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Cooking From And For The Heart

Culinary types have long known the fastest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. Turns out science backs that up. By Anna Trapido.

All of the above is deliciously compatible with our heritage family favourites. Here are our top tips for making healthy, budget-friendly, proudly South African meals.

Okay, the bad news is that, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), approximately 240 people suffer a stroke and another 130 have a heart attack in South Africa every single day. The good news is that World Health Organization (WHO) research shows that up to 80 per cent of cardiac-related deaths could be prevented by addressing behavioural risk factors such as an unhealthy diet, tobacco use and a lack of exercise.

Many South Africans erroneously assume that heart-healthy food is expensive, and the traditional tastes of Mzansi are incompatible with cardiac wellbeing. Nothing could be further from the truth. A heart-friendly diet emphasises fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans, lean meat, dairy and healthy fats. It limits or eliminates processed, refined and industrial precooked foods, which are often low in fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, but high in salt, fat and sugar.

Seek out snoek

Fatty fish are loaded with heart-smart omega-3 fatty acids. In one randomised control study, eating salmon three times a week for eight weeks was shown to significantly decrease diastolic blood pressure. Salmon is delicious, but it’s imported and über-expensive. Snoek, sardines and pilchards are significantly cheaper, local fish packed with omega-3 fatty acids. A tinned pilchard curry/sishebo is an economical Durban delight. Remember, salt, some fats and sugar can contribute to cardiovascular disease so always opt for low-sodium tinned fish, read label to check which oil sardines have been packed in, and assess the sugar content of those prepared in tomato sauce.

Magnificent mabele 

Antihypertensive and cardiovascular benefits ensue from consumption of South Africa’s indigenous millet (mvohoho in Tshivenda, uphoko in isiZulu and osgras in Afrikaans) and sorghum (variously known as amabele in isiZulu, graansorghum in Afrikaans and makhana in Tshivenda). These cereals are gluten-free and phytonutrient- and mineral-rich, with high levels of soluble fibre, which has been shown to reduce LDL (bad cholesterol). This effect is increased when whole grains are combined with beans. Why not make winter wonderful with Venda-style millet mukapu porridge? Or double-whammy your wellbeing with Xhosa-style qhumatana (beans and sorghum). So what are you waiting for? There is a heart-healthy heritage meal to suit every palate and wallet.

Swap braai chops for venison potjie 

While other countries have a national dish, South Africa has a national cooking method. Whether you favour a Soweto shisa nyama or a Bloemfontein braai, flames and food are central to our sense of self. Choosing lean meat and removing visible fat will reduce LDL cholesterol, but lean meats are easy to overcook and under-season in such settings. Marinades help with flavour and texture but are often high in fat, salt, sugar. Also, direct flame contact produces heterocyclic aromatic amines, which may be carcinogenic. Why not cut the fat and direct flame contact by swapping braai for slow- cooked, meltingly tender, low-fat, high-protein venison potjie? Thanks to the wild/pasture diets of our indigenous antelopes, the small amount of fat in venison is likely to contain high levels of conjugated linoleic acid, which is thought to protect against heart disease and cancer. Not a venison fan? Try Tswana-style, super-lean, tšhotlho, pulled beef shin. If you must braai, make it a classic Cape snoek braai.

Fast fact

A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that eating heart-healthy food is not only good for your health, but also produces fewer greenhouse gases and uses less water, so it’s good for the health of our planet too.

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