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Sept 27, 2012 by NATASHA LONGO
Fear Heart Attacks? Does Heart Disease Run In Your Family? 15 Foods That Protect Your Heart

Heart disease is one of the most feared ailments stemming from genetic predisposition and sedentary lifestyles. However, there really is nothing to fear. You have complete control and can maintain a healthy heart simply by eating the the right foods.

Low HDL and high levels of triglycerides are two of the most significant determinants of heart health. Both can cause an increase in body weight. Even a slight reduction in weight (5-10 per cent) can reduce a person's risk of heart disease, but healthier food choices is one of the easiest ways to reduce the risks.

It's quite often difficult to change your lifestyle drastically in this competitive world. But you can surely change a little bit of eating and ensure you are protecting your heart.

Here's a list of 15 foods that can help protect your heart:

1. Black beans: Black beans are packed with folate, antioxidants, magnesium which are good for lowering blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. This in turn keeps your heart in safe zone. But if you are planning to use tinned beans, please drain the liquid and wash them before use to reduce the sodium content.

Aim for: At least 1 cup cooked at least one to two time per week.

2. Fatty fish: Especially Wild Alaskan Salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids that help increase good cholesterol. The blood pressure reducing benefits of salmon were especially noticeable in people with initially low levels of docosahexanoic acid (DHA) in their cell membranes, according to findings publishedin Nutrition.

Aim for: At least 4-6 two to three times a week. Avoid farmed sources of Salmon whenever possible.

3. Walnuts: A handful of walnuts a day helps lower your cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the arteries. Replace them as mid-meal snacks instead of chips etc. 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: 30 g (1 ounce) of nuts at least five times a week.

4. Oranges: They contain cholesterol-fighting pectin. The fruit is also rich in potassium that helps control blood pressure. Antioxidant hesperidin also helps lower blood pressure. One orange a day could also reduce the risk of a stroke by 19 percent.

Aim for: At least one orange daily preferably on an empty stomach.

5. Carrots: Though sweet, they are good to control diabetes, which increases heart attack risk. Carotenoids are naturally-occurring pigments which are antioxidants and improve the body's ability to combat oxidative stress and strengthen its immune system.

Aim for: At least one glass of carrot juice per day

6. Sweet potatoes: They are rich in vitamin A, fiber and lycopene making them a healthy substitute for the white potatoes. They are also a good source of magnesium which is the relaxation and anti-stress mineral. Magnesium is necessary for healthy artery, blood, bone, heart, muscle, and nerve function, yet experts estimate that approximately 80 percent of the popula­tion in North America may be deficient in this important mineral.

Aim for: One to two servings per week. Don't eat calcium-rich foods and sweet potatoes at the same time as they (sweet potatoes) can decrease the amount of calcium that's absorbed.

6. Tea: 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.

7. Oats: A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as oats, helps prevent heart disease. People eating the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12% less coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11% less cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to those eating the least, 5 grams daily. Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.

Aim for: Consuming just 2-3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (an amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) is enough to impact your health. Stick to non-processed varieties like steel cut oats.

8. Cranberry Juice: 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.

9. Apples: Apples contain bushels of antioxidants that, like statin drugs, stimulate the liver to detox. In addition, the antioxidants in apples and apple juice delay the breakdown of cholesterol by about 20 percent.

Aim for: Two apples or 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) of 100 percent apple juice a day.

10. Red Grapefruit: In an Israeli study of 57 men and women who 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.

Aim for: 1 cup (250 mL) of fresh grapefruit or 1/2 cup (125 mL) of 100 percent grapefruit juice a day.

11. Garlic: 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.

12. Tomato Sauce: Tomatoes contain lycopene, one of the more potent antioxidants in the carotenoid family that appears to protect against heart disease. 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.

13. Dark Chocolate: It's full of the same antioxidants found in red wine and green tea. In fact, dark chocolate 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,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 70 percent cocoa.

14. Flaxseeds: Fiber, phytochemicals called lignans, and ALA - these three ingredients in these small seeds make them a powerhouse of health. Flax seeds are high in natural oils that convert into hormone-like substances in the body to reduce inflammatory substances.

Aim for: Adding ground flax seeds to smoothies, atop pancakes or French toast, and many other foods. Do not heat.

15. Chilli powder: The spice actually protects heart and body from diabetes with its ability to spike up the natural insulin levels in the body. Past research suggested that spicing food with chilies can lower blood pressure in people with that condition, and ease the tendency for dangerous blood clots to form.

Aim for: Incorporating chilli powder into salads and prepared dishes for extra flavour.

Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.

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