This month we solute the heart. And all things heart-shaped on a particular day this month, if you’re into that sort of thing.
But you really should be practicing heart-healthy habits every day, all year round. And what do we do every day? Eat. Usually multiple times a day.
These days with the plethora of readily available foods at our fingertips, it’s easy to eat to your heart’s content. But although quite tasty and sometimes addictive, there’s a lot – tons really – of food that can do real damage to the fragile organs that keep you alive.
Regularly consuming the wrong foods – mainly those that are highly processed, full of preservatives, added sugars and hydrogenated fats – are exactly the types of foods that are toxic and damaging to your health in general, but can have severe consequences on your cardiovascular system.
But you can eat your heart out with these 10 foods for heart health.
You can find fresh tomatoes in stores all year round, but load up when they’re in season during the warmer months. The deep colors of in-season tomatoes signify a dense nutrient profile that includes Vitamin C, lycopene, and beta carotene. (They’re also more flavorful when vine ripened and in season.) Tomatoes offer cardiovascular support on two fronts: 1) as antioxidant protection, and 2) as regulation of fats in the bloodstream.
Go for the oily variety that tend to be rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. This includes salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring. Omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of irregular heart beat and plaque build-up in the arteries. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week. But if fish isn’t as appetizing as some of the other foods on this list, opt for a quality omega-3 supplement.
Fish is not the only food source for omega-3s. For all you non-fish eaters, flaxseeds are great. Not only do they contain the highly sought after omega-3s, but they’re also a good source of dietary fiber, which helps to clear out cholesterol. Throw a spoonful of ground flaxseed into your hot cereal. This also works with your favorite pancake, waffle, and muffin recipes.
4. Dark Chocolate
Yes, chocolate! In moderation, of course. But the dark variety that contains at least 70% cocoa is the kind with the heart healthy benefits. Dark chocolate that has undergone the least processing is high in flavonols, which are compounds that offer antioxidant properties. They also help to lower blood pressure and guard against the formation of blood clots.
These vibrant beauties are rich in phytonutrients that offer the heart protection from oxidative stress. They’re also good sources of soluble fiber, which helps to lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Choose fully ripe, deep-colored berries like strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries to get the most bang for your berry.
6. Red Wine
Just like dark chocolate, the key here is moderation. And color does matter, as the reds have higher concentrations of antioxidants that help to rise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and protect against arterial damage. One compound in particular, a polyphenol called resveratrol, is believed to protect against inflammation (a contributor to heart disease) and damage to blood vessel lining, lower LDL cholesterol, and prevent blood clots. Resveratrol comes from the grape skins used in the wine making process. Because red wine is fermented longer than whites or pinks, it contains higher amounts of resveratrol. Cheers to that!
This heart friendly grain is high is soluble fiber, which uses its sponge-like qualities in the digestive tract to soak up cholesterol and remove it from the body before it gets absorbed by the blood. Opt for the less processed varieties like steel cut oats which retain more fiber during manufacturing. But watch out for the pre-packaged, flavored instant varieties that tend to be sweetened with added sugars and contain less fiber. Even unflavored, old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats are a better choice. You can easily dress them up with some nuts, fruit, and a little natural sweetener like honey, stevia, pure maple syrup or agave.
For those of us who don’t have allergies to tree nuts, including a variety of nuts in the diet is a good way to get heart healthy nutrients like fiber, Vitamin E, minerals, and good fats. Walnuts are a good source of the omega-3 alpha linoleic acid (ALA). But even almonds, cashews, and pistachios can be enjoyed for their health benefits. Ideally, go for raw, unsalted nuts and avoid the ones that have been dressed up with unnatural flavorings.
Creamy, delicious and the quintessential ingredient that defines California cuisine – and we don’t mind. The soft texture is due to the high fat content, but it’s mostly monounsaturated fat that has been linked to lowering cholesterol and other heart disease risks. Avocados are also rich in antioxidants, fiber, and potassium – all good news for the heart.
These tropical talons are a good source of potassium, an electrolyte mineral that helps to maintain normal heart function by balancing sodium and water levels in the body. Too much sodium is linked to increased blood pressure and that means extra stress on the heart. But increasing potassium intake seems to blunt the effect of sodium on blood pressure.
We bet you can think of a few heart-friendly flavor combinations to delight your taste buds.