Eating For a Healthy Heart

Graphic from British Heart Foundation with iPhone and CPR mnemonic
Graphic by British Heart Foundation How to save a life

Fun Food for a Healthier Heart

February is heart health month. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) gives some advice on healthy eating for those who have to change their diet because of heart disease:


“We recognise this may be a worrying time for lots of people and we know that people tend to turn to food as a way of coping with stress or other emotions. This is common, but when you’re feeling down it’s even more important to fuel your body and mind with nutritious, feel-good food. This isn’t always the easiest or most attractive option, but it will make you feel much better in the long run.” 

British Heart Foundation

Resources From the British Heart Foundation

BHF provides resources to do this with an online searchable archive of heart-healthy recipes.

The archive has filters for health conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol) and for dietary preference (dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, vegan and vegetarian). It also gives the ratings for energy, unsaturated and saturated fat, salt and sugar per portion. It allows you to specify cooking time (under 20 minutes, 20–45 minutes and over 45 minutes), although notably cooking time for some of the pulse recipes excludes the soak time. The beans are all from the can, assuming nobody knows how to soak beans and cook them in a pressure cooker.

Cuisine from Every Quarter of the Globe

You can specify the meal you are looking for (breakfast, desserts, main meal, salad, sauce, snack/side dish, soup, starter/snack). Then, in a tribute to multicultural Britain, it lists filters for 11 different food cultures: Afro-Caribbean, American, British, China/E.Asian, E.Europe, Mediterranean, Mexican/S.American, Middle East/N.Africa, Nordic, S.Asian, Thai/SE Asian.

To my disappointment it ignores most of Africa. West Africans might have a view on a list that eludes Caribbean cookery with West Africa. Those from the east of Africa (Ethiopia) or the south might be disappointed at the lack of recognition of their distinctive cookery and ingredients.

It is true that many African countries south of the Sahara have not yet established their culinary brands via restaurants in large cities outside Africa. Ethiopia and Somali do feature in London and New York listings, where you can eat the famous Ethiopian sourdough flatbread, injera. Time out has done listings of African restaurants. Nigerian jollof cookery features but otherwise the list has mostly Maghreb and E.African outlets.

Boerewors But No Ostrich

Male ostrich in bush
Male Ostrich South Africa –Bernard DUPONT; CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

One hindrance to commercialising African cookery in the Northern hemisphere is that some meats or plants are unobtainable. It’s not easy to get ostrich or kudu meat for a S.African dish (although you can buy these in dried form, biltong, in the S.African shop at St Pancras, along with boerewors, South African sausages). Where there is a large immigrant community of almost any culture they tend to organise the imports of the foods they are used to.

In Brussels I was once told, when eating in a Congolese restaurant there, that there are weekly planeloads bringing these special foods from the Congo. But, having watched Congolese refugee women in South Africa select wild plants to cook, I guess that what they would be missing is the sheer variety of fresh green leaves to cook.

Greens and Sorghum Porridge

In Southern Africa, I loved the taste of what is called “merogo” in Botswana. Botanically I think this is a species of amaranth that grows wild. It is in fact more nutritious than cabbage, and they cook it deliciously with onions and spices. Food tradition in Botswana uses more sorghum than further south, and they make it more nutritious by fermenting it before cooking it into a porridge.

I can recall reading a research paper by a nutritionist on the typical food eaten in rural areas there and the conclusion was that their basic diet was in fact very healthy and well-balanced. I wonder whether the same would be true of what villagers ate in Britain before the age of imports and factory food.

Anyway it seems that for a healthy heart, there are lots of suitable recipes available now from different food cultures. So for some people, a heart attack might start them off on food adventures that they never dreamed of!