Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
Having heart disease means you have damaged and blocked blood vessels that cannot supply adequate blood and oxygen to the heart and brain, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Causes of blood vessel damage include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Toxins, like preservatives, plastics and sugar substitutes.
Cholesterol Can Collect and Block Your Blood Flow
Collections of cholesterol cause blockages in vessels, and when these vessels lead to the heart and brain, a heart attack or stroke could occur.
LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, is the type of cholesterol that sticks together in the vessels, causing blockages.
HDL cholesterol, or good cholesterol, sweeps the vessels and cleans up bad (LDL) cholesterol, shuttling it to the liver for disposal.
Inflammation is the Real Problem
Inflammation is emerging as the real cause of many chronic illnesses and diseases, including heart disease.
Whole body inflammation can cause blood vessel damage. Inflamed cholesterol plaques, or blockages, worsen the blood vessel’s ability to deliver blood and oxygen to important organs, like the heart and brain.
Food as Medicine
These foods have been shown to help lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
There has been a lot of research into which specific foods can lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. These foods help by:
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Increasing HDL (good) cholesterol
- Lowering inflammation
15 Heart Healthy Foods
These foods have been found to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Berries are full of antioxidants. Enjoying berries daily can reduce several risk factors for heart disease. An analysis of 22 studies showed a reduction in LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and overall inflammation.
Beans are full of fiber and resistant starch, which are favorite foods of the gut bacteria. In addition to lowering risk factors for heart disease, a diet high in beans improves digestion. A review of 26 studies found that a diet high in beans results in lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and overall inflammation
Walnuts are a great source of fiber, resulting in improved digestion and a feeling of fullness. Walnuts are also high in micronutrients like magnesium, which is known to reduce inflammation. One study revealed that eating walnuts reduced LDL cholesterol by 16% and blood pressure by 2-3%.
Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocados are also high in potassium, an essential nutrient for a healthy heart. One study revealed that eating avocados regularly results in an average of a 6% decrease in blood pressure and 15% lower risk of stroke.
Almonds are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, two important nutrients that can help protect against heart disease. Studies show that eating almonds daily reduces belly fat and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Whole Grains
Compared to refined grains, whole grains are high in fiber. Good sources of whole grains include whole wheat, oats, quinoa, and brown rice. An analysis of 45 studies concluded that eating 3 or more servings of whole grains daily showed a 22% reduction in heart disease and a 25% reduction in risk of stroke.
Edamame are immature soybeans, rich in flavonoids, fiber and antioxidants, which are all known to improve heart health and decrease inflammation. An overview of multiple studies showed a reduction in total cholesterol and specifically a reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol of 3%.
- Fish oil – Omega 3
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. An alternative source of omega 3 fatty acids is in a supplement form. One study showed that an absence of omega 3 fatty acids from the diet was associated with a 19% higher incidence of developing a risk factor for heart disease, like diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure.
- Leafy Greens
Leafy green vegetables, like kale and spinach, are well known for their wealth of vitamins and nutrients, especially Vitamin K, which protects blood vessels from damage and promotes healthy blood clotting. An analysis of 8 studies showed that eating leafy greens was associated with a 16% lower risk of developing heart disease by reducing blood pressure and improving blood vessel function.
- Olive Oil
Olive oil is packed with antioxidants, which can relieve inflammation and decrease the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease. Olive oil is also a good source of heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Studies show that those who consumed the most olive oil had a 35% reduction in developing heart disease and a 48% lower risk of dying from a heart attack.
Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are all great sources of heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating seeds is thought to reduce inflammation, cholesterol and blood pressure. One study showed that eating bread made from flaxseeds reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by 9%. Another study showed that eating flaxseeds daily reduced blood pressure by 8%.
Garlic contains allicin, which is believed to have a multitude of therapeutic effects. Be sure to consume garlic raw, or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking to allow for the formation of allicin, which will maximize the potential health benefits. Using garlic extract for 6 months showed to be as effective in lowering blood pressure as a common prescription medication. A review of 39 studies found that garlic can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce the risk of blood clot and stroke.
Tomatoes are full of antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and the risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies show that eating tomatoes daily reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke and increases the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Green tea or Matcha
Green tea has been associated with a number of health benefits, including increased fat burning and improved insulin sensitivity. Green tea is also full of antioxidants, resulting in decreased inflammation. A review of 20 studies showed that increased green tea intake correlated with a significant reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol. Other studies resulted in a correlation between green tea intake and a reduction in blood pressure.
- Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease. Be sure to choose chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% and moderate intake with a goal of balance and heart health in mind. One large study showed that those who ate chocolate at least five times per week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-chocolate eaters. Another study found that eating chocolate at least twice per week was associated with a 32% lower risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries.
Even though these foods have been studied and have shown to have many health benefits, that doesn’t mean they are right for you.
It is important to self-assess and make sure the foods you choose are right for you because they help you feel your best.
Amaze can help you with your nutrition and wellness goals. For more information on our Health & Wellness services, please connect through your Amaze account, or call (720) 577-5251.