The human heart is an amazing machine. Did you know that your heart beats more than 100,000 times a day??!! Each minute the heart pumps 1.5 gallons of blood! It never stops. It never takes vacation or a holiday break.
We can improve our heart’s health by controlling 3 parameters: exercise, nutrition and stress management. In this article, I will focus on how to make smart nutritional choices for a healthy heart. Choosing heart-smart, healthy foods can reduce your risk of heart disease and help you feel healthy and energetic for many years. And, there is a surprise -- healthy food can be delicious!
Let's get to know the 10 powerful superfoods which have been proven in studies to reduce risk of heart disease and taste great!
Broccoli is an important cruciferous vegetable that helps our body fight many kinds of disease and has particular “super-powers” in fighting cancer and protecting the heart. It is rich in minerals, vitamins and fiber. Broccoli is high in carotenoids which act as antioxidants to protect the body from potentially harmful compounds like free-radicals, ORS components and more. Recommended portion? The more the merrier. Try to combine broccoli 3-4 times into your weekly menu. Note: Sulforaphane, the powerful antioxidant in broccoli, loses 90% of its nutritional benefit in cooking. It is best to eat broccoli raw, blanched or lightly steamed (5 minutes).
Blueberries are considered to be one of the most powerful superfoods in our nutritional menu. Blueberries are very rich in the antioxidants, anthocyanins and flavonoids, which may decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Did you know? Anthocyanins give plants their red and blue/purple colors. Recommended portion? 3 servings of blueberries and strawberries per week. May use fresh or frozen. Note: Choose to buy the organic option.
Tomatoes are delicious and have many nutritional and health benefits. They contain vitamin C, a high amount of potassium, and a very powerful antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid that may help get rid of "bad" cholesterol, keeping blood vessels open and lowering the risk of heart attack. Recommended portion? 10 tomatoes per week Note: Lycopene absorption is not as efficient from fresh tomatoes. That is why cooked tomatoes are a great source of lycopene. The best absorption is from cooked tomatoes prepared with olive oil!
Pomegranates are one of the healthiest fruits on earth! Pomegranate is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and potassium. Pomegranate has the ability to lower the risk of heart disease due to its powerful antioxidants and potent anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that the health benefits of pomegranate include lowering blood pressure, lowering the LDL oxidation in the blood, and lowering triglycerides. They might also help fight arthritis and joint pain. You can enjoy these health benefits by eating the fresh seeds, drinking pomegranate juice or even consuming pomegranate seed oil. Recommended portion? Have some every day! Try drinking 1 cup of juice or eating a handful of seeds. As a supplement, try 800 mg/day of pomegranate seed oil.
Legumes are a group of food that includes beans, peas, lentils, soy beans, garbanzo beans and more. Legumes are a good source of protein, have soluble fibers, and are rich in vitamins and minerals. According to studies, legumes can reduce LDL cholesterol, balance glucose levels and might reduce blood pressure. 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. How to incorporate legumes in your menu? Try them in soup, stew, salad, as a snack, in majadra (rice plus lentils), hummus spread or edamame (soy beans). Recommended portion? 4 times a week -- easy & delicious!
Salmon is a fish rich in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be helpful in preventing sudden death from heart attacks. Salmon has two types of Omega-3: 1) DHA - Docosahexaenoic acid, and 2) EPA - Eicosapentaenoic acid. Recommended portion? Two 6-ounce servings per week. Note: Only wild salmon (Atlantic & Pacific) are rich in Omega-3. Farmed salmon will not have high levels. Don’t let the “pink” color fool you!
7. Flax seeds
Flax seeds are rich in minerals, dietary fibers and Omega-3. Flax seeds have a third type of Omega-3: ALA - alpha-linolenic acid. That is why they are highly recommended for vegetarians and vegans. Their health benefits include lowering bad cholesterol, balancing sugar levels and reducing sugar cravings, improving digestion, balancing hormones, and helping with the process of weight loss. Recommended portion? 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed per day. Note: Flax seeds need to be ground in order to help your body absorb the Omega-3.
Almonds are a great source of healthy fat for our body. Almonds are rich in monounsaturated fat which is one of the most important components in the “Mediterranean diet.” In addition to the healthy fat, almonds also have a number of other nutritional benefits. They are rich in vitamin E, calcium, iron and dietary fibers. Most studies show that people who consume almonds daily are leaner than people who don’t. Studies have also found that almonds have the ability to improves the immune system function, balances blood sugar (reducing the risk of having a sugar spike), improves blood flow and helps lower bad cholesterol. Recommended portion? 10-12 almonds a day Note: Unsalted almonds preferred.
9. Olive oil
Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fat which can help reduce both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Olive oil is one of the main components of the “Mediterranean diet” which has been found in studies to reduce the risk of heart disease by 30%. It is also great for the skin. Yes, you could get most of the health benefits by eating green and black olives, but you would also consume a large amount of salt. To maintain the health benefits, protect the olive oil from light, heat and oxygen. How to choose a quality olive oil? The highest quality is “Extra- Virgin Olive Oil.” Also, look for these signs: “cold press,” bottle dark in color, smaller bottle (health benefits of the oil decline with age and improper storage), and acidity level less than 1.0% (0.8% is best). Recommended portion? 1-3 teaspoons per day.
10. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is not just a sweet treat! Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants -- flavonoids called polyphenols which are known for their powerful health benefits. Flavonoids have been found to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduce clotting and fight inflammation. One study in 2012 found that daily chocolate consumption can reduce non-fatal heart attacks and stroke in people at high risk. The findings applied only to dark chocolate (60-70% cacao/cocoa). Recommended portion? Great news -- eat one piece of dark chocolate every day (6-10 g)! The hard part: Only eat one piece… Note: Buy only 60-85% cacao/cocoa or more.
Yes, these 10 healthy superfoods are great for your heart, and they are all delicious. Remember, enjoying food is part of feeling and being healthy!