Top 10 Heart Healthy Foods

Did you know February is Heart Health Month, hosted by the American Heart Association?! Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. It is an “umbrella” term that includes a number of conditions such as coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, heart attack, and heart failure.

Conditions such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol often lead to heart disease so dealing with (or avoiding!) these risk factors early on is crucial. Aside for a few uncontrollable factors such as age, race, and genetics, the majority of causes are modifiable and, as expected, include poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity. Other factors such as stress and smoking may also contribute.

A whole-foods diet is the cornerstone in preventing and managing most chronic diseases. I have always been a fan of focusing more on the inclusion of healthy foods as opposed to the avoidance of unhealthy foods. Below is a list of some of the top heart healthy foods to include on a daily basis.

  1. Extra virgin olive oil: Incredible source of antioxidants and oleic acid, which can help lower inflammation, protect LDL “bad” cholesterol from oxidation, and improve lining of blood vessels
  2. Avocado: Rich in monounsaturated fats that may lower risk of heart disease. Also high in fiber, potassium and antioxidants
  3. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale): Good source of fiber. Known for rich sulforaphane content, a phytonutrient shown to protect against free radicals
  4. Berries: Contain Anthocyanins and flavonoids which can help decrease blood pressure
  5. Cranberries: Rich in antioxidants that can improve blood vessel function
  6. Walnuts: Reduce total and LDL cholesterol. Can increase arterial elasticity
  7. Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula): Contain caroteniods, which act as antioxidants against free radicals
  8. Cold water fish (cod, halibut, sardines, anchovies): High in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential type of fat beneficial for reducing inflammation and lowering triglycerides
  9. Garlic and onions: Contain compounds that lower blood pressure, slow arterial plaque growth, and lower cholesterol levels
  10. Pomegranates: Contain heart-promoting polyphenols and Anthocyanins which may prevent hardening of the arteries
  11. BONUS – Red wine: Contains resveratrol, a type of polyphenol thought to lower the risk of heart disease (opt for dry wines, which are much lower in sugar)

You may have recognized that many of the foods listed above are staples in the Mediterranean diet! This type of diet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease as it emphasizes vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains, legumes, potatoes) and seafood. Adapting an eating pattern based on these concepts has been shown to help prevent strokes, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes and premature death.

definitions

  • antioxidant – compounds that inhibit oxidation, a process that can produce free radicals
  • free radical – unstable atoms that can damage healthy cells, leading to diseases such as cancer
  • polyphenol – a compound naturally found in plant foods; acts as an antioxidant by neutralizing free radicals
    • Examples: resveratrol (red wine, grapes, mulberries), carotenoids (pumpkins, carrots, tomatoes), anthocyanin (blueberry, raspberry, black rice), quercetin (red onions, kale), curcumin (turmeric)

What do you do to support cardiovascular health?

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