Are you making these common food mistakes that put you at risk?

Most of us go about our days without giving a thought to the health of our hearts.

Some of us don’t think about it until we have a scare; people who are lucky enough to survive heart attacks often embark on a health overhaul.

Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel disease) is still the leading cause of death in New Zealand – it kills one Kiwi every 90 minutes. The sad thing is that these deaths are often preventable.

Hopefully we all know that smoking and not getting enough exercise increase our risk of heart disease. Heart Week has just finished, so it’s a good time to consider some of the mistakes we can make with our eating that can negatively affect our heart health.

Eating too much meat. It’s the saturated fat in meat that’s linked with heart disease. All you need is a steak the size of the palm of your hand, three to four times a week. Load up the rest of that plate with colourful vegetables, which are packed with heart-friendly antioxidants. Avoid charring your meat, and enjoy fish at least twice a week.

Eating lots of salt. Highly processed and fatty fast food is often super high in salt too, which raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s possible to retrain your palate to enjoy the real taste of food, not the taste of salt, and it doesn’t take too long to recalibrate. Start by passing on the salty takeaways.

Living on diet products. The ‘low-fat’ weight-loss mantra of the ‘80s and ‘90s is outdated. Now we know we need healthy fats, so we are better to focus on the quality of the fats we’re eating. Try and get your fat from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, avocado and olives, along with omega-3-rich fish. Keep an eye out for saturated and trans fats and try to limit them.

Too many refined carbohydrates. Eating too much poor-quality, refined carbohydrate is just as bad for heart health as eating the same kilojoules of saturated fat – and could even be worse for people with insulin resistance or type-2 diabetes. So keep an eye on the quality of carbohydrate in your diet. Limit white bread, white rice, mashed potato, cakes and biscuits and get your carbs from vegetables, legumes and whole grains that haven’t been highly processed.

Knocking back energy drinks. Research has found energy drinks can increase risk of heart disease for a range of reasons, including the ingredient L-carnitine, which may raise heart risk via gut bacteria. Energy drinks are also often packed with sugar. Limit your intake, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia.

Drinking too much alcohol. Whether it’s four beers a night or binge drinking once a week, it’s dangerous. When you do drink, stick to one to two standard drinks. Don’t drink red wine, thinking it’s protecting your heart; the benefits are probably outweighed by the risks.

Want to know more? The Heart Foundation has a useful tool to calculate your ‘heart age’. Take the quiz at


First published: Feb 2014

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