Nutrition and Cancer

Diet and your heart

Aug 2, 2021 Word for Word Media 0Comment

Dietitian, Berna Harmse, shares a diet checklist to help prevent or slow down the development of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease is a combination of illnesses of the heart, blood and arteries. High cholesterol, arteriosclerosis (hardening of arteries), heart failure, heart attacks and strokes are part of this.  


Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is both made by the liver and absorbed from our diet. When there is an excess amount of cholesterol in the blood, small amounts can start to collect on the inner walls of the arteries. This causes the artery walls to harden and thicken, decreasing the space through which the blood can flow (atherosclerosis). When this space becomes too narrow, the blood supply to the heart can be blocked and a heart attack can occur.

The food that you eat can influence your cholesterol levels. When consuming certain fats (mainly from animal products), you can increase your cholesterol levels, while most of the fats from plants can either lower your cholesterol levels or keep them the same.

How do I get heart disease?

Genetics and family history play a strong role, especially if family members died young of heart disease. Poor lifestyle, such as smoking, being overweight, bad diet, too much stress and lack of exercise, can also contribute to developing heart disease. Diabetes is also linked to heart disease.

Preventing or slowing down the development of heart disease

  • Stop smoking as smoking causes hardening of the arteries and increases blood pressure.
  • Relook at your stress levels and coping mechanisms.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Diet – eat healthy and in moderation.  

Diet checklist

  • Eat at least three balanced meals per day. Skipping meals will lead to overeating or making less than ideal choices at meal times.
  • Restrict your intake of particularly saturated fats and trans fatty acids (animal fat, chocolate, coconut, hard margarine, full cream dairy products, baked products (pies, biscuits and palm oils, such as coffee creamers and artificial cream)). Rather include mono-saturated fatty acids in moderate amounts in your diet (e.g. canola oil, olive oil, spread avocado or peanut butter on your bread instead of margarine).
  • Eat fish (two to three times per week) and chicken more often than red meat. Use soya products (add it to lean mince or use instead of mince).
  • Increase your fibre intake. Eat whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, eat oats or oat bran or whole-wheat cereals e.g. oats for breakfast, eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables; legumes (peas, lentils, beans and soya), and brown rice.
  • Eat at least four to five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. At least one should be a good source of vitamin C (tomatoes, cabbage family, citrus fruits, guavas) and one dark green or dark yellow vegetable. It’s well-known that LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is a risk factor for heart disease. The oxidation of LDL leads to atherosclerosis. Antioxidants, especially vitamin E (seeds and nuts) and lycopene (tomatoes), can lower the susceptibility of LDL to oxidation, thereby retarding the process of atherosclerosis. 
  • Cooking methods: cook, steam, grill in the oven or barbecue. Restrict the use of additional fat (margarine, oil, mayonnaise, cream and cheese) during the preparation of food.
  • Use little salt during preparation of food; avoid the addition of extra salt at the table. Rather use herbs, salt-free spices and flavourings instead of salt. Avoid processed foods high in salt.
  • Drink at least six to eight glasses of water per day.
Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian in Cape Town. She holds a MSc in Dietetics and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.

MEET THE EXPERT  – Berna Harmse

Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian in Cape Town. She holds a MSc in Dietetics and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.

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