This month is heart health awareness month, so I thought I would share some of my favourite heart healthy foods, snacks and drinks with you. Try incorporating 1, 2 or more of these suggestions into your diet, to help you maintain a healthy heart.
- Dark Chocolate
Yes, that’s right, chocolate is good for your heart. The benefits of eating dark chocolate (70 -80% or higher) comes from the flavanols, or phytonutrients, that are found in cocoa.
According to researchers in the Netherlands that released a study in the FASEB Journal, “eating dark chocolate reduces the risk of atherosclerosis, a thickening and hardening of the arteries, by restoring flexibility of the arteries and preventing white blood cells from sticking to the blood vessel walls” In essence, cocoa lowers inflammation in the body and promotes heart heath.
To maximize the benefits, stick to 70-80% dark chocolate, rather than milk or chocolate with a lower flavanol content, that will have little benefit on your heart. The study found that eating 2 moderate sized squares of dark chocolate each day had beneficial effects for the heart. That sounds good to me!
- Nuts, Seeds and Heart Healthy Fats
There are 2 main types of heart healthy fats and they include omega 3s and monounsaturated fats.
Omega 3s help lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, and raise good HDL cholesterol. Omega 3s also help reduce inflammation in the body and help reduce the risk of blood clots by reducing the adhesiveness of platelets.
Omega 3s can be found in cold water fish such as salmon, herring, trout and mackerel. Plant forms of omega 3s can be found in hemp seeds, flax seeds and chia seeds, as well as walnuts. Once consumed, omega 3s are converted to EPA and DHA, albeit a small amount, in the body. EPA and DHA are known for their brain and heart health benefits.
Monounsaturated fats are also known to lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol levels in the body. A commonly used monounsaturated fat is olive oil. Other sources include avocados, nuts and nut butters, such as almonds, cashews, pistachios and peanut butter.
For optimal benefit, consider consuming 1-2 servings of fish per week, as well as a ¼ cup of nuts or 2-3 tablespoons of seed or nut butters each day.
Unfortunately, not all fats are created equally. Steer clear of trans fats, which are found in most commercially baked goods, snacks and processed foods, and limit omega 6s, such as canola oil, corn and soy, since we already have plenty in our diet. Although recent studies have indicated that saturated fats are not as harmful as we once thought, they should still be consumed in moderation. Consider healthier sources of saturated fats such as coconut oil, grass-fed beef, organic butter and dairy products.
Tomatoes are a rich source of phytonutrients, one of which is lycopene. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, lycopene lowers the risk of lipid peroxidation in the bloodstream. This is a process where fats, or lipids, are damaged by oxygen. Chronic levels of lipid peroxidation increase’s the risk of atherosclerosis, plaque formation and blockage of the arteries. Cooking tomatoes or serving them with a healthy fat such as olive oil, helps increase the absorption of lycopene.
Although your breath may not thank you for adding more garlic into your diet, your heart certainly will. Garlic is a sulfur containing food that helps to dilate our blood vessels and help keep blood pressure in check. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, garlic helps protect our blood vessels from oxidative stress and unwanted inflammation. Oxidative damage from free radicals increases inflammation, which leads to unwanted plaque formation in the arteries. Garlic also helps decrease platelet adhesiveness, thereby decreasing clot formation.
Beans contain high levels of soluble fibre, which helps bind to cholesterol and keep it from being absorbed in the gut. It also contains flavonoids, similar to those found in wine, chocolate and berries, that help decrease the stickiness of platelets. This in-turn helps reduce the risk of stoke and heart attacks.
- Red Wine, in moderation
Red wine contains a phytonutrient called resveratrol. It is this nutrient that, according to Natural News, has been shown to reduce bad or LDL cholesterol, prevent insulin resistance and reduce inflammation in the body. It may also help lower blood pressure. Resveratrol acts as a powerful antioxidant, preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. It is the oxidizing of this cholesterol that results in plaque formation and subsequent narrowing of the blood vessels. Resveratrol helps prevent this from happening, thereby improving heart health.
So what exactly is moderate consumption? About 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. 1 drink is equivalent to either 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
If you are not a red wine drinker do not fret, resveratrol is found in other foods such as red grapes, chocolate (yeah) and blueberries.
Although there are many things we can eat and do daily to optimize our heart health, I hope you find this list of heart healthy foods useful and easy to incorporate into your daily diet.
Linda @ The Wholesome Kitchen