How often do you stop to think about your heart? That amazing muscle pumps away 24/7, supplying your vital organs with oxygenated blood. With cardiac disease the number one killer of men and women in the UK and Ireland today, it’s obvious not enough of us take care of our hearts. By including heart healthy foods in your diet, you can fight heart disease and maintain a healthy heart.
Why eat a heart healthy diet?
Bad food choices put our hearts at risk, causing our cholesterol levels to soar, fat to build up in our arteries and obesity to put strain on our hearts. The good news is you can fight the onset of heart disease through the foods you eat. Heart healthy foods perform the following functions:
- Provide antioxidants
- Lower cholesterol
- Provide fibre
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are nutrients that fight the effects of free radicals, molecules that cause damage to the body on a cellular level. Antioxidants also keep cholesterol and blood platelets from sticking together, preventing dangerous blood clots from forming.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol occurs naturally in the body and is also in many foods we eat, especially those containing fats. By eating too much high-fat food, your cholesterol levels can rise, putting you at risk of various cardiovascular diseases. This is why keeping your cholesterol levels low is so important.
Note: Not all fats are bad, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are natural and promote good heart health. You will find these in vegetables, fruit, nuts, and olive oil. Oils derived from fish such as salmon also provide heart- healthy fats (Omega 3 and 6). Keep saturated fats from dairy, meat and processed foods high in saturated fat to a minimum.
Why do I need fibre?
Eating fibre-rich foods help to lower blood pressure and keep you feeling full. They also bind with fats and sugars to move them safely out of the body. Fruit, veg and grains are high in fibre so this is why it’s important that you include plenty of them in a heart healthy diet.
15 top heart healthy foods
By cutting down on high-fat, high sugar items and including the 15 heart healthy foods on our list, you can improve your health which can help to prolong your life.
Salmon: Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, salmon contains selenium, an antioxidant which helps to protect the heart. Other heart-healthy fish include tuna, mackerel and sardines.
Try to include oily fish twice a week.
Walnuts: Another food rich in Omega 3, walnuts also contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E and folate, all of which contribute to heart health.
For those who find walnuts too bitter, almonds are another heart-healthy substitute.
Oatmeal: Full of potassium, fibre and antioxidants, oatmeal is known for its cholesterol-reducing properties and is the ideal breakfast option for a healthy heart.
Go for the plain version and avoid the sugared/favoured varieties.
Blueberries: Long hailed as a ‘superfood’, these little berries are packed full of antioxidants making them a mighty, heart-healthy choice.
Add a handful to a smoothie or yoghurt for nutritional ‘oomph’.
Red wine: Dark-skinned fruits such as grapes, plums and blueberries (see above) contain high levels of Resveratrol, an antioxidant thought to help lower cholesterol, so a glass of red wine is an excellent inclusion in a heart healthy diet.
For maximum nutrient absorption, enjoy a glass of red wine with food. Remember, just one!
Green tea: Containing the antioxidants catechin and flavonid, green tea is thought to help lower blood pressure, reduce blood clots and is the ideal brew for a healthy heart.
Try serving cold with ice and a twist of lemon for a delicious summer drink.
Soy milk: The heart-healthy alternative to dairy, soy milk contains isoflavones which have been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels.
Soy milk is lower in fat than cow’s milk, making it ideal for weight loss and can help in the fight against obesity.
Dark chocolate: Yes, you heard right. Chocolate is good for you! That said, it’s the dark, high cocoa content variety we recommend. Rich in antioxidants called flavanols, dark chocolate helps to increase the blood flow and lower blood pressure.
Choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% and avoid high-fat milk chocolate.
Apples: There’s a reason for the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Apples, particularly the skin, are rich in polyphenols which protect from free radicals. They also contain pectin and fibre, which can lower absorption of cholesterol and move it quickly out of the body.
Eating an apple a day can lower bad LDL cholesterol levels by up to 40%!
Avocado: While some people might have misgivings about avocados because of their high calorie counts, avocados are packed with nutrients and are high in monounsaturated fats (one of the ‘good guys’) so enjoy in moderation for a healthier heart.
Add to salads for a more substantial meal or mash up overripe ones for guacamole.
Olive oil: The purer the better. Choose extra-virgin olive oil to ensure it’s packed full of antioxidants to help keep your arteries from clogging. This is another of the ‘good fats’ but watch the calories!
Fresh olives make an ideal heart-healthy snack.
Tomatoes: There’s reasons the people in the Mediterranean live longer and one of those is the humble tomato. Rich in lycopene, a cholesterol-busting anti-oxidant, tomatoes are also high in potassium , which helps to regulate the heart and vitamins C and A.
Tomatoes release lycopene during cooking so rather than buying pasta sauce, make your own.
By eating a heart healthy diet, exercising regularly and cutting out cigarettes and alcohol, you can reduce your cholesterol levels, lose weight and strengthen your heart while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Start today and enjoy a long, healthy life.
A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools. Spanish proverb