Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States and globally killed 18.6 million in 2019. There are many co-factors that come into play in the development of cardiovascular-related diseases, from one’s lifestyle and diet to their genetic susceptibility. 

Some factors may be out of our control, but recent discoveries have revealed impressive science about the impact of specific foods in our diets. We still need to also avoid refined carbohydrates (think bread, cereals, pasta, cookies, bagels, muffins) as much as possible, but also artificial sweeteners, industrial seeds oils, like soybean and canola, as well as highly processed foods (chips, soda). It’s time to make some space for foods that support good cardiovascular health too. 

Top 5 Foods for Good Heart Health:

1. Garlic. Garlic has been associated with a reduction in blood pressure, lipid levels and blood glucose levels. Add fresh minced garlic to your morning omelet, stir-fry dishes, soups and stews.

2. Wild Seafood. Choose wild salmon, sardines, mackerel and halibut, which has been shown to increase EPA and DHA – the polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids found in seafood that help reduce inflammation and lower triglyceride levels. Try poaching, pan-searing or even baking wild salmon or halibut two times per week. I also love putting Wild Planet sardines on a big salad. 

3. High-quality olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is a foundation of Mediterranean diets. Clinical research has shown that it contains cardio-protective compounds such as polyphenols and carotenoids that help reduce inflammation. The abundance of monounsaturated fatty acids combined with tocopherols and polyphenols seem to be the perfect combination for keeping blood vessels and arteries happy and healthy. Monounsaturated fatty acids help to reduce triglyceride levels while anti-inflammatory antioxidants can reduce the burden on arteries by providing them with the nutrients they need to function optimally. Make sure you source high-quality first-pressed, cold-pressed olive oil from Italy, Spain or Greece and it is in a glass bottle to prevent oxidation. And, yes, you can cook with olive oil. A high-quality oil will have higher polyphenol counts that can withstand higher heat temps. 

4. Wild, organic berries. In-season berries are loaded with polyphenols, nutrients and fiber that help reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications. Berries can also reduce LDL oxidation and increase antioxidant capacity, both factors involved in reducing the risk of CVD. Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, which have been associated with an antioxidant role. Top your oats, fill your smoothies and even put some berries on a salad. Eating them in-season is best because they will be (1) cheaper and (2) have more nutrients, but frozen berries are OK too.

5. Spinach. It comes as no surprise that nutrient-dense spinach has made it onto the foods for a healthy heart list. The nitrates found in spinach, when converted to nitric oxide in the body, have been shown to improve endothelial function and lower blood pressure, both key factors in maintaining cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that the consumption of nitrate-rich vegetables such as spinach reduces blood pressure while increasing plasma nitrate concentrations. Put some fresh spinach in your morning omelet or smoothie, use as a base for a salad at lunch or enjoy cooked as a side dish for dinner. 

Every meal we eat gives us an opportunity to nourish our bodies. Learn how to cook heart-healthy meals in my upcoming Root Cause Series: Heart Healthy Foods cooking class on Saturday, Feb. 27, at 11:00 am. More information can be found at www.UnlockBetterHealth.com.

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