September is Heart Awareness Month, and there’s a reason why heart health is such a big deal in our country. Heart disease and stroke is the second biggest killer after HIV/AIDS and it’s on the rise. The good news is that it can largely be prevented by making simple lifestyle and diet changes. Wouldn’t you rather make a change today and live to enjoy your family and friends into old age? We think it’s a pretty easy choice.
Here’s everything you need to know…
What is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?
Also known as heart disease, cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to different heart or blood vessel problems. The term is often used to mean damage to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of fatty plaque in your arteries. Plaque build-up thickens and stiffens artery walls, which can inhibit blood flow through your arteries to your organs and tissues. Atherosclerosis is also the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It can be caused by correctable problems, such as an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, being overweight and smoking. (MayoClinic.org)
Of heart disease and strokes can be prevented.
South Africans are killed by heart diseases every day.
Of adults in South Africa have high blood pressure.
People suffer a stroke in South Africa every hour.
More South Africans die of CVD than of all the cancers combined.
– SA Heart and Stroke Foundation
Why is the problem so bad and getting worse?
First off, there is not nearly enough awareness and education around the causes, risks and preventability of CVD. The shocking statistics above need to be cause for everyone’s concern! Most importantly, however, is the fact that modern medicine is not treating the cause but the symptoms of the diseases, hence the rise of CVD globally. Instead of looking at the root causes of CVD – the main one being bad diet – doctors and their patients are hoping that medication alone will solve the problem. While medication is part of the treatment plan, we believe that using food as medicine will yield the most successful results. As we’ve said before, we believe that FOOD MEDICINE is the answer, which means that our diets need to change – both to prevent and alleviate heart diseases.
What else puts me at risk?
Besides the big one – poor diet – other major risk factors that can contribute to CVD are: high blood pressure, obesity, high blood cholesterol, tobacco use, physical inactivity, diabetes, advancing age, inherited (genetic) disposition. Again, many of these can be turned around very easily. Harder to solve factors that can play a role in heart health are poverty, low educational status, poor mental health, inflammation and blood clotting disorders, radiation therapy, lack of sleep, air pollution and stress.
What can I do to prevent or alleviate heart disease?
Start with what you put into your body. A diesel engine can’t run on petrol – similarly, your body can’t function if you’re not fuelling it with the right food! Eating the right foods and using food as your first defence in disease is the biggest and most beneficial change you can make TODAY. Here’s some ideas of how to start:
- Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about a diet plan to suit your needs
- Make the majority of your diet green – green veggies, like broccoli, kale, cabbage, avocados
- Eat less meat
- Eat less saturated fats and sugar
- Eat more “good” fats like nuts, salmon, avocado, tuna
- Have vegetables with every meal
- Cut out the fast foods
- Replace fizzy and sugary drinks with water
- Buy fresh vegetables weekly to get the maximum nutrition
- Find a diet and routine that suits your life and conditions
Other things to do:
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight – no yo-yo dieting
- Reduce and manage stress
- Research, read and talk to people about CVD prevention and good nutrition
- Get regular check-ups to monitor your health
- Check out The South African Heart and Stroke Foundation website for loads of information.
Lastly, remember the power that lies in what’s on your fork! Embrace the natural medicinal properties that food is able to provide.
Here are some foods that are great for heart health
Look for foods containing antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and fatty acids like Omega-3, which studies have found to lower the risk of irregular heart beat and plaque build-up in the arteries.
Blueberries and other types of berries
Soy (non GMO)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kale, Broccoli and Spinach