The human heart is a tireless engine that works 24/7 without any day-offs or weekends, we owe it every breath we take. A healthy heart is necessary for a long and productive life without illnesses and worries, so it needs proper care. There are several simple things that you can do to keep your heart healthy – give up unhealthy habits, get adequate physical activity and enrich your diet with these 6 heart-healthy foods:
1. Berries for health of the heart
Numerous studies have showed that berries are beneficial for general health and especially for the health of the heart; they are packed with such nutrients as lutein and beta-carotene (carotenoids), vitamin C, ellagic acid (a polyphenol), calcium, folate, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. For example, a study of women who ate over three servings of strawberries and blueberries per week showed that they had 32% lower risk of myocardial infarction compared with women consuming less berries. Researchers attributed this to the compounds called flavonoids (which are antioxidants) and anthocyanins (they give berries their blue and red colors) that help in the dilating of blood vessels and lowering of blood pressure. Another study discovered that eating just a cup of mixed berries per day could increase the levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, which is undoubtedly beneficial for the heart.
What to do: Berries are a healthy snack by themselves, and you can also top your pancakes with them, add berries to your oatmeal or salad, blend them into a smoothie. Any berries will do the job – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, red raspberries, loganberries, etc. – just choose those you like the most.
2. Salmon and other fatty fish for health of the heart
Salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and trout are rich sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are believed to have cardioprotective properties and anti-clotting effect; they can increase the levels of good cholesterol and reduce the risk of having a sudden heart attack in patients with a heart attack history. Fatty fish is also a good source of selenium, an antioxidant with cardiovascular protection properties.
What to do: It is recommended to have at least two servings (about 3.5 ounces each) of any oily fish per week. Whenever possible aim for fresh and wild rather than canned (it’s high in salt) or farmed (it has inferior fat composition) fish. Gentle methods of cooking like baking or poaching will help you preserve the healthy oils so you can get the most out of your meal. Serve your fish on a bed of leafy greens with some carrots or lentils to get a power meal.
3. Oatmeal for health of the heart
A lot of studies have already proven that oats is a wonderful meal for cholesterol reduction. The thing is that beta-glucan contained in oats is a soluble form of fiber that dissolves in the digestive tract and forms a kind of a thick gel, which binds to excess cholesterol within the gut and thus prevents it from being absorbed. Instead, it excretes cholesterol as a part of the body’s waste. Whole-grain oats can also improve blood pressure control and reduce cardiovascular diseases risk.
What to do: Oatmeal is a great breakfast; top it with some fresh berries for more health benefits. Use whole-grain oat cereals that require boiling and not brewing since they have higher content of soluble beta-glucan and thus are more effective for the improvement of cholesterol metabolism. Avoid flavored oats because they are often full of processed sugar. You can make oat bread or fat-free oatmeal cookies as well.
4. Tomatoes for health of the heart
Tomatoes, thanks to their high concentration of potassium, are another heart-friendly product. Tomatoes, especially cooked and processed, are also a terrific source of the antioxidant lycopene. Studies revealed that lycopene can be helpful in reducing levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, keeping blood vessels open and reducing the risk of myocardial infarction. Regular consumption of lycopene-rich tomatoes can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and their low-calorie and low-sugar content makes tomatoes a great addition to an already-healthy diet.
What to do: Add raw tomatoes to your salads or sandwiches. Or try cooking your own tomato sauce with fresh or canned tomatoes; add some chopped-up vegetables and oregano for even better taste. It turns out that cooking makes tomatoes even healthier – although cooked tomatoes contain less Vitamin C, lycopene in processed tomatoes is more available.
5. Dark chocolate for health of the heart
It’s true! Chocolate can be really healthy, scientists believe it can even benefit your heart. A 2012 study found that daily consumption of dark chocolate could decrease non-fatal strokes and heart attacks in people at high risk of such issues. Another study showed that consuming enough cocoa rich products helped reduce blood pressure in both prehypertensive and hypertensive patients. Researchers attribute the beneficial effects of cocoa to flavanols and polyphenols that help protect the heart and even prevent blood clots.
What to do: Remember that only dark chocolate is healthy, so aim for chocolate that is made up of not less than 60-70% cocoa, the healthiest dark chocolate contains over 74% cocoa solids. Also always read the label to make sure the chocolate you are going to eat doesn’t contain saturated fats from palm oil or other additives.
6. Avocado for health of the heart
Avocado is truly a superfood, it contains almost everything your heart needs – dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble), potassium, magnesium, antioxidant vitamins C and E, B-vitamins, carotenoids, phytosterols, and phenolics. Besides, it is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids that can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and can be beneficial for the prevention of blood clot formation in ischemic patients. Avocado also assists the absorption of such carotenoids as lycopene and beta-carotene that are essential for the health of the heart.
What to do: Add avocado to your salsa or improve your salad dressing with some avocado oil. You can add avocado cubes to your salads or use mashed avocado as a spread instead of butter. However, remember that avocados are pretty high in calories, so stick to modest portion sizes – half to a whole avocado per day is just fine.