Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and an unhealthy lifestyle is one of the largest contributing factors to this dangerous affliction. For patients who are at risk of developing this condition or just want to stay ahead of the game, it’s possible to make a few modifications to a regular diet in an effort to avoid clogged arteries. Here’s a list of some popular heart healthy foods that belong on your table if you’re truly looking to live a healthier life.
1. Fruits and Vegetables
Doctors and dieticians have always talked about the importance of the regular consumption of fresh fruits and veggies, heart health is one of the biggest reasons to heed this advice. While it’s crucial to include a minimum of five vegetable and fruit servings in a daily diet, it’s equally important to consume the right vegetation. When preparing meals for the day, always include a few portions of these items from your local produce section:
- Bok choy, asparagus and bell peppers, which are all high in B vitamins
- Tomatoes, carrots, bananas and oranges, which contain high amounts of antioxidants
- Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, beets, spinach and arugula, which carry plenty of nitrates
2. Healthy Meat, Poultry and Fish
While a plant-based diet can contain a wide array of great food for the heart, many people enjoy the taste and ritual of consuming animal proteins. For those who wish to keep meat on the menu, make a conscious effort to find leaner cuts and grinds, and be sure to look for animals fed by natural sources such as grass and whole grains, as they contain significantly higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Seafood is a great option for patients who wish to increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids, as there’s no protein that carries higher levels than fish. In order to get the most benefit, it’s crucial to pay careful attention to the species and preparation methods. When looking over a seafood menu, keep the acronym SMASH in mind, as it provides simple guidance on the right items to choose:
For those who are prone to snacking during the day, the pantry can be a source of junk food such as cookies, crackers and chips, which all taste great but don’t contribute to a healthy diet. For a healthier alternative, consider stocking up on a variety of nuts, which are all great sources of monounsaturated fat. Almonds are especially beneficial, as they contain the highest levels of these “good” fats while also delivering magnesium, protein and fiber. Walnuts are also considered good food for the heart because they carry high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. A good serving recommendation is a handful once a day, or top your salad for a healthier garnish than croutons.
4. Olive Oil
Leafy greens fall under the vegetable section, but it’s not always pleasant to eat lettuce or kale without some additional flavor. When topping a salad with dressing, take care not to use one that undoes the benefits that come from the vegetables. Simple vinaigrette made from olive oil, herbs and vinegar can complement the flavor of the vegetation while also delivering monounsaturated oleic acid, which helps regulate levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
There are plenty of other uses for olive oil beyond salad dressing, as you can use it instead of most vegetable oils when cooking. It can also be used as a substitute for butter on bread.
For thousands of years, human beings have used spices for medicinal purposes, and medical studies back up some of these ancient beliefs. One of the most powerful items in the spice aisle is turmeric, which is one of the primary ingredients in traditional Indian curry dishes. This orange-yellow powder comes from a ground root, and carries high levels of curcumin, which acts as a potent anti-inflammatory to reduce incidents of arteriosclerosis. For a quick serving, simply heat up a piece of whole root in a sauce pan with a cup of nonfat milk until it comes to a near boil. Let the concoction cool to your desired temperature, strain and serve.
Cinnamon might be a staple of the kitchen during the holiday baking season, but it’s a key component of the best diet for heart health during any part of the year. This flavorful powder is rich in antioxidants, and it only takes a teaspoon per day to realize the benefits.
6. Coffee and Tea
While medical research is constantly changing on coffee’s positives and negatives, there’s actual science showing the benefits of regular moderate consumption. As long as it’s taken without excessive amounts of cream and sugar, coffee has been shown to lower blood pressure. One Dutch study even showed people who drank between two and four cups per day had a 20 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than those who don’t drink it at all.
While coffee can be good in moderation, tea offers benefits at any time of the day. The dried leaves of the camellia sinensis plant contain substances called flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Green tea is especially healthy because it contains flavonoids called catechins, which decrease cholesterol absorption. To achieve the desired results, have a cup with every meal of the day.
7. Whole Grains
Breads are often eliminated by those trying to live a healthier lifestyle, but it’s possible to enjoy them with careful examination of ingredient lists. Look for recipes made with whole grains, as they contain soluble fiber that binds itself to cholesterol and pulls it out of the body. Beyond baked goods, it’s also possible to get many of the same benefits by consuming brown rice or oatmeal.
Eat Well for a Healthier Heart
These are just a few of the heart healthy foods that are worth considering, but there are plenty of other dietary items proven to provide cardiovascular benefits. At Meritage Medical Network, we’re interested in helping you live the best life possible, and that includes a full lineup of preventative services and educational offerings from more than 700 private practice physicians in Sonoma, Napa and Marin Counties. If you’re having trouble incorporating healthier choices into your daily routine, we even offer individual nutrition counseling with registered dieticians.