Our state of health is very much dependent on what we eat (and how we burn that energy). Hence, I predicted my blood chemistry results tipping towards the border of unhealthy after weeks of feasting during the holidays. I wasn’t wrong.
A quick visit to webmd.com will confirm that the US government guidelines for treating blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity, the top three risk factors for heart disease, all emphasize dietary modifications, as well as regular exercise. The trusted online medical source has also come up with a list of the top five vitamins and minerals needed for optimal heart health.
Topping the list is magnesium, a deficiency of which is linked to high blood pressure. Next is the B vitamin folic acid, plus the other B vitamins like B-6 and B-12, which are linked to lowering levels of homocysteine, a marker for heart disease. Niacin, another B vitamin, helps increase the level of good cholesterol. Potassium, on the other hand, helps regulate blood pressure levels. Calcium is also needed by the heart as it is by the bones. It helps regulate blood pressure and aids weight management.
Since we are celebrating the month of hearts, let us eat right in order to maintain a healthy one that will prevent premature heart ailments. What we eat can affect many aspects of heart health such as blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
Let me share a list of 14 foods I consciously include in my diet:
Dark leafy greens are well known for their abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aside from spinach, kale, and collard greens, you may use available local produce such as kangkong (water spinach), talbos ng kamote (sweet potato leaves), dahon ng sili (chili leaves) and malunggay (moringa leaves).
Leafy greens are high in Vitamin K and nitrates that can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function. They are also high in fiber, magnesium and potassium. Five to nine servings (half cup cooked) daily is recommended.
Tomatoes, rich in lycopene, have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s also linked to an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. Low blood levels of lycopene are found to be connected to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
A study also reports that eating two raw tomatoes four times per week increased levels of good cholesterol in overweight women.
Fatty fish and fish oil, high in Omega-3 fatty acids, may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol. Fatty fish include salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna.
A study showed that eating fish over the long term was linked to lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and systolic blood pressure.
Green tea is high in polyphenols and catechins which act as antioxidants to prevent cell damage, reduce inflammation and protect the health of your heart. Other health benefits include fat burning and improved insulin sensitivity.
Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, whole wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat and quinoa are found to be protective. Consuming three servings (16 each or 48 grams total) of whole grains daily was associated with a 22 percent lower risk of heart diseases.
Studies show that eating whole grains is associated with lower cholesterol and systolic blood pressure.
Berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, are rich in antioxidants that protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease.
Avocados are excellent sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. Avocados are also rich in potassium. One avocado already provides one-third of the required potassium daily.
Dark chocolate, high in antioxidants like flavonoids, has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease. Consume in moderation (less than six servings a week which is a total of 180 to 300 grams) for a decrease of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes risk. Choose one with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent.
Beans contain resistant starch that has been shown to reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure, and decrease inflammation. Aside from beans, consuming lentils, peas and other legumes reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure.
Garlic has a compound called allicin that helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Garlic extract can also prevent platelet buildup. Consume garlic raw, or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking to allow the formation of allicin.
Seeds like chia, flaxseeds and hemp are all great sources of fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies found that eating seeds may positively affect several heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Edamame and other soy products contain soy isoflavones, which have been shown to help decrease cholesterol levels. They also contain fiber, antioxidants and calcium.
Olive oil, high in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, help in lowering blood pressure and heart disease risk. The heart-healthy benefits of olive oil abound. Olive oil is rich in oleic acid and antioxidants found helpful at preventing and treating hypertension.
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pili are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper and manganese. Pili nuts are rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, omega fatty acids, phosphorus and protein.