Cardiovascular disease is rife in South Africa, with more than 200 people dying per day because of some form of heart and blood vessel disease.
For every woman that dies of a heart attack, 2 men die. Chronic disease in SA, including heart disease, is increasing exponentially every year; and chronic disease deaths have quadrupled over the last decade. More than half the deaths caused by chronic diseases, including heart disease, occur before the age of 65years.

HEART DISEASE IS PREVENTABLE! For those diagnosed with some form of heart disease, it is also possible to treat this with lifestyle and dietary changes.

Types of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease

  • Any disease of the heart and blood vessels, mainly including diseases of the heart muscle, heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and disease caused by high blood pressure.

Heart attack (myocardial infarction: MI)

  • A narrowing or blockage of the arteries of the heart causes restriction of blood flow to the heart muscle, leaving the heart muscle deprived of oxygen. This causes death of part of the heart muscle which means it cannot adequately pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body.
  • Characterised by a sudden severe chest pain that may spread down one or both arms, and into the neck and jaw.
  • Often accompanied by nausea.

Heart failure

  • Damage to the heart muscle caused by various diseases (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease), results in the heart not functioning optimally. As result blood is not pumped around the body efficiently, and circulation becomes slow causing excess fluid to be retained in the body.


  • This happens when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted, either due to a blockage caused by a blood clot, or a ruptured blood vessel which causes bleeding.
  • Due to the lack of oxygen and other nutrients, the affected brain cells start to die.
  • The severity of a stroke can range from being just a passing weakness or a tingling sensation in a limb, through to paralysis, coma or death.


= A narrowing / blockage of the inner layer of the artery (blood vessel) wall.

  • Caused inter-alia by lipid abnormalities: High levels of fats in the blood can attach to the blood vessel walls causing this narrowing of / blockage in the blood vessel. This means that the blood cannot easily pass through the blood vessel anymore, and so the person is at risk of having a heart attack or stroke.


= hardened arteries (due to calcification of the arteries, affecting the middle layer of the artery wall)

  • Dangerous condition that may contribute to stroke and heart attack
  • Artery walls consist of several layers of muscle. In a normal artery, the muscles are pliable, like an inner tube, and they contract and expand with every heartbeat. A hardened artery loses this pliability and muscle tone, which decreases its strength, making it more likely to rupture.
  • Calcification of the aorta is responsible for many sudden heart deaths.
  • This calcification/hardening of the arteries can be caused by many factors (e.g. SMOKING, and also magnesium deficiency in the case of excessive calcium supplementation). [/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]


Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Dietary and lifestyle factors play an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.

Having high lipid (i.e. cholesterol and/or triglyceride) levels does put one at risk.

There is an even greater chance of heart disease happening if the person also:

  • Has high blood pressure
  • Is overweight
  • Is diabetic
  • Is a smoker
  • Has a lot of stress
  • Does not exercise
  • Has a family history of heart disease.


What blood test is done to check for heart disease?


This tests for certain blood fats: cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol (= the bad cholesterol) and HDL (= the good cholesterol).

Healthy ranges for blood fats:

  • Total cholesterol:                       < 4.9 mmol/l
  • Triglyceride:                                < 1.6 mmol/l
  • HDL cholesterol:                        > 1   mmol/l
  • LDL cholesterol:                         < 2.9 mmol/l
  1. Exercise
  2. Stop smoking
  3. Use very little / no salt
  4. Lose weight if overweight

Dietary factors:


  • Keep your overall fat intake low: 2-3tsp/day of butter/olive or canola oil
  • Avoid animal fats (skin on chicken / fat on meat/ full cream dairy / high fat cheeses)
  • Use small quantities of healthy fats daily: avocado, olive/canola oil, nuts (30g max)
  • Use lots of tuna / sardines / pilchards
  • Avoid hard brick margarines, commercial baked products
  • Be careful of products that contain hidden fats.


Fibre (found in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables) eaten many times a day, lowers cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol. Fibre has a cardio-protective effect in the body.

Sources of fibre:

  • Soya
  • Oat Bran, Oats porridge, Hi Fibre Bran
  • High fibre breads, e.g. heavy rye/seed breads
  • High fibre grains, e.g. brown rice, pearl barley, durum wheat/whole wheat pasta
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, soya beans and split peas
  • Potato with skin, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Eat a good balance from ALL food groups.



Soy Beans are the most nutritious plant food available, consisting of:

  • All 3 of the macro-nutrients required for good nutrition:
    • COMPLETE protein, i.e. contain ALL the essential amino acids in the amounts needed for human health; in an amino acid profile close in quality to meat, milk and egg protein
    • Carbohydrate; and
    • Fat (soy oil is rich in essential fatty acids, phospholipids, natural sterols – all of which have known important health benefits)
  • Vitamins (including folic acid)
  • Minerals (including calcium and iron)
  • Prebiotics (e.g. Raffinose and Stachyose, which “feed” the good colonic bacteria = probiotics, resulting in a stronger, healthier colon with enormous benefits to the immune system).
  • Fibre
  • Isoflavones (accounting for 75% of soy’s protective effects in the human body)

Treatment of heart disease:             

An extensive body of literature indicates that soy food consumption leads to significant decreases in total cholesterol (10–19%), LDL cholesterol (14–20%), and triglycerides (8–14%).

Soluble fibre in soy beans assists with:   Lowering of blood cholesterol levels, especially LDL (the “bad”) Cholesterol

The US Food and Drug Administration’s health claims on viscous fibres, soy protein, plant sterols, and nuts indicate that substantial research of these foods supports their ability to lower serum lipids and, as a result, reduce the risk of heart disease.

In a 2012 study it was demonstrated that a beverage consisting of 30 g soy protein and 4 g phytosterols added to a Mediterranean-style, low-glycaemic-index diet led to better improvements in lipid markers, such as triglycerides and total cholesterol, in women who were postmenopausal, overweight and had high lipid levels than a low-fat diet without these key phytochemical-rich foods.

  • Essential fatty acids found in soya products (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid): Protect cell membranes (including blood vessel lining): admitting healthy nutrients and barring damaging substances, i.e. protecting one from developing atherosclerosis, and thus protective against heart disease
  • Soya products do not contain and of the unhealthy saturated fats which accelerate a build-up of plaque in the arteries.
  • Isoflavones / plant sterols found in soya have proven cholesterol-lowering effects.

Prevention of heart disease:

  • Soy foods may help to prevent heart disease by reducing total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, blood pressure and possibly preventing plaque build-up in the arteries (atherosclerosis).
  • A huge collective research study done in 2012 showed that soy (isoflavones) had an effect of lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure), but not in those with normal blood pressure.