February is here and February is heart health month, so I couldn't think of a better way to start the month than with a post on how to nourish the most important muscle in the body with the foods that will help keep it ticking like a Timex.
Cardiovascular disease is a general term encompassing heart attack, stroke, and other disorders of the heart and blood vessel system. Cardiovascular disease is the leading health problem and leading cause of death in the western world, but it is not an inevitable result of aging. Many of the disorders that fall within its umbrella can be prevented, and in some cases reversed, through proper nutrition and lifestyle practices.
Cardiovascular disease used to be associated with men more than with women. However, it is a growing problem with women and more women die from cardiovascular disease than from all forms of cancer combined. The scary part is that, more often than not, a person receives no warning that they have a form of cardiovascular disease before a cardiac event occurs. Cardiovascular disease is a health condition where prevention is key and perhaps the best method of prevention is what you choose to put on your fork or spoon three times per day.
9 Best Foods for Heart Health
As Hippocrates so wisely proclaimed over 2300 years ago, "Let food be thy medicine". So what medicine should we be taking each and every day to protect our beautiful beating heart and the vessels that feed it? Here are my top recommendations. By including these foods in your diet every single day you'll be showing your heart a massive dose of love.
1. Fresh Fruit
Fresh fruits contain critical vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants which support the delicate membranes of the cardiovascular system, strengthening them and protecting them against free radical damage. Berries are particularly powerful because contain the highest amount of antioxidant protection out of all other foods in the world so be sure to include berries in your diet every day!
2. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes contain fiber and beneficial plant proteins that help lower LDL cholesterol or the "bad" cholesterol associated with cardiovascular disease. Beans are also excellent sources of antioxidants, as well as vitamin B6 and folic acid which help lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid which, at elevated blood levels, is an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
3. Dark Leafy Greens
Spinach, mesclun, Swiss chard, arugula, and other greens help to reduce levels of a blood enzyme that is indicated in heart disease. They are also some of the most nutrient dense foods in the world, rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Avocados are an excellent source of potassium which helps to regulate heart rhythm and blood pressure, as well as monounsaturated fats, which help to lower LDL cholesterol.
5. Whole Grains
Yes...carbohydrates. Don't be afraid! I'm not talking about your white Wonder bread, white rice and coffee shop muffins. I'm .talking about traditional whole grains such as oats, brown and wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, sorghum, millet and others. Whole brains provide fiber and B vitamins which are both critical for cardiovascular health.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts such as .almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts and filberts, and seeds such as chia, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower provide an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6), as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals necessary to support cardiovascular functioning and integrity, as well as reducing LDL cholesterol.
7. Soy Foods
Soy foods get a lot of negative attention. But when it comes to cardiovascular health, soy products help regulate blood fat levels and also provide beneficial phytoestrogens which are plant-derived estrogens that protect against cardiovascular disease. Now, before you freak out and refer to something or someone that told you that soy causes too much estrogen in the body and is linked to breast cancer, take a deep breath and read this abstract of an article from Stanford Unversity medical centre. Phytoestrogens are only 1/1000x as strong as the estrogens naturally made by the human body and even less potent than the xeno-estrogens that are in our drinking water and other daily contaminants, so you would have to eat a large amount of soy products to be worried about an increase in the risk of cancer. Soy products such as tofu, tempeh, edemame, miso and soy nuts can be enjoyed in moderation (once or twice per week) and be perfectly safe. However, I do have two words of caution when it comes to soy:
8. Herbs and Spices
Not only do herbs and spices kick the flavour of our meals up a notch or two, they have been used for thousands of years all around the world to promote health and treat many ailments, including cardiovascular disease. Herbs and spices are bursting with antioxidants and phytochemicals which are plant compounds which help protect plant cells from bacteria and pathogens and have the same action on human cells. Adding spices like turmeric, garlic, ginger, rosemary, cayenne and others promote many aspects of heart health including keeping inflammation in check, lowering LDL cholesterol, regulating blood pressure and others. So get into that spice cupboard and drop some mad flavour into your food!
9. Wheat Germ and Flaxseed Meal
Not only are wheat germ and flaxseed meal great for boosting your daily intake of fiber, they are also excellent sources of Vitamin E (an important antioxidant) and omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown time and time again to be critical to the health of our cardiovascular system. Flax, in the form of meal, seeds or oil in conjunction with a diet high in fiber sourced from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and added dietary fiber from wheat bran is the best for reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
By nourishing our bodies with whole foods as they are found in nature and practicing healthy lifestyle habits such as daily exercise, not smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, keeping stress levels under control and managing blood sugar levels, we can substantially reduce our risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Here's to a healthy and happy heart!
If you would like to explore how working with a holistic nutritionist can help you achieve your best and most vibrant health, please feel free contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 519.404.9919 to schedule your free 15 minute discovery session to discuss how I can help you reach your goals.
Jill Taylor is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She is the mom of two pretty awesome teenagers, s very dramatic dog, a hedgehog and a snake (yikes!). Jill assists her clients in achieving true wellness through thoughtful and compassionate dietary and lifestyle coaching. Feel free to visit the "Contact" page to get in touch. Jill would love to hear from you!