Is your diet heart healthy? Studies have shown that diet can be a powerful preventor of heart disease and making certain dietary changes may even help reverse heart disease in some individuals. Adding in the foods below can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and provide the nutrients necessary to keep your body healthy.
If you have any existing health conditions, are taking prescription medications including statins and blood thinners or if you are at a high risk for heart disease, consult your doctor before making changes to your diet and do so with your doctor’s supervision.
Phytonutrients, including polyphenic compounds, flavonoids and isoflavones, and carotenoids are powerful antioxidants found in plants foods, many of which are responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their distinct colors.
Antioxidants help the body to combat naturally occurring free radicals–small molecules which can cause damage to cells and genetic material and may play a key role in aging and degenerative diseases. While more studies are required, there is strong evidence that polyphenic compounds, including flavonoids may help protect your heart. Diets rich in flavonoid containing foods have been shown to help lower blood pressure and reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Carotenoids also act as a powerful antioxidant that may be useful in the prevention of heart disease.
Flavonoids are found in fruits and vegetables, cocoa, tea, coffee and red wine, with cocoa indicated as an especially promising source (stick to 70% or greater cocoa dark chocolate for the best health benefits). Berries are high in anthocyanin flavonoids, which may help reduce blood pressure. Carotenoids are found in red, orange and green vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale and spinach, which are also high in heart-healthy fiber.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
While all fats have a similar chemical structure, it’s important to recognize the type of dietary fat you consume and prioritize unsaturated fat over trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) and saturated fats. Dietary fat is an essential nutrient that serves as a source of energy and is necessary for the absorption of many vitamins and minerals. Fats also play a role in building cell membranes and other bodily processes like blood clotting.
By opting for foods rich in unsaturated fat over trans and saturated fats, you get the benefits of unsaturated fats while avoiding the consequences of less healthy fats. Studies have shown that foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids can help decrease an individual’s risk of heart disease and improve blood cholesterol levels.
These fatty acids may also help control blood sugar.
Monounsaturated fats are found in liquid plant-based oils (such as olive, canola, or peanut oils), avocados and nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, are also beneficial in the prevention of heart disease. Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure, raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower triglycerides. They may also help prevent heart arrhythmia and plaque build up in the heart. Look for omega-3s in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), in certain nuts, seeds and oils (walnuts, olives/olive oil and flaxseeds/flaxseed oil) and in other plant foods like beans and tofu.
Don’t forget the fiber! High-fiber diets have been commonly linked to heart health and a lower incidence of heart disease. Scientists believe the main mechanisms of fiber contributing to heart health include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Fiber can also help increase feelings of fullness and can help individuals eat less, potentially leading to weight loss.
Fiber falls into two categories (soluble and insoluble) and both have been shown to help increase heart health. Sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains and vegetables, while soluble fiber can be found in other grains (barley and oatmeal), beans, nuts and fruits.
While there’s a lot more that goes into heart health, a good diet can help prevent and even reverse heart disease. Adding in foods with fiber, healthy fats and phytonutrients is a great way to start building a heart-healthy diet.
Sara Vallejo is a self-confessed happiness, health and self-development junkie from Chicago. She writes professionally in a business development and marketing capacity, and as a volunteer for a digital nonprofit. Miss Vallejo is a passionate mental and holistic health advocate who believes that good health is an ongoing journey best undertaken with supportive peers. Sara’s areas of expertise include nutrition, weight loss, women’s health, mental health and disability issues. She is returning to weight loss and fitness following orthopedic surgery and is excited to encourage and inspire fellow Azumio community members and readers to achieve the best health they can.
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