Heart Awareness Month: Tips on how you can fight heart disease through the power of potatoes
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September is Heart Health Awareness month and September 29 is World Heart Day.
The day is aimed at promoting preventative steps and changes in lifestyle to avoid cardiovascular events and diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure and related conditions.
To celebrate this month, dietitian Claire Julsing-Strydom shares how you can fight heart disease through the power of potatoes.
Potatoes are edible tubers, available worldwide and all year long. They are relatively cheap to grow, rich in nutrients, and they can make a delicious treat. The humble potato has fallen in popularity in recent years, due to the interest in low-carb foods. However, the fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals it provides can help ward off disease and benefit human health.
Julsing-Strydom that provided they are cooked and eaten correctly, vegetables such as potatoes are essential for protecting yourself against the deadly combination of Covid-19 and heart disease.
She says lockdowns and working from home have had a negative impact on household lifestyles, and a number of surveys have revealed that many South Africans have reported a decline in their physical activity levels and a significant rise in weight gain over the past year – factors which further raise the risk of heart disease and strokes.
Julsing-Strydom says this is particularly concerning given that according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, 225 South Africans already die of heart disease every day.
“Adopting a balanced, healthy diet is thus more important than ever for safeguarding your health – which is where the power of potatoes can play a vital role.
“Unfortunately, however, there are still many myths and misconceptions about potatoes, whereas potatoes are actually packed with fibre and nutrients that can actively help to lower your risk of heart disease.
“Given the effects of the pandemic on our health and well-being, it’s particularly important to understand the rewards of potatoes for your body, and rather than frying them, how you can cook them correctly for the most benefit,” she says.
Packed with potassium.
“Potatoes pack a punch of potassium. In fact, potatoes offer more potassium than any other vegetable – and even more than bananas. Notably, potassium is a crucial ally in the struggle against high blood pressure – a major risk factor for heart disease and strokes.
“Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa statistics reveal that high blood pressure causes 13% of all deaths globally, while in SA, it is responsible for as many as one in every two strokes and two in every five heart attacks.
“Potassium works to relax blood vessels, improving blood circulation and thus helping to lower blood pressure and support good muscle health – including your heart muscle. Potassium also plays a key role in sending electrical impulses to your heart, helping to maintain a normal heart rhythm,” says Julsing-Strydom.
Filled with fibre and nutrients
“Potatoes are also naturally cholesterol free, have zero saturated fats, and are low in sodium – three more heart-healthy points which work strongly in their favour. Additionally, potatoes’ high fibre content can help to lower your cholesterol. This fibre works by binding with the cholesterol (a waxy type of fat that lives in your blood) and safely drawing it into your body’s waste instead.
“To top this all off, potatoes are also a source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and a range of phytonutrients, which studies have shown all help to support heart health and prevent heart disease,” she adds.
Don’t fry and avoid unhealthy toppings.
“Given potatoes’ amazing versatility, these powerhouse vegetables can be consumed in an infinite number of ways and as part of any meal. As with anything, however, moderation is key, and potatoes should be eaten in moderate portions as part of a balanced diet.
“To maximise the health benefits of your potatoes, carefully consider your cooking method. Rather than frying, opt for a heart-healthy choice such as boiling, baking, air frying, or lightly brushing the potato with oil and roasting it.
“Also carefully consider any toppings: avoid adding unhealthy salt, butter or cheese, and instead look too tasty alternatives such as garlic and fresh herbs, or a dollop of pesto or sundried tomatoes,” says Julsing-Strydom.