Eating for a healthy heart top priority

Elaine Kirk’s heart attack was such a shock for the fit, non-smoking 57-year-old that she now makes good nutrition her main priority.

Heart attack survivor's lifestyle changes

Although she always maintained a healthy weight, Elaine now knows that her eating habits prior to the heart attack were not supporting good heart health.

“I never really thought about it – ever. I would often skip breakfast,” Elaine says.

“I have learnt to take food to work so that I don’t go long periods of time without something to eat. I think when you are tired you can make poor food choices.”

Chest Pain

In 2015, after experiencing months of nightly chest pain which she decided was heartburn from eating acidic foods, Elaine saw her doctor who insisted on an echocardiogram and treadmill test.

While the treadmill results were concerning, she remained adamant it wasn’t heart-related, brushing it off as tiredness and a recent break from normal exercise routines.

Eventually the chest pain became so unbearable she called 111 and was taken to Wellington hospital. One of her arteries was 95% blocked so she had to undergo surgery to have a stent inserted.

Heart-healthy nutrition

Elaine says everyone can benefit from learning about heart-healthy nutrition and urges people living with heart disease to find out as much as they can about it.

“I picked up valuable information at a nutrition course that I attended at the hospital after my heart attack.

“The simple idea of a quarter protein, a quarter carbohydrate and half vegetables on your plate was really helpful. I also introduced lean sources of protein that were lower in saturated fat.”

Elaine finds messages about healthy eating can be contradictory and hard to decipher which is why she stresses the importance of learning how to read food labels.

“What I find confusing is that a product can be labelled low fat but it’s full of salt or sugar - that’s what I really have to look at.”

Heart Foundation recommendations

The Heart Foundation recommends eating a heart-healthy dietary pattern based largely on whole and less-processed foods with plenty of vegetables and fruit. Including some whole grains, in place of refined grains; legumes; nuts; seeds; and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish. It may also contain non-processed lean meats or poultry and/or dairy.

In 2016, Elaine and her 25-year-old daughter, Hannah, completed the 5km Jennian Homes fun run supporting the Heart Foundation for Women Campaign.  Elaine was also a Heart Foundation Heart Racer in the 10km Wellington marathon event.

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