Valentine’s Day makes us think of love, cupids, and hearts. While thinking about hearts, think about giving yourself the gift of heart health starting this Valentine’s Day. Your cardiovascular system or circulatory system is made up of the heart, blood, and blood vessels like arteries, veins and capillaries. This system is the one that takes nutrients and oxygen to all the various parts of the body and delivers waste to organs that can eliminate it from the body. Since the American Heart Association lists cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death for Americans, it is especially apropos to use this Valentine’s Day as a motivation to commit to a more heart healthy lifestyle. A few dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way to helping you avoid conditions such as heart attack, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and stroke as according to cardiologist and the author of The South Beach Wake-Up Call, Arthur Agatston, MD, people in other parts of the world who don’t eat the amounts of processed foods like we do in this country have much lower statistics of heart disease. One study published in Circulation showed that eating a diet comprised of foods such as vegetables, fruits and fish reduced the risk of death due to heart attack or stroke by 35%. Some experts such as Harvard School of Public Health chair of nutrition, Walter Willett, MD, advise that eating a heart healthy diet can do more for you than heart disease medications and can reduce risk of heart disease by as much as 70%.
Heart Health: Antioxidants
Obviously, the first thing to do when changing to a heart healthy diet is to cut down or eliminate processed foods and junk food. Then start adding in lots of foods with antioxidants as they help protect cells from damage due to free radicals and aid in repairing damage done by free radicals. Green vegetables loaded with carotenoids are especially important to add for a heart healthy diet as are tomatoes with the antioxidant lycopene and grapes, blueberries and peanuts that give you resveratrol found to reduce chronic inflammation that can cause blood clots leading to heart attack and disease. Antioxidant foods in the flavonoid category help stabilize blood pressure and help with the reduction of inflammation. Foods such as berries, oranges, grapefruit, dark chocolate, and pomegranates fall into this category. Citrus fruits like oranges have the added bonus of citrus pectin found to block a certain protein that can cause heart tissue scarring and result in congestive heart failure. Green tea with catechins has been shown to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease too. You will want to check with your healthcare provider before making major dietary changes especially if you are on blood thinners or statins as some of these foods are not safe to eat when taking certain medications.
Heart Health: Coenzyme Q10
CoQ10 or Coenzyme Q10 is important for energy production by cells and necessary for all the body’s organs to perform properly. It also has been found to reduce the risk of blood clots and death from heart attack. Our bodies produce some of this coenzyme in the form ubiquinol, but not enough to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fish, some types of meat, and whole grains can also give you small amounts, but if you are at high risk for heart disease you may need to turn to supplements to get extra CoQ10. This supplement not only gives you 100 mg of pure ubiquinol, but also the extra wholefood nutrition of AFA bluegreen algae with its omega-3’s and flaxseed oil, reishi mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and polyphenols from olives.
Heart Health: Fats
The heart as well as the brain needs certain healthy fats to perform well. Omega-3 fatty acid is one of the fats these organs need for optimal health and has been reported to lower blood triglycerides, reduce plaque in arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce abnormal heartbeat. Wild caught fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, halibut, trout, and sardines are all good food sources for omega-3. You can also get omega-3 from nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios and peanuts and they give you fiber and vitamin E that support heart health. Other omega-3 sources include fish oil supplements, edamame, wild rice, spinach, kale, seeds like flax and chia, healthy oils like olive and flax, and AFA bluegreen algae. Another healthy fat to add to your heart health diet are monounsaturated fats such as are found in avocados, nuts, peanut butter, olives, and oils like olive oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
Heart Health: Fiber
Experts such as Lauren Graf, co-director of the New York City Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center, advocate adding fiber to a heart healthy diet as it absorbs cholesterol from food in the digestive system keeping it out of the bloodstream and thus lowering our cholesterol levels. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, chia seeds, potatoes, and whole grains are all great foods to add to your heart healthy diet for fiber. There are also natural supplements such as psyllium that have been found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, increase HDL cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure.
Heart Health: Lean Protein
We need protein in our diets, but food sources with lean protein are much more heart friendly than protein foods with unhealthy fats. If you enjoy meat, look for very lean cuts, poultry, and fish. Plant based foods such as legumes including beans, lentils, and peas are also a more heart healthy choice for protein as shown by one study indicating a 22% reduction for heart disease by participants eating legumes at least four times a week. Other research spanning a 25 year period reported an 82% decrease in heart disease related deaths in people making legumes a part of their diet.
Heart Health: Vitamins and Minerals
When considering a heart healthy diet, make sure to get lots of foods with B vitamins. Folic acid, B9, helps keep red blood cells healthy and reduces the risk of heart disease including death from stroke. This works by lowering the amino acid homocysteine of which high levels can contribute to heart disease, blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Niacin, B3, has been found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels better than even some statin drugs. Vitamin D is also important for heart health as shown by studies reporting a deficit of this vitamin correlating to double the risk of heart attack, stroke and other heart disease related conditions. Vitamin D is mostly available to us from exposure to sunlight, but you can also get it by eating egg yolk, some types of fatty fish, and fortified cereals and dairy. Adding foods such as almonds, seaweed, whole grains, dark chocolate and spinach will help you get magnesium and potassium both in your diet for heart health and even more potassium is available in foods such as potatoes, avocados, oranges, tomatoes, bananas, beans and legumes.
This should be enough to give you a good start on changes you can start making to your diet to improve your heart health. Make the commitment this Valentine’s Day to start a heart healthy diet and lifestyle so you can have many, many more Valentine’s to look forward to in your future. Taking care of your own heart will pay off in longevity and quality of life as you age. And what’s more important than that!
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