Heart Awareness Month: Eating for the health of your heart

By Jessica Lazar the Green Dietician

This month is Heart Awareness Month in South Africa and the 29th of September is World Heart Day. Did you know that 225 South Africans die of heart disease every single day[i]? Heart disease is the 2nd most common cause of death in South Africa, with 1 in 5 South Africans dying of heart disease[ii]. Luckily 80% of these deaths are preventable[iii].

How do you prevent heart disease? By changing your lifestyle of course! Diet, exercise and stress management all contribute to better heart health. A plant-based diet has been shown to prevent and even treat heart disease. Risk of dying from Heart Disease is 24% lower in vegetarians than those who eat meat[iv]. In addition, vegetarians have been shown to have lower cholesterol levels than people who eat meat and vegans (who don’t eat any animal-based foods), have been shown to have even lower cholesterol levels than both vegetarians and meat-eaters[v].

High blood pressure is one of the main contributors to death from heart disease, with 2 in every 5 heart attacks in South Africa being caused by high blood pressure[vi]. Studies have shown that diets high in fruits and vegetables help to lower blood pressure and that vegans are 2.5 times less likely to have high blood pressure than meat eaters[vii].

Many of the components in plant foods such as fibre, antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids and sterols help to actively lower cholesterol levels, keep our arteries flexible and protect our bodies against heart disease. By reducing our intake of saturated fats and cholesterol, mostly found in animal products, we can also lower our risk of heart disease, especially when we replace these foods with healthy plant foods such as vegetables, pulses, whole-grains and soy products. All-in-all a plant-based diet is one of the best dietary patterns for preventing heart disease and many other lifestyle-related diseases.

What does a plant-based diet consist of?

A plant-based diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds and soy products.

Soy foods are high in plant sterols which are known to lower cholesterol in the blood.[viii] Soy products have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and to lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood.[ix] In addition, soy foods are high in healthy Omega 3 fats (which also help to protect our hearts), fibre (which helps to lower cholesterol levels), protein and iron.

People who are strictly plant-based avoid all foods of animal origin, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, yoghurt, butter and cheese. You don’t have to be 100% plant-based though to enjoy the health benefits of a plant-based diet but you should aim to eat plenty of healthy plant foods and to reduce animal foods, especially those that are high in saturated fats such as meat, cheese, butter, ghee and cream. If you miss meat, meat alternatives such as Fry’s are a great option. Fry’s meat alternatives low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free and are a source of fibre.

In contrast, meat products are high in saturated fat which has been shown to increase cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.[x] Meat is definitely rich in protein and iron but it has no fibre and very little Omega 3 fats which help to lower cholesterol. Therefore, replacing some of the meat in your diet with meat alternatives can be a great way to improve your health, still get enough protein and iron in your diet and reduce your risk for heart disease.

Here are some simple swaps which can help you to improve your heart health and enjoy a more plant-based diet:

  • Instead of using cow’s milk in your tea, coffee or cereal, switch to a plant-based milk alternative. Soy milk is particularly rich in protein and nutrients and has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and many other diseases.
  • Instead of putting butter or cheese on your bread or crackers, switch to healthy plant-based spreads such as avocado, peanut butter, hummus or even omega-3 rich margarine.
  • Instead of using meat, chicken or fish in your curries, stews and hot dishes, try the Fry’s range of meat alternatives. These are made naturally cholesterol-free which can help to lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Instead of having eggs, bacon or cheese for breakfast, try switch to a good whole-grain porridge or cereal or whole-grain bread with one of the above toppings. You can even make a breakfast fry-up with some baked beans, Fry’s sausages and whole-grain toast.
  • Instead of snacking on biltong, cheese or yoghurt, switch to fresh fruits, nuts, seeds or vegetable sticks with hummus.
  • Instead of using cream in cooking or baking, try boiling some cashew nuts and blending them with water to make a delicious and healthy plant-based cream.
  • Going to a braai? Take along your Fry’s meat alternatives and remember to include plenty of salads and vegetables. Mushrooms, mielies, potatoes, peppers and aubergine are all great for popping onto the braai.

Some other tips for improving your heart health:

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, high-fibre whole-grains and beans. Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and add beans, chickpeas or lentils to your cooked dishes and salads. Make sure that your breads, crackers, pastas and rices are high in fibre and whole-grain.
  • Watch your salt intake. High salt intake increases blood pressure.[xi] Use fresh herbs and spices to flavour your meals and aim to forego salt during cooking. Cheese, processed meats, packet soups and salty snacks are all high in salt. Make sure to limit your intake of salt to 5g per day and to check labels on processed foods for sodium content.[xii]
  • Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.[xiii]
  • Get active. Physical activity reduces your risk of heart disease and many other diseases and helps to keep both your body and mind healthy. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise.[xiv]
  • Stop smoking. Smoking increases your chances of getting heart disease by 5.6% for every cigarette smoked. [xv]
  • Manage your stress. Stress increases the risk for heart disease and contributes to poor lifestyle habits such as overeating, smoking, drinking alcohol and not getting enough sleep.[xvi] Getting active, getting enough sleep and eating a good diet are all ways to help manage stress. In addition, working on your emotional and mental health are important ways to manage stress. Whether this be meditation, yoga, spirituality, prayer, psychotherapy, counselling, medication, massage, journaling, dancing or just talking to a friend, make sure to make time for your mental wellbeing.


[viii] Food labeling: health claims; soy protein and coronary heart disease. Food and Drug Administration, HHS. Final rule. Fed Regist. 1999; 64(206):57699-57733.

Xiao CW. Health effects of soy protein and isoflavones in humans. J Nutr. 2008;138(6):1244S-1249S.

[ix] Welty FK, Lee KS, Lew NS, Zhou JR. Effect of soy nuts on blood pressure and lipid levels in hypertensive, prehypertensive, and normotensive postmenopausal women. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(10):1060-1067.



Choose heart smart: Improve your heart health in ten steps

By Dr Paul Palmer – Plant-Based Nutrition Consultant and Musculoskeletal Occupation Health Specialist

Have a change of heart this Heart Awareness Month by making small but significant adjustments to your overall lifestyle to reduce your risk of heart-related diseases and improve your overall heart health. 

Remember when doctors prescribed “healthy” cigarettes and smoking as something that was “good for you”? Luckily, much has changed over the last few decades. Preventative care is fast becoming an approach to health for many people. Yet heart disease – which can be prevented – is still one of the leading causes of death in South Africa.

Once thought to only be a disease for the elderly, more than half of heart-related deaths now affect people under the age of 65 years, while over 17 million people die every year from cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization. It’s a staggering number when one considers that 80% of these premature deaths can be prevented by eating better, moving more and avoiding smoking.

As this month is Heart Awareness Month in South Africa, and with World Heart Day falling on the 29th of September, I encourage you to make a few changes to your diet and lifestyle that will increase your longevity and improve your overall happiness!

So for this month, I ask you to take the pledge to commit to your heart by going plant-based!

Why plant-based? By choosing to go meat-free, you reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, the leading cause of an increased risk of heart disease.

Are you ready to make heart-smart choices? Here are my top ten tips on how to get wholeheartedly healthy!

  1. Eliminate Saturated Fats with Plants

Overwhelming scientific evidence links the consumption of meat and animal products to numerous diseases. According to medical experts at the American Heart Association (AHA), eating saturated fat increases the amount of cholesterol present in the blood which results in an increased risk for heart disease and stroke (1). By replacing animal foods and highly refined carbs with whole plant foods is a proven way to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

  1. Eat Fruit and Veg to Instantly Boost Your Fibre Intake and Lower Your Cholesterol

A well-rounded diet should be abundant with veggies, leafy greens, legumes, beans, nuts, whole grains and fruit. These foods are rich in dietary fibre which helps to lower LDL cholesterol (AKA “bad cholesterol”). Fibre interacts with the bad cholesterol in your digestive tract and helps to remove it quickly from the body, decreasing the amount of LDL cholesterol absorbed.

Dr Michael Greger M.D. FACLM states that 97% of Americans are deficient in fibre (2). On average, we get only about 15 grams a day. The minimum daily requirement is 31.5 – so we get less than half of the minimum! The question shouldn’t be “Where do you get your protein?” but rather “Where do you get your fibre?” Low blood cholesterol levels can be achieved by replacing animal protein with plant protein like legumes, soy and oats, and with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats found in avocados, nuts and seeds.

  1. Take Your Omegas but Cut Out the Middle Fish

Essential omega fats are important for a healthy heart, reducing the risk of diabetes and helping to support normal cholesterol levels. They are called “essential” because our bodies cannot make them and as such, we need to get them from our food. And we don’t need fish to help us out. Plant-based sources of omega 6’s include hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and soya-based foods. Get your omega 3’s in the form of chia, hemp and flax seeds.

  1. Use Heart-Smart Alternatives when Cooking

Too much oil in one’s diet is not as heart-healthy as the media likes to suggest. According to physician and nutrition expert, Dr John McDougall, MD, foods rich in monounsaturated fats like olive oil may be healthier than foods rich in saturated and trans-fats like animal protein, but just because something is “healthier” does not mean it is good for you (3). Pouring oil over your food means you’re consuming a lot of fat. And eating a lot of fat, including “healthier” ones, means you’re eating a lot of calories, causing weight gain, and leading to an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and heart disease.

When cooking at home consider using a Philips Airfryer instead of a deep fryer, stove or even the oven! An Airfryer is a nifty kitchen appliance that uses hot air to cook, roast and bake food with minimal to no oil, thereby eliminating saturated and hydrogenated fat, without compromising on texture or taste.

  1. Eat the Rainbow for a Nutritional Boost

A plant-based diet is rich in a host of nutrients that are heart-protective. Eat the rainbow and consume a colourful array of fruit and veggies that are rich in antioxidants, plant sterols, phytochemicals, iron and potassium, all thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. And if you crave meat, opt for one of Fry’s meat replacement products, such as the Chicken-Style Burger (my personal favourite) or the Golden Crumbed Schnitzels.

  1. Eat More Soy-Based Foods

Soy ahoy! Soy plays a role in keeping your heart healthy as the protein found in soybeans has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. According to a study, soybeans contain additional components, such as isoflavones, lecithins, saponins and fibre that may be beneficial to cardiovascular health by improving blood pressure, glycemic control, obesity, and inflammation (4). Got Nuggets?

  1. Increase Your Cardiovascular Fitness

Any movement is better than sitting still when it comes to improving your heart health. Increase your cardiovascular fitness by running, cycling, circuit training or with high-intensity interval training. These kinds of exercises cause the blood to pump much harder which forces the arterial wall to stretch, improving the elasticity of the arteries. Alternate between intensity and between upper and lower body exercises with minimal rest periods for maximum results.

  1. Strength Training for a Strong Heart

Weight training is as important for building muscle mass as it is for building a strong heart. After all, your heart is a muscle! Lifting weights or using your own bodyweight is effective in burning fat, improving bone health and strengthening your heart. Yoga is also great for strength and muscle toning. Different styles of yoga like Ashtanga or Power Vinyasa keeps your heart elevated throughout the class, giving you a combined strength and cardio workout!

  1. Reduce Smoking

The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells, the function of your heart, and the structure and function of your blood vessels. This damage increases your risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, leading to raised blood pressure, chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias, and death. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can help reverse heart and blood vessel damage and reduce heart disease risk.

  1. Cook for your Heart with Your Heart

By eating a plant-based diet, or reducing your meat consumption, you are not only eating a diet that is good for your heart, but it also means you are making a powerful ethical statement. By avoiding animal-based products from your diet, you withdraw support from cruelty to animals. Choosing to back the production of cruelty-free foods means you are not only cooking for your heart, but also with your heart.

Take a moment each day to take some deep breaths, acknowledge what you have in your life and to create positive affirmations. Slowing down and taking moments to be grateful have been linked with better health, greater well-being and longer, happier life!

If you know of someone who you think may benefit from reading this article or who suffers from a heart-related disease, please share it with them! It may just save their life!

Download the Fry’s Love Your Heart Cookbook that is filled with heart-smart and heart-loving recipes and enter the Love Your Heart Competition to stand a chance to win a Fry’s food hamper and 1 of 50 Philips Air Fryers, all to the value of R3000! Follow us on Facebook to enter. For competition details, click here.







Top four foods for your heart

 Love Your Veggies, Love Your Heart!
The latest South African health statistics show that about 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes occur daily in our country. The latest findings show that 6.3 million South Africans are living with high blood pressure, while we have one of the highest rates of hypertension worldwide. Heart failure is in the top 10 causes of death in South Africa but it is not all doom and gloom – a plant-based diet, free from cholesterol and saturated animals fats, has been shown to help prevent and even reverses heart disease.
We have carefully selected four delicious plant-based foods that are not only tasty but are good for your heart!
Top Four Foods for your Heart:
 1. Kale
201502-TT-1-IG-200x200What can kale not do?
In addition to boosting your immune system, counteracting the negative effects of smoking and preventing the common cold; kale reduces your chances of developing heart disease. Health-promoting phytonutrients in kale are extremely beneficial for heart health and the compound, glucoraphanin, found in the leafy green helps plaque from building in your arteries.
2. Soy
201502-TT-2-IG-200x200According to the American Heart Association; “There is increasing evidence that consumption of soy protein in place of animal protein lowers blood cholesterol levels and may provide other cardiovascular benefits“. While several studies suggest that “soy may help reduce menopausal symptoms, and lower the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.”
3. Nuts
201502-TT-3-IG-200x200Studies have found that a single handful of nuts every day may cut your risk of having a heart attack by half. Evidence also suggests that nuts boost longevity. So nuts are the ultimate snack food; choose them over chips and a spoonful of peanut butter over sweets. Also while you are at it… try a brisk walk each day. Just 60 minutes of moderate exercise will help your immune system, help you sleep and give you more energy.
4. Whole Grains

201502-TT-4-IG-200x200Grain products range from pasta, bread, oatmeal and cereals (even Fry’s is made from a blend of grains!). Eating whole grains have a number of important health benefits. The dietary fibre from the whole grains, when forming part of a balanced diet, reduce blood cholesterol levels which promote a healthy heart.

Why not turn these top healthy foods for your heart into a delicious, protein-packed, salad? Our recipes are brimming with taste and make eating better easier! Head over to our salad recipe section now or let us know what your tops tips are for good heart health on Twitter!