The heart of the matter

Celynn Erasmus: Healthy mind, healthy body. And more.
Celynn Erasmus: Healthy mind, healthy body. And more.

We talk so much on this blog about money and wealth that we can sometimes forget that there’s more to life, like friends, family, and health. In this blog, dietician and speaker Celynn Erasmus reminds us of what really matters when she talks frankly about how to keep your heart healthy. Often, we think that living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding heart disease is hard work, or too much of a hassle, but Celynn lays out a series of simple things that you can start doing today to keep your ticker ticking. This blog is bursting with practical advice that makes a healthy lifestyle seem achievable and even pleasurable. Take a few minutes to read Celynn’s piece, and do something good for your body, because you’ll definitely miss that when it’s gone. – FD

By Celynn Erasmus*

Is the way to a man’s heart through his stomach, as the old saying goes? If you’re talking about heart health, then the answer is yes, and it applies to women as well. Your heart is a muscle that is about the size of your fist. It pumps blood around your body and beats approximately 70 times a minute. The heart gets its own supply of blood from a network of blood vessels on the surface of your heart, called coronary arteries.

Coronary heart disease is the term that describes what happens when your heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances (atherosclerosis) in the coronary arteries.

Eat your heart out

While each type of heart disease and each patient is unique, the goals are similar. Your key goals for managing a healthy heart should be centered around this ABC:


A stands for increasing your ACTIVITY. Can you limit your sitting/lying down to 23 hours a day? Sounds small, but this can have a huge impact. Here is an excellent video to inspire you to take daily exercise more seriously – (Dr Mike Ewans

B stands for reducing your BELLY and BLOOD PRESSURE to within healthy recommendations. Ideally your waist circumference should be <88cm (women) and <102cm (men). Your blood pressure should be as close as possible to 120 / 80.

C stands for CHANGE. Effecting positive change follows a different formula for each of us, but generally includes things like your believing in your ability to make change, finding a supportive social network, managing your stress, quitting smoking and getting back on track after a derailment. Your outlook is also very important. Optimism has been shown to have an impact on heart disease.

6 Heart friendly (cholesterol-lowering) foods

If you don’t already, try and include as many of these foods in your diet on a daily basis.

1. Olives, avocado and olive or avocado oil

Olives and avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E. Research has shown that foods with a high monounsaturated fatty acid content lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and increase ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Have one tablespoon of olive oil a day, add olives to your salads or have a few as a snack on the run and add avocado to your diet.

2. Legumes

Legumes include dry, cooked or canned beans, lentils, peas and all the soya products (cooked or canned soya beans, soya mince, cubes, milk, tofu and tempeh). Legumes have a high fibre content, are naturally low in fat and don’t contain any cholesterol. They are also all slow releasing (low glycaemic index). Try and eat legumes at least three to four times a week. Add lentils to mince, add chickpeas to salads, make hummus as a dip for crudités, have beans on toast as breakfast or add split lentils to stews and casseroles.

3. Antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables

All fruits and vegetables can help to lower cholesterol and protect the heart. Two groups are particularly useful, namely those fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C like citrus fruits and berries, and those rich in beta-carotene like carrots and butternut or papino. Make sure you get at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. A portion would be one fistful or 1 cup i.e. 1 piece of fruit, ½ cup cooked veg, 1 full cup salad.

4. Spice of life

Garlic, ginger and turmeric are really dynamite foods in small packages. They not only add big flavour but they add big nutritional value too. Use these dynamite foods as much as possible in your food preparation. Using spices and fresh herbs also helps us to use less salt – a major plus when managing high blood pressure.

5. Soluble fibre in oats and oatbran

Oats and oat bran have a high soluble fibre content which can actively lower blood cholesterol levels. Add oatbran to smoothies and baking and have a bowl of oats (not instant) every day to keep your cholesterol in check. Why not start your days off with a bowl of oats or Bircher’s muesli.

6. Fatty Fish

People who eat fish rich in omega 3 three or more times a week are less likely to suffer from heart disease and high blood pressure. The best fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, trout and sardines, although eating any type of unfried or unbuttered fish will benefit your heart. If you choose not to eat fish, taking a good omega 3 supplement will suffice, as long as it provides about 800-1200 mg of EPA and DHA daily.

What might a typical heart-friendly day look like?

• BREAKFAST: A bowl of cooked oats with grated apple, cinnamon and a handful of almonds.

• SNACK: Fresh fruit of choice and a small low fat yoghurt.

• LUNCH: A selection of crudités and 1 slice of rye bread with a lower fat dip such as tzatziki or cottage cheese.

• SNACK: A few wholegrain crackers with hummus and a fresh fruit of choice.

• DINNER: Grilled salmon or pilchard fish cakes and roasted vegetables, served with a large mixed green salad with oil free dressing and an optional glass of red wine.

Look after your heart and it will serve you well for many years to come!

*Celynn Erasmus  is a registered dietitian and although still occasionally consulting as a private practicing dietician, today she is regarded as a full time Lifestyle Balance & Wellness professional speaker.