February is American Heart Month! You know what that means? It means that I want you to take care of that glorious beating bottle of love you have thumping away in your chest right now. And how can you do that? By eating a diet that gives you the essential vitamins and minerals you need to support a healthy heart. This means loading your plate with fruits and vegetables of an array of colors, filling up on fiber, and focusing on good-for-you fats and omega-3’s!
We all do things in our day to day lives that our bodies don’t necessarily agree with, like watching TV when we should be exercising or gorging on pizza and chips when that salad is frowning at you from the fridge. But when nearly 600,000 people die from heart disease in America a year, our diets aren’t something that should be taken lightly. It’s okay to splurge once in awhile, but it’s also important to know when you take it too far and when your diet may need an overhaul.
Here’s a list of foods to incorporate into your diet to keep your ticker ticking for hopefully many more years to come!
Walnuts along with other nuts such as almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and cashews all contain monounsaturated fats, the good-for-you fats that are known to lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) while raising high-density lipoproteins (HDL), known as the “good” cholesterol. Nuts also contain vitamin B2, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, omega-3’s and other vitamins and minerals that help keep your weight at a healthy level and heart running smoothly.
**Sidenote: Not all LDL is bad for you like you may have been lead to believe. In fact, there are 4 different forms of LDL. One form can be looked at as a big, fluffy form that’s usually benign and just that, fluffy. Then there are 3 denser forms called very small, small, and medium LDL that are what cause the most problems when built up in the body. It was found that a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease increases when they have lower amounts of HDL and elevated levels of the smaller, denser LDL. Normal cholesterol tests don’t test for specific LDL type however. In fact, having lower levels of HDL are actually a larger predictor of the disease than simply elevated LDL levels. – Just a fun fact I found interesting and thought you might as well.
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which helps keep your blood flowing smoothly and free of clots that can cause strokes. Studies have found that a diet rich in omega-3’s can actually lower the risk of a fatal heart attack by one-third. Simply 2 servings of fatty fish a week is all you need to experience the benefits. If you aren’t one for salmon, you can still get the omega-3’s your body craves from sardines, mackerel, or tuna.
Yet another reason to love this magnificent green superfood. – Avocados are packed full of healthy monounsaturated fat which can help lower your cholesterol levels. They also contain potassium and magnesium which may help lower blood pressure. Avocados are also a great addition to any meal because they act as a nutrient booster, which means they make it easier for your body to absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as beta-carotene and lutein.
Garlic is a potent medicine that when ingested raw promotes circulation and reduces cholesterol levels. Don’t underestimate this little guy, because it sure knows how to pack a punch!
Cacao!! Oh marvelous Cacao, full of awesome antioxidants and magnesium, both of which help lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao is best for you, allowing you to reap the benefits of the rich flavanols that can prevent clogged arteries and blood clots.
No only is greek yogurt a good source of probiotics, but it’s also high in potassium which can have a blood pressure lowering effect. Consuming greek yogurt is also beneficial for your oral health. It protects your gums from the bacteria that can cause gum disease, which is great news for your heart since gum disease puts you at an elevated risk for heart disease.
Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries… oh my! Berries are bursting with antioxidants and phytonutrients that help protect your body from the free radicals that have the potential to damage arteries or lead to disease. They are also full of fiber and numerous vitamins that prevent the buildup of plaque in your arteries. Eat them in your yogurt, oatmeal, or just as a yummy snack by themselves.
Oh beans, the amazing little protein boosters that when added to any meal increase the fiber content, phytochemicals, and vitamin and nutrient content. The amount of soluble fiber in these guys aids in decreasing cholesterol levels while also keeping your digestive system regular. Win-win!
Red grapes contain resveratrol, which helps keep your blood platelets from sticking together and clotting. They are also a good source of antioxidants that increase HDL levels while lowering LDL. And if grapes aren’t your thing you can always have that 4 oz glass of wine a day which has been shown to have similar heart healthy effects as eating the grapes themselves.
More fruits and veggies in general are a great addition to your diet, aiming to get in 5-9 servings a day, more vegetables than fruit. Make sure to eat a variety of colors since each color offers different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Don’t forget your calcium and magnesium too which are important for maintaining proper heart rhythm and blood pressure. And remember, just because February is heart month doesn’t mean it’s the only month to eat for your heart. Do your valentine a favor and make this diet a full time thing so both you and yours can experience the benefits of a healthy heart for life!
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Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery, 2010. Print.
“Heart Health.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Web. 1 Feb. 2016. <http://www.fda.gov/>.
Rizzo, M., and K. Berneis. “Low-density Lipoprotein Size and Cardiovascular Risk Assessment.” Qjm 100.2 (2006): 147. Oxford University Press. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.