16 Superfoods for your Heart Health
Your heart powers your whole body, it lets you love, laugh and live your life to the full.
That’s why it’s so important to look after it! If you don’t, you’re putting yourself at risk of cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke. Cardiovascular disease, is the world’s number one killer. Each year, it’s responsible for 17.5 million deaths, and by 2030 this is expected to rise to 23 million.
Although, the good news is that cardiovascular disease, can be prevented by making a few simple daily changes, like eating a healthier diet and getting more exercise.
World Heart Day is coming up on Friday the 29th of September, so let’s all take action to keep our hearts charged and make a lasting difference to our health. By including these foods in your diet, you are taking a positive step into the future of your heart health!
Salmon and other fatty fish such as sardines and mackerel are the superstars of heart-healthy foods, containing copious amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, shown in studies to lower the risk of arrhythmia and atherosclerosis and decrease triglycerides. The Australian Heart Foundation recommends eating fish and preferably fatty fish at least twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available as dietary supplements.
Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol. "It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract and soaks up the cholesterol so it is eliminated from the body and not absorbed into the bloodstream," says Lauren Graf, a registered dietician and co-director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Graf recommends avoiding instant oatmeal, which often contains sugar, and heading instead for old-fashioned or even quick-cooking oats.
According to a 2013 study women aged 25 through 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less. The authors of the study attributed the benefit to compounds known as anthocyanin’s, flavonoids (which are antioxidants) that may decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.
Several studies have now shown that dark chocolate may benefit your heart, including one in 2012 that found that daily chocolate consumption could reduce non-fatal heart attacks and strokes in people at high risk for these problems. The findings applied only to dark chocolate, meaning chocolate made up of at least 60-70% cocoa. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids called polyphenols, which may help blood pressure, clotting, and inflammation.
Women who consume high amounts of the flavonoids found in oranges and grapefruits have a 19% lower rick of ischemic stroke (which is caused by a blood clot) than women who don't get as much of these compounds, a 2012 study found. Citrus fruits are also high in vitamin C, which has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease.
Soy products, including tofu and soy milk, are a great way to add protein to your diet without unhealthy fats and cholesterol. Soy products contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. What's more, soy may reduce blood pressure in people who eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates. And compared with milk or other proteins, soy protein can actually decrease LDL known as "bad cholesterol”.
There's no reason to shun potatoes because they're white and look like a "bad" starch. As long as they're not deep fried, potatoes can be good for your heart. They're rich in potassium, which can help lower blood pressure and they're high in fiber, which can lower the risk for heart disease.
Tomatoes are high in heart-healthy potassium and they're a good source of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid that may help get rid of "bad cholesterol”, keep blood vessels open, and lower heart attack risk.
This includes almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts and macadamia nuts, all of which contain good-for-your-heart fiber. They also contain vitamin E, which helps lower bad cholesterol. And some, like walnuts, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. "Some people in the past have avoided nuts because they're higher in fat, but most of the studies show that people who consume nuts daily are leaner than people who don't," says Graf. And leaner people are at a lower risk for heart problems.
Because they come from plants, legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are an excellent source of protein without a lot of unhealthy fat. One study found that people who ate legumes at least four times a week had a 22% lower risk of heart disease compared with those who consumed them less than once a week. And legumes may help control blood sugar in people with diabetes. Lowering blood sugar levels is key in helping people avoid diabetes complications, one of which is heart disease.
Extra-virgin Olive Oil
In a landmark study, people at high risk for heart disease who followed the Mediterranean diet reduced their risk of heart attacks, strokes, and dying by 30%. Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Olives themselves—both green and black—are another source of "good fat”, says Graf.
Green tea contains the antioxidant known as Catechin and has grown more popular in Australia, bringing with it significant health benefits. A 2013 study found that people who drank four or more cups of green tea daily had a 20% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
When it comes to your health, you really can't go wrong with vegetables, especially green vegetables such as Broccoli, spinach and kale, they give an extra boost to your heart health. High in carotenoids, which act as antioxidants and free your body of potentially harmful compounds. They're also high in fiber and contain tons of vitamins and minerals.
Flax seeds as well as the ultra-chic chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, says Graf. That's one reason they're good for your heart. Another reason is their high fiber content. Plus, there are a million ways to enjoy them. Try them ground up with other heart-healthy foods, such as dried blueberries, cranberries, or oatmeal or even blended with soy milk and fruit to create a smoothie.
These soft, tasty fruits have a well-established reputation for providing the body and heart with healthy fats. Like olive oil, they're rich in the monounsaturated fats that may lower heart disease risk factors, such as cholesterol. They're also high in antioxidants and in potassium, says Graf. They can be eaten on their own or blended into guacamole, perhaps with some heart-healthy tomatoes.
Pomegranates contain numerous antioxidants, including heart-promoting polyphenols and anthocyanin’s which may help stave off hardening of the arteries. One study of heart disease patients found that a daily dose of pomegranate juice over three months showed improvements in blood flow to the heart.