chard, mustard greens, baby spinach and rocket are great alternatives to iceberg lettuce and give your meals a bit more variety.
Asian greens like bok choy, choy sum and pak choy can all be cooked in under 3 minutes and are delicious served with rice and your protein source of choice (chicken, fish, meat, etc). Don’t forget about broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, green beans and celery. Eat up!
PS: Other vegetables, even though they’re not green are also great to eat every day!
2. Oily Fish
The types of fat you consume affect your heart health and seafood is the best source of good fats, known as omega 3s. Seafood is also a great source of other nutrients: protein, zinc, iodine and vitamin B12.
Try serving up a piece of pan-fried salmon with some steamed Asian greens, a small portion of brown rice and a drizzle of soy and ginger dressing! Yum!
Tinned tuna and salmon is fantastic in salads, pasta dishes and sandwiches.
Get adventurous and try other types of oily fish like trout, mackerel and sardines! The internet is full of great recipes; you’re bound to find something you love!
Rich in protein, vitamin B12, vitamin A and vitamin D, you no longer have to stress about how often you can eat them. You can eat them every day. We now know that regular consumption of eggs doesn’t increase your risk of heart disease. They’re completely fine to be eaten daily! Yay for those of us who love a hot, cooked breakfast!
Eggs are fantastically versatile in cooking. Think frittatas, omelets, quiches and fritters. Then you’ve got the beautiful simplicity of eating them on their own; poached, fried, scrambled or boiled.
4. Natural Yoghurt
Natural yoghurt created from full or skim milk contains live bacteria. These bacteria ferment the sugars in the milk creating acids, which curdle the milk causing the proteins to change their structure. And hey presto! You’ve got yoghurt! Delicious, tart, creamy yoghurt.
The live bacteria found in yoghurt are known as probiotics. This means that they help colonise our digestive tracts with good bacteria. Without going into too much detailed biochemistry, just know that a well colonised gut with good bacteria is a very important part of your health.
Yoghurt can get a little confusing these days as many brands contain other additives and also added sugar. My advice would be to buy a plain natural yoghurt (Greek yoghurt often has twice the fat, so check labels) and if you like it sweet, sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit or a small amount of honey.
5. Fresh berries
Rich in antioxidants and other nutrients, berries have long been known as being heart protective. They’re also delicious and you can freeze them in large quantities and have access to them all year round!
They’re fantastic added to natural yoghurt (above) or thrown into a smoothie with milk, yoghurt, oats and other ingredients.
Chuck them into your muesli or breakfast cereal, snack on them fresh, add them to a decadent dessert for a tart addition to something sweet or blend them up into a juice. There are so many ways to eat them!
6. Raw nuts
Did you know that just 20-30g of nuts per day can improve your health? It’s awesome when little tweaks to your diet can have such a great effect long term.
Nuts are rich in dietary fibre, unsaturated fats and nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, potassium, calcium and vitamin B6.
There is a significant amount of evidence that nuts are heart protective, so off you go – get munching!
Try flaked almonds or crushed walnuts sprinkled on your breakfast cereal. I really enjoy making up a trial mix of raw nuts, seeds and dried fruit to munch on for an afternoon snack or when I get hungry. Nuts are also a fantastic way of adding texture, taste and interest to a meal. I coat chicken in crushed cashews and bake, add peanuts or toasted pine nuts to salads, raw cashews or chestnuts are delicious in Asian style stir fry and one of my favourite salad combinations is goats cheese, rocket, walnuts, and apple. Try it. You’ll love it!
I’ve always thought that it sounds a bit ‘bird-like’ to eat seeds, but they’re actually super nutritious and really yummy!
Seeds contain very similar nutrients to nuts: fiber, unsaturated fats and minerals like zinc and calcium. And just like nuts, seeds add great texture and variety to a meal.
Here is an idea: Try sprinkling your morning breakfast cereal with chia seeds, linseeds, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. They add a little crunch and lots of nutrition!
This little recipe makes a yummy muesli that’s perfect served with a generous portion of plain natural yoghurt: Melt 40g coconut oil and 40g of honey and stir to combine. Add two cups of rolled oats and ¼ cup pumpkin seeds and stir until well coated in the honey mixture. Toast in a moderate oven for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Divide into 40-50g portions. Makes a good 10-12 serves.
These foods are highly nutritious but also play a huge role in maximizing food enjoyment. Believe it or not, food enjoyment is a vital element of long term healthy eating. If you don’t enjoy healthy eating, how are you going to stick to it long term? You probably won’t. You can’t eat boring food forever and nor should you.
Aromatics are different combinations of herbs and vegetables, that when heated in fat (oil, butter, etc.) release aromas and add fabulous flavour to a range of different meals.
Different cuisines use different food combinations to achieve different flavours. Here are some of the most commonly used foods as aromatics: onion, celery, green capsicum, garlic, parsley, shallots, paprika, scallions, ginger, chillies, coriander, Chinese 5 spice, star anise, carrots, thyme, bay leaves, tomatoes, cumin, cardamom, curry powder, cloves, garum masala, turmeric, fennel and sage. There are so many!
Start experimenting in the kitchen and see the difference, that adding flavour to your food, can make!
Do you think there may be some foods missing?
There are plenty of other healthy foods, that aren’t listed here. So don’t worry if I haven’t mentioned something, stay tuned the next instalment.
But in the mean time…
Try to think of healthy eating as being ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘exclusive’. By this I mean, focus on what to eat – fresh, whole vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts, etc., rather than focusing on what not to eat – junk food, chocolate, sugary drinks etc. By focusing on including healthy foods in your diet every day, you’ll naturally eat less of the not so healthy foods, without you having to stress about it!
Until next time! Eat up!