What you put on your plate can influence just about every aspect of heart health. Dr. Subodh Tamhankar suggests some food items that must be included in your diet to keep heart ailments at bay.
Diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your risk of heart disease. In fact, certain foods can influence blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Here are some foods that you should be eating to maximize your heart health.
Leafy Green Vegetables: Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In particular, they are a great source of Vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and promote proper blood clotting. They are also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness, and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels.
Whole grains include all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain: germ, endosperm and bran. Common types of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa. Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fiber, which may help reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease. When purchasing whole grains, make sure to read the ingredients label carefully. Phrases like ‘whole grain’ or ‘whole wheat’ indicate a whole-grain product, while words like ‘wheat flour’ or ‘multigrain’ may not.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are jam-packed with important nutrients that play a central role in heart health. Berries are also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease. Another study found that eating blueberries daily improved the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which help control blood pressure and blood clotting.
Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. One study looked at the effects of three cholesterol-lowering diets in 45 overweight and obese people, with one of the test groups consuming one avocado per day. The avocado group experienced reductions in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, including lower levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol, which are believed to significantly raise the risk of heart disease.
Fatty Fish and Fish Oil:
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits. In one study in 324 people, eating salmon three times a week for eight weeks significantly decreased diastolic blood pressure. Another study showed that eating fish over the long term was linked to lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure.
Walnuts are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper and manganese. Research shows that incorporating a few servings of walnuts in your diet can help protect against heart disease. According to one review, eating walnuts can reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol by up to 16%, lower diastolic blood pressure by 2–3 mm Hg and decrease oxidative stress and inflammation.
Beans contain resistant starch, which resists digestion and is fermented by the beneficial bacteria in your gut. According to some animal studies, resistant starch can improve heart health by decreasing blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. What’s more, eating beans has been linked to reduced blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. One large study showed that those who ate chocolate at least five times per week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-chocolate eaters. However, keep in mind that these studies show an association but don’t necessarily account for other factors that may be involved since chocolate can be high in sugar and calories.
Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which can contribute to heart disease. A study in 50 overweight women found that eating two raw tomatoes four times per week increased levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol can help remove excess cholesterol and plaque from the arteries to keep your heart healthy and protect against heart disease and stroke.
For centuries, garlic has been used as a natural remedy to treat a variety of ailments. In recent years, research has confirmed its potent medicinal properties and found that garlic can even help improve heart health. This is thanks to the presence of a compound called allicin, which is believed to have a multitude of therapeutic effects.