Foods That Will Help Your Heart
Making changes to your diet is one of the best ways to prevent heart
disease. So why not start making healthier choices right now? Here's
what to put on your menu.
If diet is one of the biggest contributors to heart disease, changing
your diet is one of the best ways to prevent it.
Even if you already have heart disease, the right diet can help
you reverse itsomething no cholesterol-lowering pill will
doby improving your cholesterol readings and taming high
blood pressure, steadying blood sugar, dousing inflammation and
even taking off extra weight.
Consider these nature's heart medicines. According to a recent
study, consuming small quantities of fishjust half a serving
a weeklowers the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease
by 17 percent and the risk of a nonfatal heart attack by 27 percent.
Each additional weekly serving reduces the risk of dying from
cardiovascular disease by another 4 percent.
The fats in fish help stabilize heart rhythms to prevent arrhythmias
(irregular heartbeats that can lead to heart failure, blood clots,
and stroke); lower cholesterol and triglycerides; and reduce inflammation
in the arteries, which was recently discovered to play a major
role in heart disease. Fish eaters have levels of C-reactive protein
(CRP), a marker of inflammation, that are up to 33 percent lower
than those of people who don't eat fish. Because high levels of
CRP have been found in heart attack patients whose cholesterol
levels were normal, some heart specialists believe it may be even
better than cholesterol for predicting who will develop heart
Aim for: At least two servings
of fatty fish (250 to 375 g/8 to 12 ounces total) a week. Since
mercury contamination is a concern, opt for fish lower in mercury,
such as salmon, and steer clear of highly contaminated fish, including
shark, swordfish, fresh and frozen tuna, and escolar.
A Rainbow of Fruits and Vegetables
Research from a major survey that analyzed the connection between
disease risk and fruit and vegetable consumption in more than
9,000 healthy adults showed that eating a fruit or vegetable at
every meal cut the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by
Fruits and vegetables are among the best sources of fiber, which
lowers cholesterol and helps reduce the low-grade inflammation
in our bodies that contributes to heart disease. Opt for brightly
colored fruits and vegetables; they contain the most antioxidants,
which counteract the damage free radicals do to arteries and help
prevent the breakdown of LDL (bad) cholesterol that
leads to plaque buildup. You can't rely on supplements for your
antioxidants, since they don't seem to have the same effects as
Aim for: At the very least,
get 3 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day (a serving
is one medium piece of fruit; 1/2 cup/125 mL of fruit or vegetable
juice; 1/2 cup/125 mL of chopped fruit or cooked vegetables, beans,
or legumes; or 1 cup/250 mL of leafy vegetables). But having 7
to 10 daily servings is certainly better.
Oatmeal, Oat Bran, Legumes, Beans, and Peas
The secret ingredient in these foods is soluble fiber, the kind
that reduces cholesterol by soaking it up so it's flushed it out
of the body as waste. Studies show that diets low in fat and rich
in soluble fiber can reduce total cholesterol levels by 10 to
15 percent, which in many cases may be enough to get you into
the target range.
Aim for: 25 to 35 g of fiber
each day. Of that, 10 grams should be soluble fiber.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Olives and olive oil are mainstays of the famously heart-healthy
Mediterranean diet. They contain monounsaturated fat, which is
healthier for the heart than saturated fat. But oliveswhich
are fruits, after alland their oil also contain antioxidants
called polyphenols, which, research suggests, help reduce inflammation
in the blood vessels and help improve cholesterol and triglyceride
It's important to opt for extra-virgin olive oil; because it's
minimally processed, it retains many of the polyphenols that are
stripped from more heavily processed olive oils.
Aim for: Limit yourself to
no more than 2 to 3 teaspoons (10 to 15 mL) of oil or 24 to 30
medium olives daily. And remember, olives and olive oil are meant
to replace other fats in your diet, not be added to them.
Walnuts, Almonds, and Peanuts
Eating nuts in place of other fatty foods can potentially lower
your risk of heart disease by up to 39 percent, according to research
done at Pennsylvania State University. Although nuts contain a
lot of fat, it's the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties,
which lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Nuts
also seem to lower CRP and fibrinogen, both of which are markers
for inflammation. Plus, they're good sources of fiber and protein
as well as vitamin E, the B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium,
all of which are essential for good heart health.
Aim for: Just 30 g (1 ounce)
of nuts at least five times a week.
Tofu, Edamame, and Soy Milk
Like other beans, soy is an excellent source of protein with
none of the saturated fat of meat. It also contains hormone-like
compounds called isoflavones that seem to help fight certain cancers.
Tasteless chunks of tofu are not your only optionalthough
tofu really is good in stir-fries because it takes on the flavor
of the sauce. You can add it to beef stir-fries to cut down on
the amount of meat you use or add it to lasagna in place of some
of the cheese (you won't notice it's there). But one of the simplest
and tastiest ways to enjoy soy is by stocking the freezer with
soybeans (also called edamame), either in or out of their shells.
They make a fun, satisfying snack when you squeeze them out of
their pods (thaw them first), or you can sprinkle shelled soybeans
on salads or into soups.
Aim for: There's no official
recommendation, but you can do your heart good by occasionally
eating soy foods instead of meats and dairy products. When you
eat tofu, choose the low-fat variety.
Wine, Beer, and Spirits
Red wine gets all the attention in terms of heart health, but
the fact is, other types of alcohol also protect against heart
disease when consumed in moderation. In general, alcohol increases
HDL (good) cholesterol, lowers LDL (bad)
cholesterol, and in some cases, reduces fibrinogen and CRP, the
inflammation markers. A recent study done at the University of
Florida found that older adults who have one alcoholic beverage
a day were 30 percent less likely to develop heart disease. Another
study of cardiac patients hospitalized after heart attacks found
that study participants who averaged two drinks a day were 32
percent less likely to experience fatal heart attacks.
Aim for: One to two drinks
a day (the higher number is for men) is the amount considered
generally safe and beneficial to the heart.
You may think of fruits and vegetables when you think of antioxidants,
but tea is an even better source of these disease fighters. Green
tea is associated with reduced cholesterol levels and lower rates
of artery blockages. But both black and green teas contain significant
amounts of flavonoids, antioxidants that appear to protect against
heart disease by slowing the breakdown of LDL cholesterol, preventing
blood clots, and improving blood vessel function.
People who drink a cup or two of tea a day have a 46 percent
lower risk of developing narrowed arteries. Upping that to three
cups a day lowers the risk of having a heart attack by 43 percent
and of dying from a heart attack by 70 percent.
Aim for: Two to five cups
of green or black tea daily.
Research suggests that cranberry juice, one of the richest sources
of antioxidants, can raise levels of HDL cholesterol. In a three-month
study of 19 volunteers with high cholesterol, three servings of
cranberry juice a day boosted their HDL cholesterol levels by
10 percent, which in turn lowered their risk of heart disease
by 40 percent.
Aim for: Three 125- to 175-mL
(4- to 6-ounce) servings a day.
Apples contain bushels of antioxidants that, like statin drugs,
stimulate the liver to remove harmful LDL cholesterol from the
blood. In addition, the antioxidants in apples and apple juice
delay the breakdown of LDL cholesterol by about 20 percent. The
longer it takes for LDL to break down, the less plaque there is
in the arteries.
Aim for: Two apples or 1
1/2 cups (375 mL) of 100 percent apple juice a day.
In an Israeli study of 57 men and women who had had bypass surgery
and whose cholesterol levels weren't responding to statin medications,
those who ate a red grapefruit a day for 30 days along with their
regular meals lowered their total cholesterol by more than 15
percent, their LDL cholesterol by more than 20 percent, and their
triglycerides by more than 17 percent. Because grapefruit can
interact with certain medications, check with your doctor first
if you're taking one or more prescription drugs.
Aim for: 1 cup (250 mL) of
fresh grapefruit or 1/2 cup (125 mL) of 100 percent grapefruit
juice a day.
Fresh cloves contain an antioxidant compound that gives garlic
its characteristic aroma, which may explain why garlic may be
helpful for reducing blood clots and artery plaque and modestly
lowering cholesterol. When eaten daily along with other heart-healthy
foods, garlic can help lower heart disease risk by 76 percent.
Garlic's blood-thinning properties are helpful, but if you're
already taking a blood-thinning drug such as warfarin (Coumadin),
or you have a blood or platelet disorder or are going into the
hospital for surgery or to have a baby, talk to your doctor before
consuming large amounts of garlic.
Aim for: Some experts suggest
eating as many as two to four cloves a day.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, one of the more potent antioxidants
in the carotenoid family that appears to protect against heart
disease by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. When researchers
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at fat
samples from nearly 1,400 men who'd had heart attacks and compared
them with samples from healthy men, they found that the men who
had more lycopene in their fat had about half the risk of heart
attack compared to those with less lycopene.
Aim for: 1/2 cup (125 mL)
twice a week.
Dark chocolate is full of the same antioxidants found in red
wine and green tea. In fact, it contains more flavonols (a subclass
of flavonoids, in case you're paying attention to the technical
stuff) than tea or red wine and has about four times the catechins
in tea. These compounds prevent blood clots, slow the oxidation
of LDL cholesterol (making it less likely to stick to artery walls),
improve blood vessel function, and reduce inflammation. Another
plus for chocolate: It gives good cholesterol a slight boost.
Of course, chocolate's high in fat, but a third of that fat is
stearic acid, a particular type of saturated fat that doesn't
raise cholesterol, while another third is a type of monounsaturated
fat that lowers cholesterol.
Aim for: Some research suggests
that 45 g (1.5 ounces) a day may reduce the risk of heart disease
by 10 percent. Look for dark chocolate that contains at least
60 percent cocoa.
Reference Sources 39
February 12, 2010