Eating for a healthy heart

Watching what you eat is one of the most important things you can do to prevent heart disease and stroke. What you eat, how much you eat and how often you eat can affect your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Equally, what you eat has a direct effect on your weight. Eating less of certain foods (e.g. high fat, salt and sugar content) and eating more of the other foods (e.g. high-fibre foods and fish) will help protect your heart and keep your body healthy.

Healthy eating is important for everyone in the family. The key thing is to have a balanced diet with everything in moderation. In this section, we take a look at the different food groups, how much we should be eating and how to balance a healthy diet while enjoying some tasty treats.

There are so many food options available to us that it is often difficult to resist temptation in favour of the healthy food choice. This guide will take you through all you need to know and is full of tips for managing different situations, like eating out, eating on the go and cooking at home. We also look at how to manage your weight and how to adjust some of your own recipes to make them more heart-friendly. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the advice you are about to receive! If your diet needs more than a few changes, just pick one area at a time and work on that until you get used to it and then move onto the next area. Soon, you will be really confident about making healthy choices. So, where do we start?

  • Getting the balance right
  • Bread, cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts
  • Fats and oils
  • Sweets, biscuits cakes and crisps
  • Salt & blood pressure
  • Tips for eating well
  • Managing your weight
  • Reading a food label
  • Eating out
  • Cooking essentials
  • Larder essentials

Getting the balance right

We hear a lot about balance when it comes to healthy eating – and no, balance does not mean a slice of cake in one hand and a glass of wine in the other! Our bodies need certain amounts of different foods in order to be healthy. Remember, getting the balance right doesn’t just mean your heart will be healthier, it means that your whole body will be healthier too.

The food plate (above) is a great place to start when we want to look at how much of how much of the different foods our bodies need. It is important that we use a standard 9-inch plate when we are eating. In restaurants and at home, plate sizes are increasing, as is the amount of food we are putting on them! Aim to cover at least half of your dinner plate with vegetables or salad, reduce your portion of meat, chicken or fish to a quarter of the plate and finally, limit your intake of carbohydrates to the remaining quarter of the plate.

Tips for eating well

  1. Keep a food diary. Writing down what you eat and how often you eat it can really help you lose weight. Often it is not until we see it written down that we realise just how many sweets, crisps and biscuits we are eating. Keeping a food diary also helps us to see where we need to add in healthy foods. You don’t have to keep a food diary all of the time, but it is useful to keep for at least one month to get you started.
  2. Use a smaller plate. Using a smaller plate means that you will eat less at lunch and dinner without feeling hungry. Check you are using a standard 9-inch plate at your meal time.
  3. Do have regular meals – breakfast is especially important and you need to have a regular lunch and dinner as well. Skipping meals can actually make it harder to lose weight!
  4. Don’t snack in between meals unless you are really hungry. We have a great tendency to eat whenever we see food, when we are stressed, when we are bored or from pure habit. If you are not hungry, you don’t need it. Wait until your next meal.
  5. Eat slowly. It takes about 15 minutes to realise that you are eating. If you eat very quickly, you can eat a lot of food before your brain has a chance to catch up and tell you to stop! Slow down and take your time – you should be taking 15 minutes to eat your breakfast and 20-30 minutes to eat lunch and dinner.
  6. Don’t force yourself to finish meals. Most of us were brought up to always clear a plate but if you are starting to feel full, trust your body and walk away.
  7. Chew food really well. This helps you to get more nutrition from your food but also helps you to eat less. Studies show that the more time you chew a mouthful before you swallow it, the fewer calories you eat later. Try to chew food at least 25 times and even up to 40 times before you swallow.