A heart healthy breakfast
Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in the UK. Diet and lifestyle factors have a huge influence on the likelihood of developing heart disease and most of us are well aware of what these are, however, it is the the willingness to change behaviour that poses one the biggest barriers to improving health. Living a sedentary lifestyle and smoking are risk factors for the condition as is being overweight, which comes with its own set of risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, all of which are directly associated to the food choices we make.
Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods will ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs to maintain good heart health as well as limit those that can increase your risk of heart disease. A diet rich in plant-based foods, healthy fats (found in foods such as extra virgin olive oil and oily fish) and small amounts of meat, as illustrated by the Mediterranean diet, is the ultimate heart-healthy way of eating and research has highlighted the benefit of certain foods included in this particular diet such as extra virgin olive oil and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
The best way to start your day is by eating a nutritious breakfast. Not only does it set you up for the day ahead, but research shows that eating breakfast can help with weight loss as you are more likely to eat less across the day. Opting for high protein foods is also good for weight loss and studies have shown that eggs can lead to greater satiety (feeling of fullness) than grain-based breakfasts, making you less likely to reach for snacks mid-morning. If you do not eat eggs then try another protein-rich breakfast such as smoked salmon, scrambled tofu or yoghurt with seeds and nuts. Choosing sensible portion sizes is also important for weight loss and eating from a small plate is a good tactic (You can find useful examples of average portion sizes of individual foods by visiting sites such as NHS choices or Weight Watchers).
Eggs still get a bad wrap when it comes to heart health as they are naturally high in cholesterol, however we now know that naturally occurring cholesterol in foods has little significant impact on harmful levels in the body. The British Heart Foundation states that there is no limit on the amount of eggs you can safely include in your diet (although people with very high cholesterol or familial hypercholesterolaemia need to be more cautious).
This delicious shakshuka recipe may not be something to cook on a daily basis, but it makes a great healthy brunch dish for the weekend. Red peppers, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and tomatoes are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (found in plants) that act as antioxidants in the body and help to protect it against disease. Try serving with slices of toasted sourdough bread or on its own if you are trying to cut down on carbohydrate foods. This dish is also really versatile. I have added in a few handfuls of green peas but it can also be modified into something heartier for supper by adding cannellini beans or a serving of brown rice or quinoa.
300 calories per serving (without bread)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g cherry tomatoes, halved
½ lemon, zested
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
Small pinch of saffron
500ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
3 sweet red peppers, de-seeded and sliced
1 red chilli, chopped
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 handfuls of frozen peas
1 tsp sea salt
Ground black pepper
6 large eggs
Small handful flat leaf parsley
Small handful chopped coriander
- Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan set on the hob over a medium heat.
- Add the onion and garlic then fry for 5-8 minutes until soft.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Add the lemon zest, paprika, cumin and saffron then cook for a further minute.
- Add the stock, peppers, chilli and chopped tomatoes. Cook for 20 minutes or until the peppers are tender. Add the peas after 15 minutes of cooking. You may need to add a little more water if the dish dries out too much. The consistency should be thick but not dry.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Make a well in the sauce using a spoon and crack in one egg. Repeat for the other five eggs.
- Place the pan in the oven and cook for about five minutes until the egg whites are cooked and the yolk is still runny. Cook a little longer of you do not like runny yolks.
- Remove the pan from the oven and garnish with the herbs.
- Serve the shakshuka with freshly toasted sourdough or other bread of choice.