10 foods to keep your heart healthy

Eat well, keep healthy

Coronary artery disease, or heart disease, is responsible for over 735,000 heart attacks each year in the US. It is also responsible for around 630,000 deaths a year. The American Heart Association has found that 7 million Americans have suffered from a heart attack at some point in their life. Heart disease is referred to as the silent killer. Eating heart-healthy food can reduce your risk of suffering from heart disease later on in life.

The major risk factors associated with heart disease is age, sex and family history. Individuals over the age of 65 is at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Males have a higher risk of developing heart disease too. If heart disease runs in the family, you’re at a higher risk as well. 47% of Americans have at least one of the 3 risk factors.

Let’s start with the most important basic advice I can give you. Moderation is always key. Watching what you eat is just as important as controlling how much you eat. Always make sure you are regulating your portion sizes. A simple way to regulate portion sizes by using a smaller plate or bowl. Switch from eating large portions high-calorie and high-sodium food such as refined and fast food. Start shifting your diet into a low-calorie and nutrient-rich food including fruits and vegetables. This is one of the first steps to starting a heart-healthy diet. Keeping a food diary is also useful in helping you keep track of your serving sizes. Recording what and how much you eat allows you to see what you’re putting into your body.

 

Lovely leafy greens

Greens such as kale, broccoli are very rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are also a good source of Vitamin K, which promotes good blood clotting in turn protecting your arteries. Vegetables contain dietary nitrates which have been linked to a reduction in blood pressure and arterial stiffness. It has also been linked to an improvement in the function of the blood vessel cells. A study conducted with 29,869 women found a link between the high consumption of leafy green and the reduction in the risk of coronary artery disease. 

It is easy to incorporate leafy greens into your diet. Buy fresh vegetables and keep them washed and cut in your fridge to allow for easy snacking. If you’re finding it hard to eat, try them with a little bit of hummus. 
 

Whole-grain foods

Move away from the white rice or bread and try something healthier. Some common examples of whole-grains are brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa. Whole-grains are higher in fibres which reduces cholesterol and thus reducing the risk of heart disease. A study has shown that eating 3 or more servings of whole-grain daily lowers the risk of heart disease by 22% and reduces systolic blood pressure by 6mmHG which is a large enough reduction of lower the risk of stroke by 25%.

When purchasing wholegrain products make sure to read the label. Words like “multigrain” and “wheat flour” doesn’t mean the product is whole-grain. 
 

Berries

Examples of berries to eat include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. They are full of essential nutrients that play an integral role in maintaining a healthy heart. They are high in antioxidants which have a protective effect against stress and inflammation, which are known to contribute to the development of heart disease. They are also rich in fiber, folate, iron , calcium, vitamin A and C. They are also low in fat and calories, adding to their good nutritional profile. A study has shown that the consumption of berries on a day to day basis improves the function of the cells lining the blood vessels which control blood pressure and clotting. They also help reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and BMI. 

Fatty Fish and Oil

Salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been associated with beneficial cardiovascular effects. Fish is also high in protein and low in fats. It has been recommended to eat fish as it reduces the chances of developing irregular heartbeats and slows the rate at which arterial plaques grow. The American Heart Association suggests that we should eat 3.5 ounces of fish, at least 2 times a week. If fish is not a regular part of your diet, try fish oil supplements. They are linked to a reduction in triglycerides and a decrease in blood pressure.

Nuts

Examples of nuts include, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and hazelnuts. All these nuts have a high amount of protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Walnuts contain a high amount of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients such as magnesium, copper and manganese. Just adding a few portions of walnuts into your diet and have protective effects on the heart. 

Beans

Beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils are also referred to as pulses or legumes. They are all associated with the reduction in bad cholesterol but are rich in fiber, protein and antioxidants. The resistant starch contained by the beans are resistant to digestion, and thus is fermented by the good bacteria in the gut. This resistant starch improves cardiovascular health by lowering the levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Dark Chocolate

At last, something we will willingly eat. Believe it or not dark chocolate is a heart healthy food. It protects against atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty plaques inside arteries) which increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It has a high in antioxidant content which boost cardioprotective effects. 

Do not get confused with normal milk chocolate. Good quality dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 70% is a heart healthy food. However, dark chocolate still has a high sugar and calorie content, so moderation is key.

Seeds

Chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds are the plant alternative to fish. They are a good source of fatty acids along with nutrients and fiber. Studies have shown that incorporating these seeds into your daily meals improve risk factors such as inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. Hemp seeds have a high arginine content. Arginine is an amino acid known to reduce the level of certain inflammatory markers in the blood.

Green Tea

Green tea has a variety of health benefits from fat burning to increased insulin sensitivity. It is swimming with antioxidants which prevent cell damage, reduce inflammation and has a cardio protective effect. Taking green tea supplements or drinking matcha tea has similar health benefits to drinking green tea. It has not been determined how much green tea a day will provide a cardio protective effect. 

Tomatoes

This delicious fruit (or vegetable) is high in fiber, potassium, Vitamin C and folate which all benefit the heart. The potassium in the tomatoes not only helps the heart but also the muscles and bones and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It has been argued by scientists that increasing potassium intake and decreasing sodium intake is only of the key dietary changes to make. Tomatoes are full of lycopene, a naturally occurring pigmentation, that has powerful antioxidative properties. These antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing damage and inflammation, both linked to causing heart disease. 
    

Final Message

Slowly try and introduce more of these heart healthy food into your diet. It can be hard but even a small change can make a significant effect in reducing cardiovascular disease risk. A small change is better than no change.

References

15 Incredibly Heart-Healthy Foods", in Healthline, , 2019, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/heart-healthy-foods#section9 
16 top foods for a healthy heart", in Medical News Today, , 2019, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321820.php#9
12 Heart-Healthy Foods to Work into Your Diet", in Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, , 2019, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/12-heart-healthy-foods-to-work-into-your-diet/

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