So, what kind of diet is good for your heart? Generally, we should aim to:
- Reduce "bad" fats (saturated fat and trans fats)
- Reduce salt (sodium)
- "Right-size" your calorie intake (adjust what, how much and how often you eat) to better manage your weight.
Reducing "bad" fats
Saturated fats ("Bad")
- Meat fat, whole milk, butter, cream, fatty cheeses, coconut and palm oils, cocoa butter.
Trans-fatty acids or Trans fats ("Bad")
- Mainly found in hydrogenated vegetable fats typically used in snack foods like crackers, cookies, chips and pastries to create a longer shelf life; a small amount is found in processed vegetable oils used to make some spreads, but very little is found in New Zealand margarines.
Monounsaturated fats ("Good")
- Olive oil, canola oil, avocados; most nuts and nut butters.
Polyunsaturated fats ("Good")
- Soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils; oily fish such as sardines
Simple ways to reduce "bad" fats
Here are some simple steps you can take to remove saturated fat from your diet:
- Reduce your butter intake and/or replace butter with margarine or olive oil-based spreads
- Replace full fat milk with reduced or low fat milk, or milk alternatives like soy milk or almond milk
- Replace full-fat ice cream with low-fat varieties, or alternatives like frozen yoghurt or sorbets
- Trim the fat off your meat and remove the skin from chicken
- Replace butter, dripping or lard with non-saturated fat alternatives when roasting or pan frying food. Alternatively, grill your meat instead.
A high salt (sodium) intake is associated with raised blood pressure. Many of us are accustomed to adding salt to our meals for taste but salt also makes its way into our bodies via many processed foods, some of which you wouldn't necessarily suspect have salt in them. Two simple ways to reduce dietary salt are:
- Compare the information on the nutrition information panels on manufactured/packaged food to identify options that contain less sodium
- Rather than adding salt to your own cooking, use herbs and spices to add flavour
Nutrition information panels
Eating for general health and wellbeing
The Heart Foundation recommends five simple steps to help you choose food for a healthy heart:
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
- If choosing meat, trim off the fat to make it lean; consider fish as an alternative.
- Choose low-fat milk
- Replace butter with margarines and healthy oils for cooking and spreads
- Reduce salt: check sodium quantities on food labels.
Nutritionists will often suggest additional general tips that will complement heart-healthy food choices, and help your overall physical health and wellbeing:
- Enjoy three meals a day
- Eat fruit or vegetables at every meal and for snacks. They are high in fibre, and contain no cholesterol and little fat
- Eat fish, chicken and lean meat instead of processed meat products like sausages and salami
- Eat whole grains, whole grain breads, or high fibre breakfast cereals instead of white bread
- Use lemon juice or vinegar rather than oily dressings or mayonnaise
- Drink plenty of fluids each day, particularly water, instead of sugar-sweetened drinks and alcohol
- Avoid prepared food, snacks and meals unless you’ve checked the energy, fat and salt content
- Leave pies, pastries, biscuits, cakes and puddings for special occasions only – not every day
- For dairy products, choose low or reduced fat options where available e.g. milk, yoghurt, ice cream, cream cheese and sour cream
- Avoid fatty and salty takeaways because they tend to be high in all the wrong things (calories, fat and salt)
- Use mozzarella cheese instead of hard cheeses on pizza, pasta and salads
- Use filo pastry rather than puff pastry as it is lower in fat
- Keep a food diary to become more aware of your food habits and note areas where changes are required.
Tips when cooking:
- Steam, microwave, poach, grill or bake food rather than fry or roast
- Use non-stick sprays on cookware rather than oil.
Further information and recipes