The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges on a global scale. It has affected our health and our livelihoods. It has changed our behaviours, the way we work, socialise and take care of our health. Most people who are at a higher risk of dying are those already living with underlying health conditions, especially cardiovascular disease, upper respiratory disorders, diabetes and hypertension. Other co-morbid conditions like hypertension and obesity are also associated with more severe COVID-19 symptoms.
In South Africa, 255 people die from heart diseases every single day, despite the fact that 80% of heart diseases and strokes can be prevented. Healthy food choices can positively impact cardiovascular health and immunity in a matter of weeks and along with moderate physical activity, can reduce the risk of heart disease and play a vital role in maintaining an optimal immune response.
Prof Pamela Naidoo of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa states: “Smoking or vaping, drinking too much, diets high in salt and sugar and high cholesterol all contribute to declining heart health, among other influences.” She continues, “We cannot overlook the fact that people are also genetically predisposed to selected medical conditions depending on their family history, and these people especially should heed the advice to take heart health more seriously.”
As such, it is advised to not revert to old unhealthy habits after the pandemic to protect not only your immune system but also your overall heart health. These habits include lack of physical activity, consuming large amounts of processed foods, alcohol or increasing the number of cigarettes you smoke per day.
The problem with processed foods
Most of the food we eat today is processed in some way or another. It could be a salad mix, pre-cooked ‘healthy’ meals, frozen dinners or even fruits and vegetables. Some processed foods have added ingredients, and others are fortified to add nutrients. Some are prepared for convenience, and some are packaged to last longer or for food safety. Even food labelled ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ can be processed.
The good sign is that more people are paying attention to processed foods. According to Heart.org, 74% of consumers are opting for less sodium in processed foods, and almost 50% have tried eating fewer processed foods. When considering your diet, it is important to read food labels, look for heart-friendly products and make healthier choices, whether it’s cooking more meals at home, swapping highly processed foods for its less processed counterparts or even growing your own fruits and vegetables at home.
Nutrients from real food over supplements
Many experts agree that eating the right food is one of the most important steps to a healthy heart. The nutrients you get from certain foods, like fibre, folic acid, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, can not only protect against heart disease but provide added benefits to improve your overall health.
Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in Lucky Star pilchards and sardines, are particularly important in maintaining heart health. Omega-3 acids assist in reduced blood pressure and blood clotting, as well as irregular heartbeats. It can also decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure, although the key benefits are as follows:
Healthy brain – Choosing healthier food options will benefit our memory and brain function, as well as our mood. Omega-3s are also crucial for brain growth and development in infants.
Healthy heart – Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower bad cholesterol and high blood pressure while raising ‘good’ cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Healthy bones and joints – Omega-3 fatty acids are known to improve the health and strength of joints by increasing the amount of calcium in bones, thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Omega-3s also help to reduce pain and stiffness in joints.
Continues Prof Naidoo, “Products like Lucky Star are accessible and affordable for most consumers and a brilliant way to add more Omega-3 fatty acids into the diet.” Lucky Star is also the only canned fish brand endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation as part of their essential eating plan.
“Eating real food is always better than taking supplements. Nothing can substitute it. Lucky Star pilchards and sardines are an ideal way to incorporate more Omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, and to assist in taking care of your heart health,” she concludes.