As discussed in a prior newsletter, heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans today. We’ve learned that simple lifestyle changes in diet and exercise can greatly reduce your chances of developing heart disease. In this issue, we decided to list foods that people should add to their daily diet to get heart healthy.
Chocolate – Who doesn’t like chocolate? I think almost everyone does, but it’s the type of chocolate you eat that makes all the difference in your health. Forget the white chocolate and milk chocolate; you need to reach for the dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is chock full of the powerful antioxidant called cocoa phenols. Cocoa phenols help to keep the bad cholesterol from forming in the arteries as plaque build up. The higher the cocoa content, the more heart health benefits it has. Shoot for at least 70% cocoa. It may take some time getting used to it, but you will.
Beans and legumes- Beans and legumes contain a high amount of protein, soluble fiber, folate, magnesium and phosphate. Beans contain many nutrients that contribute to lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Since beans come in so many different varieties, it will be easy to find one that you like. Beans and legumes including kidney beans, black beans, black eyed peas and lentils can easily be added to many foods such as salads, rice dishes, soups and stews. Aim for 3- 4 servings of beans and legumes weekly.
Potatoes- As long as you do not consume them in their unhealthy form, chips or french fries, potatoes can actually be very healthy for you. Potatoes are rich in potassium, vitamins B and C and contain a good amount of fiber. Potatoes are also high in Carotenoids, another powerful antioxidant that aids in heart health. Carotenoids help to prevent heart attack and heart disease by keeping bad cholesterol from developing. Potatoes are also effective in lowering blood pressure levels. This is because the high potassium levels balance out the sodium in the diet. In order for the potato to stay healthy, avoid butter and sour cream, both of which will add a lot of extra fat and calories.
Flaxseed- Flaxseed is relatively new to the health scene. Flaxseed is rich in Omega 3’s. Omega 3’s are an “essential fat” that help support heart health. Omega 3’s also help to lower blood pressure and normalize the heart beat. Flaxseed is also the richest form of lignans. Lignans help to prevent heart disease, certain cancers and osteoporosis. Flaxseed also helps to raise good cholesterol levels and keep the arteries clear of plaque build-up. Flaxseed can easily be added to salads, soups, cereal and oatmeal. Pregnant women and breastfeeding women should consult their doctors before adding flaxseed to their diets.
Tomatoes- Tomatoes are a super health food that is most beneficial to your health when it is eaten cooked or processed, rather than raw. Tomatoes are high in Vitamin c, Vitamin a, calcium and potassium. But what makes tomatoes stand out in a crowd is that it is loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. It is believed that the lycopene in tomatoes can help reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of a heart attack. The best sources of lycopene include tomato sauce, tomato paste, ketchup, tomato juice and tomato soup.
Fruits- Fruits contain vitamins a and c, and high levels of the antioxidant, polyphenol. Studies show that eating moderate amounts of fruit daily may reduce the build up of plaque in the arteries that lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. At one time, 5 daily servings of fruit were thought to be enough, but now the goal is 8 servings. Researchers have found that people who ate 8 or more servings of fruit daily were 22% less likely to die from heart disease than people who only ate 3 servings or less a day.*
Veggies –Consuming 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, have a positive effect on heart health. Vegetables contain antioxidants. Antioxidants help to reduce free radicals in the body which can lead to heart disease. According to research, consuming a healthy amount of fruits and vegetables appear to have an effect on genes that are connected to heart disease.** When choosing vegetables, think leafy greens and veggies with bright colors. You can easily add vegetables to salads, soups and sandwiches. Be sure to wash your veggies thoroughly and avoid using too much butter and fats. Steaming is always best, as it retains most of vegetables’ nutrients.
Whole Grains- Studies show that consuming at least 3 daily servings of whole grains may significantly help to reduce the odds of developing heart disease and stroke. Whole grains also help to reduce cholesterol, weight and high blood pressure, all of which aid in remaining heart healthy. Some examples of whole grains include popcorn, brown rice, whole grain bread, barley, bulgur and whole wheat pasta. Don’t be tempted to add butter or other fats to the whole grains.
Alcohol – Studies have shown that consuming alcohol in moderation may reduce the risk of developing heart disease, by as much as 25%.*** Research also shows that alcohol may raise good cholesterol levels, as well. Moderate consumption consists of 1 alcoholic drink for women and 2 for men, daily. There are some people who should not drink alcohol, including those with liver disease, pregnant women and people who are taking certain medications.
Fish – Fish has a positive effect on heart health. But did you know that what type of fish you eat, how often you eat it and how it is prepared plays a significant role? The best types of fish to eat are those that are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids; Omega 3’s help to lower your chance of developing heart disease. The best fish to eat for heart health include salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring. It is recommended to eat at least 2 servings of these fatty fish a week. The best way to prepare fish in order to provide the most health benefits are baked and broiled; do not eat fried fish. Frying your fish will eliminate many of the health benefits. It is important to note that some fish contain high levels of mercury. Eating too much mercury may lead to a build up of toxins in the body. Pregnant women, women who are breast feeding and children younger than 12, may want to limit their fish intake.
Oatmeal is a great heart healthy food. Although it falls under the whole grain category, it is mighty enough to mention on its own. For starters, oatmeal contains large amounts of antioxidants. Oatmeal is also rich in soluble fiber. This type of fiber helps to lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Another benefit of fiber is that it will help you feel fuller longer, which will lead to less eating. This results in obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight, which contributes to heart health. Also, studies show that oats help to lower your blood pressure, another contributing factor of heart disease. In addition to having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, you can also add it to certain foods. Try it as a as a breading or filler for burgers, meatballs or meatloaf.
Coffee – Coffee is loaded with antioxidants. In fact, coffee has more antioxidants than any other food, including fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that moderate coffee consumption may help to ward off certain diseases including heart disease and stroke. Before adding more coffee to your diet, check with your doctor as it could have negative effects for people with certain health conditions.
Nuts are a great snack that not only taste great, but can have positive effects on your heart and overall health. Most nuts contain good amounts of unsaturated fats, omega 3’s, fiber, vitamin E and plant sterols, all of which are heart healthy. The most ideal nuts to eat are almonds, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, pecans and hazelnuts. Although nuts are healthy and contain healthy fats, they are high in calories. Once again, moderate consumption is key. Easily add your favorite nuts into cereal, oatmeal, salads and side dishes.
Cranberries- Although small in size, this berry really packs a punch. Cranberries contain no fat or cholesterol and very little sodium. Cranberries are also a good source of fiber, which helps to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol found in the body. Cranberries may also boost good cholesterol levels, as well. Additionally, cranberries contain both polyphenols and flavonoids, 2 specific types of powerful antioxidants.
Well, now you know what foods you should be adding to your shopping list and your diet. If you have any concerns about these specific foods, please talk to your doctor or health care professional. But remember, in addition to eating these heart healthy foods, getting plenty of exercise is also important for heart health.