Our hearts need tending, particularly after what we have been through in the last year. Did you know heart disease kills 1 person every 36 seconds in the United States? According to CDC, 1 in every 4 deaths is due to cardiac disorders. About 805,000 Americans have a heart attack each year and 1 in 5 attacks are silent—the damage is done without the victim being aware of it. This tells us that our overburdened hearts require more care, nourishment, antioxidants, good exercise and love, and less stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, sugar levels, and cholesterol.
Heart conditions can be caused by the formation of plaque inside the coronary arteries in the heart. This plaque is made of fat, calcium, cholesterol, and other substances, and can block the flow of blood inside the arteries, and may even lead to blood clots on several occasions. Plaque buildup can be risky and lead to strokes.
While the statistics are grim, the good news is that simple lifestyle improvements help you avoid or even slow down the progression of heart diseases. Doing these simple things can go a long way in supporting a healthy heart:
- Losing weight/maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating healthy
- Staying active
- Managing blood pressure
- Reducing blood sugar
- Quitting smoking
- Controlling cholesterol
In addition to the above, you can also begin with consciously switching to a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that protect your heart. Add more beans to the mix, and cut down on consumption of dairy products and meats. Avoid too much salt and sugars in your diet. You can replace sugar with jaggery if you have too much of a sweet tooth. It is best to avoid trans and saturated fats that spike LDL or bad cholesterol.
With heart health, it pays to start young. Living a heart-friendly lifestyle can prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases among people, especially those who are genetically or constitutionally predisposed to heart diseases. A lifestyle like that will also keep risks to heart health at bay including high blood pressure, blood sugar, and obesity.
Here are seven foods that will nourish your heart and keep you healthy, active, and full of prana or life force.
- Leafy Greens. Leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collard greens come loaded with precious minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. They are rich in vitamin K that protects your arteries and prevents blood clotting. Nitrates present in them help keep blood pressure in control, prevent the arteries from hardening up and boost cellular function, especially ones lining the blood vessels. A meta-analysis of eight studies showed that increasing consumption of leafy greens was linked to a 16% lower occurrence of heart disease!
- Berries. Be it strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, or gooseberries—berries are nature’s most abundant blessing for your heart health. Inflammation is one of the most common risk factors for many heart diseases today. Berries are loaded in antioxidants like anthocyanins that help reduce inflammations by reducing oxidative stress and fighting off rogue free radicals. Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries happen to have one of the highest antioxidant activities of all food groups. They are also low on calories and high on fiber, both of which bode well for managing weight. They are also full of key nutrients such as vitamin k1, folate, copper, manganese, and vitamin c.
Specifically, strawberries and blackberries are known to lower cholesterol in those with obesity or metabolic syndrome. In a particular study, adults who had metabolic syndrome were made to drink beverages with freeze-dried strawberries daily. They showed an 11% drop in bad cholesterol. Consumption of berries also prevented oxidization of bad cholesterol, which is considered to be a high-risk factor for heart health.
- Avocados. This healthy, yummy, mashable joy is also a friend of your heart, with its healthy fat content called monounsaturated fats known to lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease. It is nutritious, has a nice thick texture, and a nice nutty flavor that makes it a hit with salads and sandwiches alike. In a particular study, 45 overweight candidates were put on cholesterol-lowering diets, of which one group consumed 1 avocado every day. The good news is, this avocado gorging group happened to show lower bad cholesterol levels and importantly, a reduction in dense LDL too. Yet another study with 17,567 people showed people who had avocadoes regularly reduced their chances by half to have any metabolic syndrome. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults, according to the results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Avocados are also loaded in potassium, a nutrient that’s essential to heart health. It is one of the richest sources of potassium after banana. Just one avocado supplies 975 milligrams of potassium or about 28% of the amount that you need in a day.
- Walnuts. Is your Buddha Bowl incomplete without a generous sprinkle of walnuts? You will be happy to learn, you are doing just the right thing to take care of your heart. Walnuts are a powerhouse of micronutrients like magnesium, copper, manganese, and fiber. According to a study reviewed by the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, “Walnuts have been shown to decrease low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (by ∼9-16%) and blood pressure (diastolic blood pressure by ∼2-3 mm Hg), 2 major risk factors for CVD. In addition, walnuts improve endothelial function, decrease both oxidative stress and some markers of inflammation, and increase cholesterol efflux.” The effect or benefit of eating walnuts on markers of heart diseases over a short period has encouraged nutritionists to recommend it in heart-friendly diets.
- Amla or Indian gooseberry. Indian gooseberry needs a special mention when we talk about foods that nourish our hearts. This yellow-white tarty fruit that makes your face pucker from the blast of flavor in your mouth, can be dried and consumed daily to improve your cardiovascular health. It is packed with vitamin C that strengthens the arteries in the heart. It is also highly nutritious with key nutrients being protein, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, copper, manganese, and potassium.
Indian gooseberry is a storehouse of antioxidants like flavonol that have been associated with improving heart health and reducing strokes. The antioxidants also help keep inflammations in check which can be key risks for heart diseases.
Another important way consumption of amla improves heart health is by controlling hyperglycemia or high blood sugar, which if unchecked can lead to endothelial dysfunction, where the endothelial cells, lining the large blood vessels get constricted instead of opening up, though there may be no visible signs of arterial blockages.
Studies showed that supplementing a diet with amla also lowered fat levels, lower triglycerides, and lower bad cholesterol, and higher HDL or good cholesterol. It helps reduce blood pressure too, a key risk factor in heart morbidity, by helping widen the blood vessels or improving vasodilation.
- Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng. Ashwagandha is an increasingly popular adaptogenic herb used as a supplement for its myriad health benefits, including heart health. It is known to improve ejection fraction rate that is the rate at which the left ventricle in the heart pumps out blood. It also helps to reduce stress and calm the mind, which again goes a long way in easing the heart rate by nourishing the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest in your body. It is also known to lower both LDL and serum triglycerides.
- Olive Oil. Olive oil is a dietary staple for some of the world’s healthiest populations. It contains monounsaturated fats, fatty acids, and antioxidants that have powerful health benefits. In fact, recent studies concluded that higher olive oil intake was associated with a lower risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Disease in both men and women. Be sure you’re buying the right type of olive oil—extra virgin olive oil is the least processed or refined making it the best choice. It can be substituted for butter, margarine, and vegetable oils in dressings and marinades.
Throw all of this together in a salad this weekend and you’ll be feeding those you love good health AND deliciousness!