Love Your Heart: 10 Important Foods to Improve Heart Health
Heart disease is leading cause of death in men and women, and coronary heart disease is the most common type (cardiosmart.org). It can be known as a silent killer, meaning you don't even know you have a heart disease until there is a heart attack or other cardio-related threat to your life.
I hate to start this post so dramatically, but I want to convey the seriousness of this issue. A lot of other medical issues like pre-diabetes lead to heart conditions. Since February is the month of heart health, I wanted to discuss ways to keep the heart healthy.
And before I say anything about food, we have to recognize the importance of exercise. Without it, no discussion of heart health is complete. I have two favorite heart-healthy activities in terms of physical exercise:
1. Yoga: Surprise, surprise. But seriously yoga not only gets your heart rate up, but it is also so important for circulation. For people with heart conditions, yoga provides a safe way to get exercise. It also reduces stress, which is a catalyst for all cardiovascular conditions.
2. HIIT Sprinting: Sprinting for 10-30 seconds, walking for two minutes. And the walking is a fast walk. This helps to boost the metabolism, gets the heart rate up while providing a relief from exercise extremes. I'd say that this form of exercise is more preventative. If you have a heart condition, of course you will want to consult with your doctor about all forms of exercise.
Now we'll talk about what to eat. All of the listed foods should include all of any of fiber, flavonoids ( a type of antioxidant), Vitamin E, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Here's a little discussion of why we need these nutrients:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help overall with CVD. They can prevent cardiac arrhythmias (inhibition of ventricular fibrillation). They increase heart rate variability. DHA significantly reduces blood pressure (Bauman 2013). Not to mention that these fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. They can interfere with anticoagulants (Bauman 2013). 1 g of fish oil in capsules daily with a ratio of 2:1 EPA to DHA. It is best to eat plenty of fish.
- Vitamin E: As an antioxidant, it prevents the oxidation of LDL and so lowers lipid peroxides. It also helps to lower platelet aggregation and CRP in blood. So it helps to prevent atherosclerosis. Supplementation has been shown to significantly reduce risk of CV and non-fatal heart attacks (Bauman 2010). Gradual increase of dose is recommended, but those on anticoagulants should use Vitamin E with caution (Bland 2004). Additional supplementation of 400-800 IU is recommended, mixing tocopherols (Pizzorno 2008). Vitamin E is highest in plant foods (Bland 2004).
- Antioxidants and flavonoids: Flavonoids are a group of plant pigments in colorful fruits and vegetables with powerful antioxidant activity. They are important for CVD because they prevent free radical damage, and they also prevent the synthesis and release of compounds that promote inflammation. These antioxidants are best when consumed through the diet, but it is possible to supplement with flavonoids like quercetin (150-300 mg daily), grape seed extract (50-100 mg daily), green tea extract (150-300 mg daily), milk thistle extract (100-300 mg daily), bilberry extract (80-160 mg daily), and Hawthorn extract (150-300 mg daily), which is the best choice for heart disease (Murray 2005).
- Fiber: I said earlier that heart disease is closely related to consistently high blood sugar, metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. This is due to the fact that high blood sugar and inflammatory foods like trans fats create inflammation in blood vessels, and this inflammation is what causes the buildup of plaque, the hardening of artery walls, high blood pressure, etc. Soluble fiber in particular can reduce blood sugar and decrease insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is what happens when this hormone that shuttles sugar into cells is ignored by the cells due to chronic high blood sugar. It also absorbs serum LDL cholesterol which is the type of cholesterol that is shown to cause heart disease. In this way, the fiber helps to deliver this kind of cholesterol out of the body before it can be built up and damaged in the blood vessels.
- Potassium: There needs to be an adequate ratio of sodium to potassium. It is shown that high blood pressure can be a result of an overabundance of sodium in the body. Potassium and sodium are both electrolytes needed by the body for nerve functioning and other important functions. But oftentimes, the ratio favors sodium way too much, and potassium gets ignored. Potassium is very important for managing blood pressure.
10 Important Foods to Improve Heart Health:
Avos have vitamin E, antioxidants, and an abundance of fiber too! Include in as many meals as possible. You can get them into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plus, an avocado can have more potassium than a banana.
The star nutrient of wild-caught, cold-water fish is not just Omega-3, but the ultimate version of Omega-3, which is DHA. DHA is not only wonderful for reducing inflammation, it is bona fide brain booster food. It improves cognition and memory and is so essential for the health of your brain cells.
Cover with nuts and pair with a fibrous grain and colorful vegetable, and you're set!
For more ideas, you should get this guide for free:
Potassium and fiber plus magnesium rich. A plethora of vitamins and minerals.
Oatmeal is the definition of soluble fiber. Whenever I explain soluble fiber to people, I tell them to think about oatmeal and how it absorbs water. Plus, you can add anything you want like colorful fruit or nuts or seeds or oils to make it more nutrient-dense.
5. Colorful fruits and vegetables:
Flavonoids are in most colorful fruits and vegetables. If it's got a lot of color, you want it. Make your plate are colorful as you can get it. The flavonoid fight against heart disease is schemed in two ways: reducing inflammation AND reducing free radical damage.
Eggs enriched with Omega-3 fatty acids are wonderful for the brain, and don't confuse the cholesterol myth with eggs. We NEED cholesterol. What we don't need is inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, actually. The fact of the matter is that some meats contribute to heart disease, and we might, in some cases, want to forgo eating meat all the time.
That's when an egg can provide you with the amount of healthy protein that you need. There are also antioxidants in eggs, plus amazing vitamins and minerals.
7. Nuts and seeds:
Okay. Nuts and seeds have almost everything you want. Flax, chia and pumpkin seeds have ALA, which is a type of Omega-3. All nuts and seeds have vitamin E, and a lot of them have antioxidants like selenium and ellagic acid. And fiber, fiber, fiber.
Big time fiber and also antioxidants! Beans include legumes like chickpeas (garbanzo beans, which means hummus), black beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, etc. They are easy to get in the diet.
You know the saying. Beans, beans good for your heart...
And onions too because they contain quercetin. An antioxidant called allicin, a sulphuric compound, in garlic is a powerful nutrient. Also garlic has been shown to be antimicrobial (anti-viral, antifungal, antibacterial) which will drastically help with inflammation. Garlic has been shown to lower blood pressure and regulate blood sugar.
Plus, all the added benefits of minerals and fiber.
10. Green tea:
Green tea has been shown to be thermogenic, meaning it burns fat and boosts the metabolism. It contains polyphenols that are powerful antioxidants. One antioxidant in particular is EGCG, which has been shown to prevent cell damage including the cells in artery walls!
Green tea has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease with for all these reasons.
Murray N.D., M. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books.
Pizzorno, Jr., J.E., Murray, M.T., and Joiner-Bey, Herb (2008). The Clinician’s
Handbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Bauman, E. and Friedlander, J. (2013)Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman
Comment below if this helped or you have other tips for our community.
Related: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory Diet
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