February is American Heart Health Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of maintaining a healthy heart. Research has shown that certain foods can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, all risk factors for heart disease.
Let’s take a look at some foods you could eat to benefit your heart and overall well-being.
Whole grains are like the foundation of a house; they provide the necessary structure for a strong and healthy heart.
Fiber, vitamins, and minerals in whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease. Examples of whole grains include oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat bread.
- Oats have a water-soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which helps lower cholesterol levels.
- Barley is rich in beta-glucan and other minerals like selenium and magnesium.
- Quinoa is high in protein and contains essential amino acids.
- Brown rice has complex carbohydrates and magnesium, which help regulate blood pressure.
- 100% Whole Wheat bread and other wheat-based products like pasta and cereal are well-stocked with whole-grain nutrients.
- Look for 100% whole wheat or whole-grain options and avoid products labeled as "enriched."
- Including whole grains in meals can be as simple as having oatmeal for breakfast, adding quinoa to a salad, or choosing whole wheat bread for sandwiches.
Fish is rich in omega-3s that help keep your ticker in tip-top shape. Heart-healthy fish include salmon, tuna, and sardines.
- Salmon has loads of omega-3s and is also high in vitamins B12, D, and selenium, all contributing to heart health.
- Sardines are also a great option because they are low in mercury and high in omega-3s, vitamin D, and calcium.
- Tuna is a lean protein option and a good source of omega-3s and vitamins B12 and D.
- Opt for wild-caught fish over farm-raised when possible.
- Limit intake of fish high in mercury, such as swordfish and tilefish.
- Add fish to your meals by grilling, baking, adding to salads, or mixing into pasta or rice dishes.
Nuts and Seeds
You can boost your heart health by consuming nuts and seeds, a source of wholesome fats, protein, and fiber. Almonds, walnuts, and pecans are examples of wholesome nuts. Flaxseed, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds are instances of healthy seeds.
- Almonds can benefit heart health as they contain high monounsaturated fats, fiber, and vitamin E, all of which can lower cholesterol levels.
- Walnuts can also benefit your heart health as they are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
- Flaxseed is also a great option, and they are high in omega-3s, lignans, and fiber, all of which can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
- Select raw or dry roasted nuts and seeds.
- Limit intake to a moderate serving size because they are typically high in calories.
- Nuts and seeds are a convenient snack option that can help control hunger and cravings.
Legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are a great source of plant-based protein. They have plenty of fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels stable.
Studies have shown that consuming legumes can help lower the risk of heart disease. For example, a study found that eating legumes at least four times a week was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease.
Legumes are brimming with potassium, magnesium, and other minerals for heart health.
- Soak the legumes before cooking to reduce the cooking time and make them more digestible.
- Include a variety of legumes with your diet for maximum nutritional benefit.
- Try including them in soups and stews as the base for a salad or veggie burger or mixing them into a grain dish for a nutritious boost.
Oils play a vital role in a healthy diet and benefiting the heart.
Healthy oils include olive oil and avocado oil.
- Olive oil, in particular, is rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health.
- Avocado oil is high in MUFAs and contains heart-protective compounds like beta-sitosterol and lutein.
- Choose extra-virgin olive oil for maximum health benefits
- Avoid oils high in saturated fats, such as coconut and palm oil.
- These oils can be used for salad dressings or added to marinades and dips.
Did you know that adding certain spices to your meals can enhance the flavor and benefit your heart health?
Spices like turmeric, garlic, and ginger are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can benefit the heart.
- Turmeric: A powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit cardiovascular care by reducing inflammation and preventing blood clots.
- Garlic: Contains allicin compounds that can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevent blood clots and improve circulatory function.
- Ginger: Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can aid in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and cardiovascular wellness.
- Use fresh spices when possible; they have more active compounds than dried spices.
- Mix and match different spices to create unique and flavorful dishes while also enjoying the heart-health benefits.
- Add turmeric to scrambled eggs or curry, garlic to marinades or sautés, and ginger to stir-fries or tea for added flavor and nutrients.
Dark Chocolate and Green Tea
Did you know that dark chocolate and green tea are rich in antioxidants that can help protect your heart?
Dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. The flavanols in dark chocolate have also been found to improve heart and brain blood flow.
Green tea contains catechins; antioxidants also found to reduce blood pressure and improve cholesterol.
- Limit your intake of chocolate to small portions to avoid added sugars and calories.
- Green tea is an alternative to sugary drinks and a good source of antioxidants.
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