It is no big surprise that what we eat influences our health and well-being. Contrary to popular belief, dietary fat actually plays many vital roles in our body and is necessary for survival. What we must pay attention to is the type of fat we eat and the overall quality of our diet. Our diets can promote inflammation, consequently damaging our heart health, or it can be anti-inflammatory and health promoting. Although our rhythmic beating heart may be the powerhouse behind circulation, it does not work alone. The heart works together with a vast network of blood vessels pumping blood throughout our body, picking up and delivering materials such as nutrients, oxygen and hormones to and from millions of cells throughout our body. Diets high in saturated and/or trans fats, excessive in overall calories and alcohol, and deficient in fruits and vegetables have a direct link to heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the U.S.
Give your heart some love by adding these five foods to your diet:
Research has shown that people who consume nuts regularly are 30 percent to 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease and die from a heart attack. Nuts provide a concentrated source of energy and they contain poly and monounsaturated fatty acids. These types of fats protect both our heart and blood vessels by lowering LDL or bad cholesterol levels. Walnuts, in particular, have one of the highest amounts of alpha-linolenic acid which is an omega-3 fatty acid known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Nuts also contain 4 to 8 grams of protein per 1/4 cup. Nuts also contain arginine, which is an amino acid that works to promote good blood flow through the vessels. Other heart-healthy nutrients that are packed inside nuts include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and multiple B vitamins.
Oats are most popular for their high levels of soluble fiber. Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fiber found in oats that has been linked to lowering LDL or and providing immune support. Trade in your flavored instant oatmeal packs for steel-cut or old-fashioned rolled oats and create your own variations with fruits, nuts, seeds and/or dark chocolate chips. Oats contain protein, fat and fibers that, like nuts, fill you up and keep you satisfied. According to the Whole Grain Council, oats contain more than 20 unique polyphenols which are important for their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
This fish is a heart-healthy contender due to its high protein, omega-3 fatty acid and vitamin D content. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish with high levels of omega-3 unsaturated fats twice weekly to see benefits. The benefits of omega-3s go beyond lowering bad cholesterol levels, but they are also associated with reducing blood pressure and blood clot formation, improving blood flow through our vessels and reducing our risk for a stroke. In a large study, “The Health Professional Follow-Up Study,” researchers noted that the men who were deficient in vitamin D were twice as likely to die of a heart attack than those with normal levels.
Beans are high in plant-based proteins, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, B-vitamins and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Beans, like oats, are inexpensive, versatile and satisfying. Their high-fiber content fills you up and helps sustain energy and blood sugar levels. The high levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium play a role in blood pressure regulation and muscle contraction.
Once touted as the “Food of the Gods” in ancient civilizations, chocolate is loaded with flavonoids, a type of phytonutrient that has heart-healthy benefits from its antioxidant properties to its ability in improving blood flow and preventing blood clots. Chocolate also provides a source of concentrated energy in the form of saturated and unsaturated fats. One of the main saturated fats found in chocolate, stearic acid, has not been shown to increase LDL levels like other saturated fats found in some animal derived foods. Look for dark chocolate and other chocolates not processed with alkali.