The Heart Foundation is encouraging people to put more greens on their plates during National Nutrition Week, with poor diet being the leading contributor to the burden of heart disease.
Heart Foundation research found Australians most commonly mentioned fruit and vegetables (45%) when asked to describe which foods are heart healthy.
However, more than 90% of Australians do not eat the recommended five serves of vegetables a day. Overall, the average adult gets less than half of that – 2.4 serves – while just over half eats the recommended two serves of fruit.
Heart Foundation General Manager of Heart Health, Bill Stavreski, said even adding one extra serve of vegetables to your diet had heart health benefits.
“People know it is good for your heart, but unfortunately, this is not translating into eating more vegetables,” Mr Stavreski said.
“Eating more vegetables would serve up huge health and economic benefits. Nationwide, upping our vegetable intake to meet five serves a day could slash the risk of cardiovascular diseases by about 16% and save $1.4 billion in health spending.”
More than 12 million Australians are either overweight or obese, representing more than two thirds of the adult population.
“Concerningly, discretionary foods with little nutritional value make up more than a third of the average Australian’s daily energy intake, which can lead to weight gain and increase our risks for heart disease,” Mr Stavreski said.
“These highly processed or takeaway foods are also taking the place of healthy choices, such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, in the average Australian’s diet.”
A push to eat more plant-based foods formed part of the Heart Foundation’s new dietary advice, which was released in August following an extensive review of evidence.
For the first time, the Heart Foundation added a limit of less than 350g a week for unprocessed beef, lamb, pork and veal – or about one to three lean red meat meals a week.
The updated advice also lifted the limit on the number of eggs healthy Australians can eat in a week, while recommending people with heart disease, high cholesterol or Type 2 diabetes eat fewer than seven eggs a week.
Unflavoured, full-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt are now an option for healthy Australians if they prefer it, but those with high cholesterol or heart disease should stick to reduced fat versions.
“Heart disease remains Australia’s leading killer and having a heart-healthy diet is one of the key ingredients for taking care of your ticker. When it comes to eating habits, the big picture matters – the combination of healthy foods and how regularly you eat them,” Mr Stavreski said.
“This means cutting back on highly processed foods and eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, and wholegrains, a variety of healthy proteins and fats, with smaller amounts of animal-based foods.”