The heart beats around 2.5 million times in an average lifetime. With each beat, it is pushing blood throughout our body and carrying with it oxygen, hormones, and other essential cells. It’s quite an amazing organ when you stop and think about it! It does quite a phenomenal job at keeping us going despite its constant workload.
There are times when the heart can fail though due to lifestyle factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, lack of physical activity, and poor genes. One of the main health issues involved with the heart is atherosclerosis. This is the accumulation of plaque buildup in the arteries that can limit blood flow that nourishes the heart and can often lead to a heart attack, chest pain, or a stroke.
As previously mentioned, an unhealthy diet can cause this plaque to build up in our arteries. But what in particular is the culprit? Many researchers agree that trans fats play a big role in the formation of atherosclerosis by lowering the HDL (good) cholesterol and raising the LDL (lousy) cholesterol in our bodies.
Trans fats are found naturally in some foods, but the kind to really be concerned about is a manmade form found in partially hydrogenated oils. These oils are often found in fried and fast food, microwave popcorn, some commercial peanut butter, margarine, cakes, cookies, and other processed snacks. It’s best to stay away from anything that lists partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list.
Now that we know the culprit, let’s look at what types of foods we should be eating to promote a healthy heart. Following the guidelines of Clean Eating is a great place to start! Clean Eating involves replacing processed foods by eating a variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods like fresh fruits, veggies and grass-fed meats. This includes basing your diet on lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, small amounts of organic dairy products, and organic wild-caught fish and grass-fed, organic meat. Some studies show that eating more whole plant foods has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease due to their high content of fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and phytochemicals. Sticking to a clean and health-promoting diet can help keep your weight, inflammation, blood and cholesterol levels in check.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these clean, heart-healthy food choices.
Foods to choose: As we mentioned above, whole foods are best which means avoiding processed foods with added sugar, chemicals, preservatives, and refined oils for the sake of heart health.
Here are some food and lifestyle tips for Heart Health:
Asparagus is a fantastic artery cleansing food. Researchers have found that asparagus contains a natural ACE (Angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitor. ACE inhibitors are a type of drug used to treat high blood pressure, but asparagus is a great option when you would rather go the natural route.
2. Dark Leafy Greens:
Dark leafy greens such as collards, swiss chard, bok choy, kale, and spinach are so important for the health of our cardiovascular system. These plants are full of vitamin K and calcium. The vitamin K helps control the calcium by getting it to your bones and out of your arteries. Not to mention, these foods are high in fiber which helps control blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
3. Salmon (or other fatty fish):
Fish is full of healthy fats in the form of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish in particular such as salmon, trout, and tuna is an excellent source of these acids. This beneficial fat can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by lowering inflammation and triglyceride levels. Be sure to choose wild-caught over farm-raised whenever possible to get the most benefit. Put this Honey-Lime Salmon on the menu for dinner this week!
Snacking on nuts such as almonds and walnuts instead of a cookie or chips is a great choice due to their high content of monounsaturated fats, magnesium, and fiber. Some studies have suggested that replacing some saturated fat and (all trans fats) with monounsaturated fats can lower coronary heart disease incidents. To avoid rancid poor quality oils, choose raw nuts or dry roasted vs. oil roasted whenever possible.
During the summertime, be sure to get your fill of watermelon! This fruit is high in the amino acid L-citrulline which increases the nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide, in turn, helps the blood vessels to widen and relax which can help lower blood pressure. What a refreshing way to care for your heart. Try making these Watermelon Feta + Cucumber Cups this summer!
Beyond Clean Eating, getting enough daily movement and exercise can help promote healthy blood flow and keep your heart healthy and strong. Aerobic exercises such as jogging, brisk walking, swimming, and playing tennis are great options. A couple of days a week of resistance training using free weights or your own bodyweight can also help further your heart health by warding off excess weight and building lean muscle.
Don’t forget the power of sleep! Not getting enough of it can raise our blood pressure, increase stress levels, and increase inflammation in the body. These things have negative health impacts on our heart. It’s not always easy, but the positive effects of making sleep a priority are worth it.
Disclaimer: Please do not follow these recommendations as health or medical advice and always consult your physician for guidance as needed.
A Heart-Healthy Diet: Recent Insights and Practical Recommendations.
Green asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) prevented hypertension by an inhibitory effect on angiotensin-converting enzyme activity in the kidney of spontaneously hypertensive rats.
A systematic review of the effect of dietary saturated and polyunsaturated fat on heart disease.