Taking a nation’s health to heart

Cooking from the Heart contains recipes from ordinary South Africans from a wide range of cultures. All recipes have been adapted by experts to be healthier.
(Image: Cooking from the Heart)

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September is widely known as Heritage Month in South Africa, with the country’s multi-cultural makeup celebrated each year around this time, but it is also National Heart Awareness Month, and this year a recipe book that encourages healthy eating will be made available to help raise awareness on heart disease.

Cooking from the Heart is a joint initiative between the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa (HSF) – an NGO that has been active in raising awareness on the subject of non-communicable diseases for 32 years – and Pharma Dynamics, a supplier of medicine for cardiovascular disease (CVD), to encourage South Africans to cook, and eat, healthier.

CVD claims about 200 lives in South Africa daily, making it the second leading cause of death after HIV/Aids.

More than just a cookbook

Cooking from the Heart contains recipes from ordinary South Africans that celebrate a wide range of cultures. Over 2 000 entries for everyday recipes were submitted for the initiative, and a team made up of dieticians from the HSF, with the help of food consultant Heleen Meyer, selected over 70 of these, which are featured in the book.

The recipes were then adapted by the team, who modified ingredients like fat, salt and sugar in an effort to boost the nutritional value of the food to keep in line with the HSF’s healthy eating guidelines.

Copies of the book will be distributed to the public for free, and through efforts endorsed by the National Department of Health, hospitals and other public institutions across the country will also be able to serve patients healthier meals based on the information contained in the book.

“We’ve launched many initiatives over the years, but never one quite like Cooking from the Heart,” said Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of HSF. “It offers the public a practical resource to tackle non-communicable diseases that are closely linked to poor diet.

“We hope that everyday cooks will see how easy it is it to make favourites like potato salad or beef stew, healthier.”

Also in the book are basic guidelines for healthy eating, ideas for healthy shopping on a budget and tips for reading food labels.

“This book is a heart-friendly, multi-cultural, budget cookbook by South Africans, for South Africans,” said Paul Anley, managing director and CEO of Pharma Dynamics. She also founded the company in 2001.

CVD on the rise

The initiative received praise from health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who called it a bold and practical step against heart disease and stroke. Motsoaledi has been an outspoken advocate for healthier living among South Africans since taking up office in 2009.

In an interview with The Times newspaper in July, he expressed concerns over the escalating costs of healthcare not only in South Africa, but globally, because of the public’s ignorance of the impact of unhealthy lifestyles.

A statement released by Motsoaledi’s department in 2011 shows the conclusion of research done on non-communicable or lifestyle diseases by the UN, in which it was said that these diseases were expected to account for 69% of global deaths by 2030.

“The idea of researching and publishing recipes that are both economical and culturally appropriate is an excellent way of creating awareness,” said Motsoaledi. “It is a concrete means for people in all communities to improve their overall health.”

Mungal-Singh also quoted from the UN research and said that by 2030 the world body predicts that deaths of South Africans aged between 35 to 64-years by CVD will have skyrocketed by 40%.

“Cardiovascular disease is a growing problem in South Africa as the intake of saturated and trans-fats, salt and sugar is on the increase,” she said. “Nutrition is a very important part of managing and preventing heart disease and stroke.”

She added that another contributing factor to the rise in CVD cases was people’s misconception that a healthy diet is expensive, impractical or unappetising.

Cooking from the Heart will dispel that myth once and for all,” said Mungal-Singh.

Practical tool

Mariska Fouche, public affairs manager at Pharma Dynamics, highlighted the significance of such a book in helping healthcare practitioners to do their work.

“They don’t necessarily have the tools to teach people about healthier eating habits,” she said. “This book is a vital part of the HSF’s preventative toolkit to help tackle the looming heart disease and stroke epidemic in South Africa.”

Research by the Medical Research Council and the Chronic Diseases Initiative in Africa using different people across the country, said Fouche, found that CVD patients received limited advice about adapting their diets from doctors at the time of their diagnosis.

“They struggled to incorporate the little advice they did get into their everyday lives, meaning that they didn’t make meaningful changes to their diets, which had a negative impact on their management of their condition.”

During September, HSF and Pharma Dynamics will be hosting free screenings for heart disease risk factors at shopping centres across the country and those who do get screened will get the book for free.

“Screenings will include blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose testing and vital information about cardiovascular disease,” said Fouche.
A further 57 000 copies are available at Clicks pharmacy outlets across the country.

The Cooking from the Heart website also provides a free e-copy as well as information on where hard copies can be obtained, while a mobile site for smart phones is available at www.heartrecipes.mobi.