Heart healthy isolation cooking tips

Australians should be more wary than ever of unhealthy eating habits, the Heart Foundation warns, expressing concern that many people will be tempted to neglect healthy eating habits as they self-isolate from COVID-19.

During this unprecedented lockdown, the Heart Foundation’s health strategy director, Julie Anne Mitchell, warns that it is more important than ever to eat well for your heart, and one of the best ways to stay healthy and support your immunity is eating the right mix of foods over the days, weeks and months ahead.

“From now on, many of us will be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at home, so a bit of meal planning can minimise food wastage and help reduce cost. It’s also a great time to audit your pantry or freezer to use any foods you already have before they go out of date,” said Ms Mitchell.

“We’re encouraging Aussies to adopt a heart healthy eating pattern by filling their plates with a good mix of vegies, fruits and wholegrains, together with some healthy proteins like fish, legumes or smaller amounts of lean chicken or eggs. If you’re choosing red meat, make it lean and have fewer than 350g a week.”

Ms Mitchell recommends people check the Heart Foundation’s recently revised guidelines around meat, dairy and egg consumption. Those with heart disease or high cholesterol should choose reduced fat unflavoured milk, cheese or yoghurt and those with type 2 diabetes should limit eggs to fewer than seven per week.

“We may face many days in home isolation, so while buying fresh produce is great, frozen or canned vegetables, beans or fruits can be just as nutritious and store well for a long time,” said Ms Mitchell.

“Shoppers buying any canned or packaged foods should turn the product over and read the nutrition label. It’s best to compare products in the same category and opt for those with lower sodium or added sugar levels.”

Poor diet was already a leading risk for heart disease, which on average took 48 lives a day and was Australia’s biggest killer prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting our shores.

Staying home is the perfect opportunity for Australians to dust off their cooking skills or even learn to cook, says the Heart Foundation, which offers these five hearty eating tips for home isolation.

Prepare ahead, but don’t hoard
Stocking up on a few extra staples is sensible but there is no need to hoard as supermarkets will stay open during the COVID-19 lockdown. Plan your meals ahead and shop with a list to ensure you’re getting the right ingredients for a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to minimise food wastage and cost.

Fresh, canned or frozen – it’s about the mix
Frozen vegies can be just as healthy as fresh options. Canned vegetables, beans or fruit have an extra-long shelf life, so they are perfect for your pantry. When choosing canned vegetables and legumes (such as beans or lentils), buy no added salt, low-salt or reduced-salt versions and choose fruit canned in juice rather than syrup.

Choose heart-healthy proteins over red meats
Heart healthy proteins such as fish or seafood are an excellent source of omega-3s, which our bodies need but cannot produce. If you can’t get fresh fish, choose canned salmon or tuna in spring water rather than salty brine. Or you can opt for lean chicken or eggs, but if choosing red meat, make sure it is lean and limit it to one to three meals a week.

Set routine mealtimes and cut the couch snacking
Now that the couch and fridge are in easy reach, avoid snacking by establishing a mealtime routine to keep work and play separate. If you do snack, go for a handful of unsalted nuts, a cup of vegie sticks or a small plate of cut-up fruit to curb that afternoon craving. Opt for this instead of unhealthy foods such as chips, biscuits, chocolate or flavoured sugary drinks. While these unhealthy snacks can be an occasional treat, try to avoid stocking them in your pantry in the first place.

Brush up your home cooking skills and get inspired
Staying at home for long periods is the perfect opportunity to either learn to cook or brush up on your skills. If you’ve stocked up on pantry essentials such as tinned tomatoes or lentils and need inspiration on how to turn them into a meal, why not try some heart healthy recipes here.

If you’re wondering what to do with all your canned beans or lentils, give our kid-friendly lentil stew, Indian chicken and lentil tray bake or spiced pumpkin and black bean patties a go.

Are you watching what you eat while you self-isolate? Or are you trading one killer for another?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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