To put it bluntly, heart disease is the quintessential American killer, and by a substantial margin. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports it as the leading cause of death for men and women alike in the US, robbing the lives of approximately 610,000 people each year, equating to a terrifying 1 in every 4 deaths in this country alone. Heart disease does not discriminate by gender, nationality, race, or religion, and often, not even by age.
Since two major contributors to heart disease are obesity, and poor diet, and because heart health should be your number one health priority, maintaining optimal heart health should start by consistently putting the correct foods in your body. The question then becomes, what exactly are the “right” foods to eat to maintain a healthy heart?
Fruits and Vegetables
This almost goes without saying but, increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables lessens your chances of developing heart disease. A few fruits and veggies you can eat to help your heart health include:
- Avocados – A great compliment to many variations of salads and sandwiches, these unique fruits are rich in potassium (more than bananas), and monounsaturated fats, which lowers high cholesterol. They also serve as an anti-inflammatory, that prevents the hardening of your artery walls. Moreover, avocados are packed with fiber, an important contributor to weight loss and heart health. So, avocados lovers, next time you’re eating a tasty sandwich, and are about to top it off with a few slices of avocado – by all means, go for it!
- Blueberries – If you’ve ever wondered why blueberries have a dark blue color, it’s because of its extremely high content of antioxidants, which help your blood vessels perform properly. They also possess a high amount of fiber.
- Green Leafy Vegetables – In this case, just equate “green” with “good”. Leafy greens, such as spinach and broccoli, contain a plethora of fiber, and are low in calories.
Although you may think of “carbs” as a bad thing, in reality, keeping up an eating regimen that includes carbs (such as whole grains) is an excellent way to keep heart disease away. Bear in mind, whole grains contain the entire grain (the bran, germ, and endosperm), and are a much healthier option than refined grains, which removes the bran and germ. A few great choices of whole grains to promote a healthy heart include:
- Oatmeal – This delicious and popular form of oats contains beta-glucan, a type of fiber that lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C; also known as “bad cholesterol”), making it a very heart friendly choice of breakfast. One and a half cups of oatmeal provides you with the necessary fiber to keep your cholesterol levels low and in the range where they belong.
- Brown Rice – Unlike white rice, a refined grain which is stripped of its essential nutrients after being milled and polished. Brown rice includes both bran and germ, and is chocked full fiber, as well as many necessary vitamins and nutrients ideal for helping reduce the risk for heart disease. Important among these is magnesium, which the body uses to help regulate heartbeat and dilate the arteries. When thinking of your heart, brown rice is the smarter alternative to white rice, and can be used as tasty complement to many meals.
- Barley – One of the oldest grains, barley remains popular today, and has a litany of heart benefits. Barley is a great source of fiber and consists of potassium, folate, and vitamin B6 content. Moreover, a previous study unveiled that barley lowers serum cholesterol and visceral, two warning signs of potential heart disease risk.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), most of us consume far more protein than we actually need. This is especially true as it pertains to our intake of meat. However, “good” proteins are heart beneficial, and here are a few that you should eat more of:
- Fish – Fish lovers will be delighted to learn that salmon and tuna are great for helping keep your heart healthy. Fish can be prepared in a variety of ways (steamed, sautéed, grilled, or smoked), and is one of the best sources of EPA and DHA, two fatty acids known to decrease inflammation and lower blood pressure.
- Nuts – Nuts make a great snack both by themselves or with fruit, oatmeal, or cereal Nuts are an ally of the heart. Most nuts consist of monosatured fats and vitamins, serving as a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Poultry – Chicken and turkey provide a healthier alternative to red meat, and when regularly incorporated in your diet, can aid in your heart’s well-being. The fat in both chicken and turkey is mainly unsaturated. Because the skin retains moisture, there’s no need to remove it prior to cooking.
There are also certain “pleasure” foods that lend themselves to good heart health when taken in moderation, such as dark chocolate, which is contains antioxidants that help reduce cholesterol absorption by the body. It’s important to remember that while it’s in your best interest to work on sticking to a heart healthy diet, it’s equally important to remember to help yourself to a heart-healthy treat yourself once in a while!