Get smart with
Nutrition Information Panels
The Nutrition Information Panels or NIP on most packaged foods can be particularly useful in managing the fat and salt in your diet. That's because they are required to state the quantity of the very things we are trying to reduce for heart health.
Nutrition Information Panels also state the calorie (energy/kilojoule) content of food, which is very important if weight management is one of your goals.
The Nutrition Information Panels on food packaging always appear in the same format. The right-hand column states how much of these nutrients are included per 100 g or 100 ml, so you can easily compare different-sized products.
The calories present in the food item appear in the Energy row (kilojoules and calories are a measure of energy). The sodium row represents the salt content. Comparing these numbers on two alternative food options (for example, butter and margarine spread) will help you select the lower calorie, lower saturated fat and/or lower salt option.
Nutrition Information Panel comparing standard butter with a reduced-fat, low salt margarine spread
The Nutrition Information Panel makes it easy to understand the proportion of saturated and total fat in the food. For example, a snack bar that has 30 grams of fat per 100 grams is made up of almost one third fat. If a product claims to be "98 per cent fat free" you would expect to see two grams of fat per 100 grams in its Nutrition Information Panel.
Another useful guide when shopping for foods low in saturated fats is to look out for the Heart Foundation Tick logo. Products that feature the Tick are a healthier variety of that food. Some foods with the Tick are not always suitable for people with high blood cholesterol so always check the Nutrition Information Panel.
Healthy eating for your heart
Many of the key risks for cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes) are influenced by what you eat.
While risk factors like age, gender and ethnicity cannot be changed, simple changes to eating habits can combat raised blood pressure and high cholesterol levels that are instrumental in many cardiovascular episodes.
This is particularly important given that nine out of 10 New Zealanders have blood cholesterol above recommended levels, while 3 out of 4 of us have raised blood pressure.
Consuming foods high in saturated fat is a major driver of high blood cholesterol. Too much salt in your diet can contribute to raised blood pressure. Consuming more calories than you burn off in your daily activity leads to weight gain.
So, what kind of diet is good for your heart? Generally, we should aim to:
* reduce "bad" fats
(saturated and trans-fatty acids)
Obesity puts you at increased risk of heart disease, mainly because it leads to a greater chance of developing diabetes and raises your blood pressure. Becoming overweight is also a common sign of a diet that contains too much fat and salt, and lifestyle that includes insufficient exercise.
Reducing Bad Fats
Know the enemy ... good and bad fats
There are four main kinds of fat. All are high in calories, so will contribute to weight gain. However, not all are "bad" in terms of heart health.
Saturated fat and trans fats (or trans-fatty acids) are bad. These fats stimulate your liver to produce "bad" cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL), which enters the blood stream and attaches to artery walls, leading to a narrowing and hardening of the arteries called atherosclerosis.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are much healthier types of fat. Replacing saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats the "good" fats - has been consistently shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Hence, in order to reduce "bad" cholesterol in your blood stream, and enhance your cardiovascular health, it is very important to be able to distinguish between "good" fats and "bad" fats:
Saturated Fats ("Bad")
* Meat fat, whole milk, butter, cream, fatty cheeses, coconut and palm oils, cocoa butter.
Trans-fatty acids or Trans Fats ("Bad")
* Mainly found in hydrogenated vegetable fats typically used in snack foods like crackers, cookies, chips and pastries to create a longer shelf life; a small amount is found in processed vegetable oils used to make some spreads, but very little is found in New Zealand margarines.
Monounsaturated Fats ("Good")
* Olive oil, canola oil, avocados; most nuts and nut butters.
Polyunsaturated Fats ("Good")
* Soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils; oily fish such as sardines
Some simple ways to reduce "bad" fats
Reducing bad fats and increasing good fats can be as simple as substituting one food for another. For example, butter and margarine contain the same amount of fat (5g in every teaspoon) but butter consists mainly of saturated fat, while margarine is mostly polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat.
Here are some simple steps you can take to remove saturated fat from your diet:
* Reduce your butter intake
and/or replace butter with margarine or olive oil-based spreads
Fat is often contained in manufactured foods, so reading nutritional information relating to the foods we buy and eat is also important (see the Nutrition Information Panel section below).
A high salt intake is associated with raised blood pressure. Many of us are accustomed to adding salt to our meals for taste but salt also makes its way into our bodies via many processed foods, some of which you wouldn't necessarily suspect have salt in them.
The recommended sodium intake for adult New Zealanders is 920 to 2300 mg of sodium per day. 2300 mg is approximately one teaspoon of salt a day. Source
* Read nutrition information
panels on the foods you buy to help identify manufactured/packaged food
that it high in salt, and to select lower salt alternatives
Eating for general health and wellbeing
Much of the discussion above is focused on helping to combat high blood cholesterol and raised blood pressure, in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Below is a selection of more general tips that will complement the heart-healthy food choices recommended above, and help your overall physical health and wellbeing.
* Enjoy three meals a
Tips when cooking
* Steam, microwave, poach,
grill or bake food rather than fry or roast.