American Heart Month was designated in December 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to bring awareness to cardiovascular diseases in the United States (US). It was first celebrated in February 1964, and the tradition has continued every year since. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death, accounting for one in every four deaths in the US each year, with many being preventable. By eating well, sleeping well, staying hydrated, getting plenty of exercise, and getting an annual physical, you can help mitigate risk.
Today we’d like to talk a bit about a few heart-healthy foods to add to your diet and what makes them “heart-healthy.”
Wild-Caught Salmon contains the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, as well as protein, vitamin B12, and other vitamins and minerals. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered “essential” fats that must come from the diet as the body cannot create them. EPA and DHA can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, improve arterial cell function, reduce cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, all contributing to heart and blood vessel health. We recommend eating one serving of wild line-caught salmon per week, and to be sure the eyes are clear when selecting your fish.
You can test your omega-3 levels with our Omega-3 Test, which is a self-test using a single drop of blood. The goal value is an omega-3 value greater than 8%.
Beans and Lentils contain high amounts of resistant starch. Resistant starch is any carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine and goes on to ferment in the large intestine as it moves through. The fermentation products (fiber) act as prebiotics, feeding the good bacteria in the gut. The fiber also helps decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol. Eating legumes has also been associated with a reduction in blood pressure and inflammation.
Almonds contain a host of beneficial nutrients as well as “good fats,” which have been found to lower cholesterol levels. Almonds also contain fiber, vitamin E, minerals, and a variety of phytonutrients. Studies have found that eating tree nuts 2-3 times a week can decrease inflammation and improve blood vessel health, resulting in a 13-19% decreased risk for cardiovascular disease and 15-23% lower risk of coronary heart disease.
Garlic contains nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese, and also contains sulfur-based compounds including allicin. Allicin is produced when garlic is chopped, minced, or diced and may help to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. A recent review study mentioned garlic’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering activity and suggested areas for further study.
Leafy Green vegetables such as spinach and kale contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Vitamin K in green leafy vegetables helps make proteins needed for blood clotting, but also helps reduce arterial stiffness and reduce coronary artery disease. Leafy greens also contain dietary nitrates which help to relax blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, and promote overall circulation.
Berries contain B vitamins, vitamin C, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants such as anthocyanins, resveratrol, and ellagic acid. These antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and help protect cells from free radical damage. Berries also have strong anti-inflammatory properties, which helps decrease the risk of heart (and other) disease and help improve vascular endothelial function. Studies have also shown that berries help to lower LDL cholesterol as well as prevent it from becoming oxidized (a major risk factor for heart disease).
Avocados contain healthy fats and fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins B6, C, E and folate, as well as other vitamins and minerals. These nutrients all play a role in keeping the cardiovascular system healthy. The antioxidant components help reduce inflammation, the healthy fats help increase the “good” HDL cholesterol and decrease levels of plaque-building “bad” LDL cholesterol, and the magnesium and potassium are beneficial for regulating blood pressure.
Magnesium is also considered an alkalinizing mineral, helping the body to neutralize its metabolic acid production. Check your urine pH to see if you may need to increase your magnesium intake.
Be sure to make these heart-healthy foods a part of your diet and consider making them staples.