American Heart Month: Add these expert-recommended heart-healthy foods to your grocery list
February is American Heart Month. Sure, it’s a good idea to eat a nutrient-rich diet year-round, but this month, here are some foods that are especially beneficial for your cardiovascular health.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the cost of cardiovascular treatment through health services and other drugs is approximately hundreds of billions annually.
Hundreds of thousands of people die from heart disease each year, with one person dying every 34 seconds, according to the CDC. Some of the major lifestyle factors for the disease include obesity, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet.
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Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and other foods, such as poultry, are the backbone of a healthy diet to avoid cardiovascular disease. In early February, across the United States, people wear red on National Wear Red Day to highlight the importance of fighting heart disease.
- Dark green leaf
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Flax seed
It’s time to fill up on spinach, kale, kale, and other dark leafy greens.
This recommendation comes from Isa Kujawski, MPH, RDN, founder of Mea Nutrition LLC, who after serving more than 10 years of active service in the Navy and losing her veteran brother to suicide, has dedicated her career to helping people use food as medicine.
“Dark leafy greens are a powerhouse of beneficial nutrients, including fiber, micronutrients and bioactive plant compounds known as phytochemicals,” said Kujawski, citing a 2018 scientific review paper published in Nutrients.
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“These nutrients purportedly protect against cardiovascular disease through various mechanisms, including altering gene expression, regulating blood pressure and lowering inflammation in the body,” she added.
“A myriad of studies have demonstrated the association between dark leafy green vegetable intake and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”
2. Olive oil
Erin Kenney, MS, RD, LDN, HCP, CPT, registered dietitian and CEO of Nutrition Rewired, is all about incorporating olive oil into your diet to keep your ticker happy.
“Consumption of olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, is associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality in individuals at high cardiovascular risk,” he said.
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“Olive oil is rich in healthy antioxidants, polyphenols and vitamins, and is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats,” she continued, adding that to get the maximum benefits from olive oil, avoid heating oil and use it instead in a salad or add it to a homemade hummus.
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In case you need another excuse to eat more guacamole, here it is. Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat, according to Amy Adams, RDN, LDN.
“Monounsaturated fats increase our rate of clearance of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, which means our bodies get rid of it faster. Higher levels of LDL can be harmful because LDL carries cholesterol to the heart,” he explained.
“A study conducted by the Journal of the American Heart Association found that overweight/obese individuals who consumed more avocados had the ability to significantly lower their LDL cholesterol compared to overweight/obese individuals who ate a low- or moderate-fat diet . ”
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Echoing Adams, Kenney said adding an avocado to your daily diet can help lower bad cholesterol, in turn reducing your risk of heart disease, according to Penn State health researchers.
“Avocado contains healthy monounsaturated fats as well as potassium and magnesium, both of which help maintain healthy blood pressure,” she said.
“Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are high in fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients, all of which work to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body,” said Kujawski, pointing to a 2010 study in Nutrition Reviews. “These processes improve blood pressure, vascular function and fight the formation of free radicals. As a result, clinical studies have shown that berries help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
“Blueberries have been singled out as an amazing food when it comes to improving heart health.”
Kristi Ruth, RD, LDN, Carrotsandcookies.com, emphasized the importance of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables overall to improve heart health.
“This will increase your intake of fiber and a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more,” she said.
“However, blueberries have been singled out as an exceptional food when it comes to improving heart health,” she continued, noting that they are rich in antioxidants, including anthocyanin, which is a flavonoid, a group of phytonutrients or substances plant chemicals that are amazing for heart health.
“Beans are a heart-healthy food that consists of fiber and a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They improve heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, and promoting digestive health,” he said. said Kujawski, highlighting research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients.
“Beans are high in soluble fiber, which serves as food for beneficial gut bacteria to promote healthy gut flora, which is an important factor in overall heart health.”
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Adams is also all in for Team Bean. “Beans contain plant sterols/stanols. Plant sterols/stanols function as active compounds in our body that are very similar in structure to cholesterol,” she explained.
“As a result, plant sterols/stanols compete with cholesterol for absorption in the small intestine. Overall, this causes less cholesterol to accumulate in our bloodstream. One study showed that eating 2-4 grams of sterols/ plant stanols per day can reduce cholesterol 10%.”
“Salmon contains omega-3 fats that have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of sudden death caused by cardiac arrhythmias and all-cause mortality in patients with known coronary artery disease,” Kenney said.
“These essential fats help by reducing inflammation in the body. If you don’t like salmon, you may get the same benefits from a supplement based on a meta-analysis that found that omega-3 fish oil supplements reduce the risk of heart attack and death from coronary heart disease.”
Kenney advised aiming for two to three servings of salmon or other high-fat fish, such as herring, anchovies or mackerel, per week.
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7. Whole grains
Think barley, oatmeal, brown rice, millet, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta and more.
“While refined carbohydrates have a bad reputation for their negative impact on health and increased risk of heart disease, whole grains have the opposite impact,” said Kristin Gillespie, MS, RD, LD, consultant for Exercisewithstyle .com.
“These grains, which are incredibly nutritious as they contain all parts of the grain, protect the heart. Many studies have shown a relationship between whole grain consumption and heart health.”
“Grape skins contain resveratrol, a powerful polyphenol. Polyphenols are compounds found in plants that have been shown to benefit the human body. More specifically, resveratrol is a member of the stilbenoid family. Stilbenoids are a naturally occurring compound produced by some plants in response to injury. The purpose of stilbenoids is to protect the plant,” said Adams.
“Likewise, resveratrol has been shown to protect the cardiovascular system,” Adams added. “Several studies have established that heart disease may be linked to oxidative stress, inflammation, and endothelial damage. Resveratrol has been shown to reduce oxidative stress, stimulate endothelial nitric oxide production, and inhibit vascular inflammation.”
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These crunchy and slightly sweet nuts are a boon for heart health.
“Among all nuts, walnuts are special because they have the highest percentage of omega 6, omega 3, and polyunsaturated fats which are cardioprotective,” Adams said.
“A study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine looked at whether nut consumption affected lipid levels and blood pressure. During the study, 18 healthy men on two different diets, with one group having 20 percent of their calories from from walnuts. Each diet was followed for a total of four weeks. In conclusion, participants who consumed more walnuts reduced total cholesterol levels by 12.4%, reduced LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) by 16. .3%”.
Walnuts are also a research-backed food to support cognition and brain health.
10. Flax seeds
Flaxsed is “one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fat (ALA), which is excellent for heart health,” Ruth said, citing research in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
He also commented that flaxseeds are high in fiber and lignans (a phytochemical), and that both of these things are thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Thanks to the fiber content, flax seeds also aid digestion.