Recent changes to diets in developed countries have seen many of us swap ancient, tried-and-tested beneficial eating habits (vegetables, fruits, meat and fish) for a diet comprised of refined carbohydrates, trans fats, processed meats and other foods. Because of this dietary change, it’s hardly surprising that cardiovascular disease – multiple conditions affecting your heart and circulatory system – are on the rise. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death around the world (1).
Diet is a key factor in maintaining a healthy heart. Here we take a brief look at some of the best foods to eat to keep your ticker healthy.
10 Heart Healthy Superfoods
Fatty fish such as salmon, particularly wild salmon, are a rich source of omega-3 oil. Omega-3 is an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid, which has extremely potent anti-inflammatory benefits for your body.
Two servings of unprocessed fresh or frozen fish a week, one of which should be oily, can significantly reduce your risk of a heart attack (2). Note, you should bake or grill the fish, rather than fry it, in order to avoid adding unhealthy oils to otherwise healthy ones. Here is a great recipe for salmon skewers to help boost the level of omega-3 in your diet. If you don’t eat that much fish, you can always supplement with a fish oil like PurePharma O3 too.
Researchers from Bart’s and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry have found that a daily glass of beetroot juice can significantly reduce blood pressure (3). Why? Well, beetroot contains inorganic nitrate, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels. Not only does this make beetroot juice great for those suffering from cardiovascular disease by reducing a major risk factor – high blood pressure – but it is also fantastic for athletes of all levels as it improves blood and oxygen flow to the muscles, including the heart muscle. Try this juice recipe from the PurePharma Performance Lab.
Sources of soluble fiber such as oats have consistently shown in research (4) to lower circulating cholesterol in the blood. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol, are associated with poor cardiac health. Too much circulating LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque build-up on the inner walls of blood vessels, leading over time to arthrosclerosis.
Oats and oat bran contain a soluble fiber known as beta glucan, which researchers believe to be the factor responsible for its cholesterol-reducing properties. In fact, the European Food Safety Authority has approved the claim that regular consumption of beta glucan contributes to maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations. In the US, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) allows manufacturers to use a “heart healthy” label on foods that contain a high level of beta glucan.
Dark chocolate and cacao contains flavonoids, a large subgroup of polyphenols, which have potent anti-oxidant properties. Importantly, cocoa increases L-arginine levels in blood vessels. This induces a relaxation of vascular smooth muscle cells (5), pretty much in the same way as drinking beetroot juice does. Recent research has also demonstrated that dark chocolate can feed bacteria in your gut that, in turn, can create a variety of antioxidants that have an anti-inflammatory effect in your body. So, try eating a small amount of low-sugar, high-cocoa (70%+) chocolate each day or add unsweetened, lightly-processed cocoa powder to your favorite oat or oatmeal cereal (6).
Carrots are one of the best sources of beta-carotene, a red-orange pigment found in a number of colorful vegetables and some fruits. Beta-carotene, like all carotenoids, is an antioxidant and it reduces levels of free radicals, which would otherwise damage the cells in your body. The result is a reduction in your risk of cardiovascular disease (7). To get more beta-carotene into your diet try out these three easy carrot recipes.
In recent years there has been some controversy on the effects of coffee on health. However, a large-scale meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2014 of nearly 1 million individuals showed a reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease in those who regularly drank coffee. In fact, consuming 3 cups of coffee a day showed a reduction in death from cardiovascular disease of 21% (8). It’s important to note though that it’s likely that the benefits come from antioxidant molecules in black coffee, not from a whipped cream-topped, sugar-laden cup of joe. Be careful on the extras!
In general, consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, berries such as blueberries, acai berries and black currants are a wonderful source of a number of different nutrients, including anthocyanins (found in high concentrations in the skins of berries), vitamins, minerals and fiber, all of which are beneficial in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (9).
Countries in the Mediterranean have some of the lowest rates of mortality from cardiovascular diseases and cancer in the world and this has been attributed to the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is rich in bioactive phytochemicals, for example lycopene. Lycopene is another natural carotenoid, found in tomatoes and tomato products such as ketchup, puree and juice, which has potent antioxidant scavenging qualities (10). Lycopene also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
It’s common for individuals to avoid nuts due to their high fat content and calorie density. The good news is that recent research shows that much of the calorie content of unprocessed nuts are not fully absorbed or digested by your body. In fact, walnuts are incredibly beneficial for your heart. They contain a unique combination of omega-3, plant sterols and vitamin E, which all act to reduce inflammation.
Professor Joe Vinson, a researcher at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, found that walnuts trump all other nuts for the top spot in terms of their anti-inflammatory benefits (11).
Green tea contains catechins, which have a huge number of cardioprotective benefits, from reducing oxidative free radicals to improving the health of the endothelium, the innermost layer of blood vessels. In the Ohsaki study, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the green tea consumption of over 40,000 Japanese adults and found that those who drank more than five cups per day were 26% less likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke (12). It’s time to put the kettle on!
- Kromhout, Daan, et al. “The inverse relation between fish consumption and 20-year mortality from coronary heart disease.” New England journal of medicine 312.19 (1985): 1205-1209.
- Kapil, Vikas, et al. “Dietary Nitrate Provides Sustained Blood Pressure Lowering in Hypertensive Patients A Randomized, Phase 2, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Hypertension 65.2 (2015): 320-327.
- Braaten, J. T., et al. “Oat beta-glucan reduces blood cholesterol concentration in hypercholesterolemic subjects.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 48.7 (1994): 465-474.
- Corti, Roberto, et al. “Cocoa and cardiovascular health.” Circulation 119.10 (2009): 1433-1441.
- Moore, Maria et al “Impact of the microbiome on cocoa polyphenolic compounds.” ABSTRACTS OF PAPERS OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY. Vol. 247. 1155 16TH ST, NW, WASHINGTON, DC 20036 USA: AMER CHEMICAL SOC, 2014.
- Tavani, A., and C. La Vecchia. “β-Carotene and risk of coronary heart disease. A review of observational and intervention studies.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 53.9 (1999): 409-416.
- Crippa, Alessio, et al. “Coffee Consumption and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis.” American journal of epidemiology (2014): kwu194.
- Basu, Arpita, Michael Rhone, and Timothy J. Lyons. “Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health.” Nutrition reviews 68.3 (2010): 168-177.
- Mordente, A. L. V. A. R. O., et al. “Lycopene and cardiovascular diseases: an update.” Current medicinal chemistry 18.8 (2011): 1146-1163.
- Joe Vinson, PhD, researcher, University of Scranton, Scranton, Pa.
- 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Anaheim, Calif., March 27-31, 2011.
- Kuriyama, Shinichi, et al. “Green tea consumption and mortality due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in Japan: the Ohsaki study.” Jama 296.10 (2006): 1255-1265.
This post was earlier posted on www.purepharma.com by Ryan Carey.