Eating healthy is easier than you'd think. Here are a few cost-effective heart-healthy foods to keep at home.
Eating healthy is easier than you'd think. Here are a few cost-effective heart-healthy foods to keep at home.

Heart Awareness Month is the perfect time to look at some proactive ways of supporting heart health through our diets. Heart disease still is the leading cause of death worldwide. In South Africa, due to our genetic heritage, stressful lives and unbalanced eating patterns, many people suffer with heart conditions.

What we should NOT eat is often the focus when we look for dietary advice for heart health. However, a shift from this reactive approach is now possible with the wealth of information available on foods that can help support a healthy heart.

It is easy to presume that heart-healthy foods are expensive, but there are some superfoods in support of heart health that will suit everyone’s budget. We’re going to count down to your top 4 heart-healthy foods.

Red Apples

“An apple a day will keep the doctor away.” Based on medical research, it seems there is more truth in this adage than one would think. Recent research from the United States has shown that individuals who eat apples daily are less reliant on prescription medicines. This could partly be attributed to a trend that people who choose to eat apples generally make healthier diet and lifestyle choices.

  • Research Highlights:

Further research is proving that certain components found in apples, notably antioxidant nutrients known as polyphenols, can help to support heart health through their beneficial effects on blood circulation, blood pressure and overall heart health. In fact, one study published in 2012 in the Journal of Functional Foods showed that a regular dietary intake of apple polyphenols could even help to reduce the harmful LDL-cholesterol with up to 40%.

  • How do I get the maximum benefit?

Research from the United States has shown that individuals who eat apples daily are less reliant on prescription medicines.
According to US research individuals who eat apples daily are less reliant on prescription medicines.

Because these polyphenol nutrients are concentrated within the skin of the apple, it is recommended to eat the whole apple, with the peel. While an apple a day cannot replace prescription medicine for high blood pressure or cholesterol, it most definitely can play a valuable role in supporting heart health, naturally!

  • What does it cost per portion?

At R3-4 per fresh apple, how can you refuse this benefit?

Oats

Oats is a firm favourite breakfast for many people – even those who don’t like cooked porridge – because it is found in most muesli cereals and cereal bars.

  • Research highlights:

Oats is a reliable source of valuable dietary fibres that contain an ingredient called beta-glucan, which naturally helps the body to eliminate tiny bits of harmful cholesterol. In fact, this ingredient has gained so much popularity in reducing cholesterol, it is now found in extracts and food supplements that are recommended as cholesterol lowering remedies.

Several meta-analyses of multiple studies have firmly proven the cholesterol lowering benefit of oats. Most recently, such a review published in April 2018 in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine recommends the beta-glucan from oats as an actual treatment option, because of its proven benefit and because it has no side effects.

Oats is a reliable source of valuable dietary fibres.
Oats is a reliable source of valuable dietary fibres.
  • How do I get the maximum benefit?

The maximum cholesterol lowering benefit from oats is obtained by eating cooked oat porridge. Eating toasted oat flakes do not seem to provide the same benefit in eliminating cholesterol, as when the oat flakes are mixed with water and boiled, or eaten raw, but soaked in water.

  • Did you know?

By adding a few raisins and a sprinkle of cinnamon, you can enjoy oats without adding any sugar! Because of the sweet aromatic flavour of the cinnamon, and some added natural sweetness from a few raisins, you will not miss the heaped spoons of sugar you sprinkled over your oats before.

  • What does it cost per portion?

At R1,20 per portion cooked porridge, this should be part of every family’s breakfast!

Tomatoes

Tomatoes and tomato juice have been studied extensively for their benefits on men’s health, in support of prostate health. However, recent research has focused on the heart health benefits of tomatoes – perhaps another clue into the health benefits linked to a Mediterranean diet.

  • Research highlights:

Lycopene, the red pigment found in tomatoes, as well as watermelon and guavas, is a potent antioxidant with multiple health benefits. Research into cardiovascular health has shown that tomatoes could help contribute to healthy cholesterol and healthy blood pressure levels, mostly due to the lycopene in the tomatoes.

Research into cardiovascular health indicates that tomatoes could help contribute to healthy cholesterol and healthy blood pressure levels.
Research into cardiovascular health indicates that tomatoes could help contribute to healthy cholesterol and healthy blood pressure levels.
  • Did you know?

While most fruit and vegetables show the maximum benefit if eaten raw, tomatoes show even greater health benefits if eaten in a cooked form. The reason for this is that the fat soluble lycopene is not only heat resistant, in fact, it is made more available for absorption through the cooking process.

  • What does it cost per portion?

At R10-R12 per tin of tomatoes, who can say no to adding this ingredient into sauces, soups, pasta dishes and stews?

Tinned fish

Tinned pilchards, sardines and mackerel are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, known to be one of the most valuable nutrients in support of a healthy heart.

  • Research highlights:

Oily fish, rich in omega 3 oils, has been the focus of cardiovascular research for decades. Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of blood clots. It can also help manage blood pressure, reduce the bad cholesterol, support the good cholesterol and improve blood circulation.

Sardines are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, known to be one of the most valuable nutrients in support of a healthy heart.
Sardines are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, known to be one of the most valuable nutrients in support of a healthy heart.
  • Did you know?

Even though a lot of focus is placed on supplements, the best benefits is derived when the omega 3 oils are ingested within the source – oily fish such as sardines, pilchards and mackerel. Yes, salmon is rich in omega 3 oils too, but with the cost effective focus of this article, lets focus on the types of fish we can eat regularly.

  • What does it cost?

At R17 for a 410g tin of pilchards (yes, the one in tomato sauce is best!), you can prepare a wholesome meal for a family of four.

With this information at hand, make sure to keep these foods on your weekly shopping list:

  • red apples
  • oats
  • tinned tomatoes
  • tinned pilchards

All of these foods are versatile and can be included in various ways, in different recipes, to ensure you and your family can feast on heart-healthy foods all year found.

Andrea Du Plessis
Andrea du Plessis is a well-known registered dietician with a passion for healthcare through nutrition, natural remedies and a healthy lifestyle. She regularly presents talks and educational workshops on nutrition throughout the country. Du Plessis is also known as the resident health and nutrition expert on SABC3’s Expresso breakfast TV show.