Good Nutrition for a Healthy Heart

No matter your age, it’s important to implement healthy habits to keep our ticker in good working order, both now and down the line. According to the CDC, 600,000 people in the U.S. die from heart disease every year, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country. Almost half of all Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. There are certain things you can do to control such factors, such as not smoking, keeping alcohol use to a reasonable amount and getting in regular physical activity. Good nutrition can also be extremely helpful to keeping your heart health in check. In general, a heart-healthy diet is high in fiber and low in sodium, but there are certain foods that can specifically benefit your heart too. It’s important to note that maintaining a healthy weight is very important to heart health, so while these foods should be incorporated in a heart-healthy diet, they should all be used in moderation.


Top 10 Foods For Your Heart

  1. Fatty Fish. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout and albacore tuna, at least two times a week. These types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit the heart by decreasing the risk of abnormal heartbeats, slowing the growth of plaque and slightly lowering blood pressure. Plus, fatty fish is a great source of protein without the saturated fat. Just be sure to keep your portion sizes under control -- a serving is 3 ounces (or the size of a deck of cards).
  2. Green Vegetables. Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale are high in carotenoids, which act as antioxidants and free your body of potentially harmful compounds. They're also high in fiber and contain tons of vitamins and minerals. Kale also has some omega-3 fatty acids. Asparagus is another good choice because it contains vitamin K, which can help with blood clotting, and potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.
  3. Dark Chocolate. This sweet superfood contains flavanoids and antioxidants. Flavonoids are known to improve blood flow, make blood platelets less sticky and lower blood pressure. The antioxidants in cocoa and chocolate help the body’s cells resist damage and the buildup of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol on artery walls. Just remember to keep your portions in check here -- a square or two (about one ounce) a few times a week is enough to reap the benefits.
  4. Nuts. Many kinds of nuts - walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts - can lend a hand to heart-health. These little guys contain unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and fiber, all of which contribute to lowering bad cholesterol and your risk of developing blood clots. Try to keep your portions finite here and look for pre-packaged 100 calorie packs. Or double up on your heart-health goodness and go for an almond and dark chocolate combo, such as barkTHINS snacking chocolate.
  5. Olive Oil. You might be surprised than an oil can be good for your diet, but the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil actually lower your risk for heart disease by lowering cholesterol and helping control blood clotting. For people with diabetes, olive oil can be great because it helps maintain normal insulin levels and control blood sugar. Use it in place of other fats like butter, but don’t go overboard.
  6. Avocado. Another great source of healthy fats. Avocados also contain monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, so they can help cholesterol levels. They’re also a naturally sodium-free food, so you get tons of flavor without all the fat and salt. Try mashing up an avocado with garlic and pepper and spread on whole-grain toast for a great anytime meal. Just remember about three slices of avocado is a serving.
  7. Garlic. Fresh garlic especially helps increase overall blood flow in the body. It can also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Use in place of salt to season your dishes, but try to stick to the fresh, not processed stuff, to get the most benefits.
  8. Whole Grains. Grains that remain intact can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Ones high in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, decrease LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. The fiber helps soak up cholesterol in the digestive tract, instead of letting it be absorbed by the bloodstream. Others high in insoluble fiber, such as whole-wheat bread, can also help lower blood pressure.
  9. Citrus Fruits. Oranges, grapefruit and the like are high in C, potassium and pectin. Pectin helps block cholesterol absorption, potassium can help keep blood pressure in check and vitamin C improves overall immunity, including cardiovascular health.
  10. Red Wine. In moderation, of course. Red wine contains a high level of polyphenols, namely resveratrol, which can improve cardiovascular health and help increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.  One glass a couple of times a week is good, but more than two drinks a night can reverse all the good effects in your body.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN

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