The 10 Best Foods for Heart Health

These 10 foods are great for your heart

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. If it’s weak, you’re weak. There are a few things you can do to provide your heart with what it needs to be at its best. The first is to get plenty of exercise. Your heart is a muscle, it needs to be worked. Second, avoid toxins that damage your cardiovascular system — don’t smoke, avoid high fat foods, and limit (eliminate?) your refined sugar intake. Here are ten foods you can add to your diet to increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants necessary to maintain a healthy heart. And they’re delicious too.

1. Salmon

Not everyone consumes meat, but if you do, salmon is one you should consider. Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids top the list of reasons salmon is so good for your heart. Salmon offers the highest value of vitamin D of any fish. Vitamin D aids calcium digestion, supports immune function, has been linked to weight loss and management, and is needed for proper brain function, especially as we age. Low levels of vitamin D in adults have been associated with heart problems and premature death. [1]

The omega-3 fatty acids as found in salmon have proven to improve lipid profiles, nitric oxide (NO) synthesis (NO is needed for various bodily processes), and antioxidant levels. Plus, salmon is an excellent source of protein. [2] Add some lemon for flavor and vitamin C.

2. Broccoli

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables have been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. [3] A recent study showed broccoli and similar veggies lowered the risk of cardiac associated death more than other fruits and vegetables. [4] Researchers have taken specific interest recently in the potential of a compound found in broccoli, indole-3-carbinol (I3C), for heart health. A study based on mouse models found I3C provided cardiac protection as it counteracted aspects of heart failure. [5]

3. Asparagus

A ½ cup serving of asparagus is loaded with folate, vitamins A, C, and K and provides a full range of minerals like magnesium and potassium needed for proper muscle function. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids and is good source of protein. Researchers have also found the phenolic acids in asparagus significantly increase the effectiveness of detoxifying enzymes that facilitate the removal of drugs and other toxic compounds. [6] This protects the health and structure of the cardiovascular system.

4. Chickpeas

A single cup of chickpeas offers a complete source of vitamins (spec. the B complex vitamins), minerals (zinc, iron, magnesium, selenium and potassium), amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids. A study evaluating the impact of chickpeas on lipid levels showed lower levels of cholesterol after they became a standard feature of the diet. [7]

5. Spinach

Spinach, often referred to as a superfood, provides potent phytochemicals, vitamins A, C and K, and calcium and magnesium. One serving of spinach will give you 20% of the daily recommended value of magnesium. This is important as the body needs magnesium for proper muscle function, to control blood sugar, to regulate blood pressure and create glutathione, the body’s super-antioxidant. [8]

6. Almonds

Perhaps the most complete nut, almonds provide B-complex vitamins, vitamin E and high daily values of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium – all needed for proper muscle function, immune health and hormone balance. Almonds have also proven more effective at balancing cholesterol than eliminating dietary saturated fats, while providing necessary fatty acids for better overall cardiovascular health. [9]

7. Olives

The heart healthy Mediterranean diet features both olives and olive oil. They possess antioxidant properties and supply omega-3 fatty acids and phenolic compounds. Olives (combined with the next food on the list) help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. [10]

8. Red Wine

Now, I’m not suggesting you begin to live off red wine, and in fact, many offerings are not worth consuming. But, there are a number of organic wineries that produce a great product for moments to appreciate. Red wine contains resveratrol, which has protective effects against most cardiovascular problems. Studies have isolated these beneficial effects to the polyphenols and their antioxidant properties. Again, the benefits only result when consumed in moderation. For a kid-friendly, or non-alcoholic source of resveratrol, give mulberries a try.

9. Avocado

Packed with nutrients and phytochemicals, avocados contain fatty acids that facilitate the digestion of the fat soluble vitamins within, or those consumed along with, the avocado. Preliminary studies have shown positive cardiovascular support from a diet that includes avocados. [11]

10. Walnuts

The polyunsaturated fats as found in walnuts have been linked to a healthy heart. Recently their antioxidant levels have caught the attention of researchers. A 2012 study found walnuts possess a high oxygen radical absorbance capacity, indicating a powerful antioxidant capacity. [12]

Do you have a favorite that I missed? Please leave a comment below and share it with us!

- Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

References:

  1. Thomas GN, ó Hartaigh B, Bosch JA, Pilz S, Loerbroks A, Kleber ME, Fischer JE, Grammer TB, Böhm BO, März W. Vitamin D levels predict all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in subjects with the metabolic syndrome: the Ludwigshafen Risk and Cardiovascular Health (LURIC) Study. Diabetes Care. 2012 May;35(5):1158-64. doi: 10.2337/dc11-1714. Epub 2012 Mar 7.
  2. Peter S, Chopra S, Jacob JJ. A fish a day, keeps the cardiologist away! – A review of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the cardiovascular system. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2013 May;17(3):422-9. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.111630.
  3. Edmands WM, Beckonert OP, Stella C, Campbell A, Lake BG, Lindon JC, Holmes E, Gooderham NJ. Identification of human urinary biomarkers of cruciferous vegetable consumption by metabonomic profiling. J Proteome Res. 2011 Oct 7;10(10):4513-21. doi: 10.1021/pr200326k. Epub 2011 Aug 31.
  4. Zhang X, Shu XO, Xiang YB, Yang G, Li H, Gao J, Cai H, Gao YT, Zheng W. Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jul;94(1):240-6. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.009340. Epub 2011 May 18.
  5. Deng W, Zong J, Bian Z, Zhou H, Yuan Y, Zhang R, Guo H, Zhang Y, Shen D, Li H, Tang Q. Indole-3-carbinol protects against pressure overload induced cardiac remodeling via activating AMPK-?. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Apr 27. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201300012.
  6. Yeh CT, Yen GC. Effect of vegetables on human phenolsulfotransferases in relation to their antioxidant activity and total phenolics. Free Radic Res. 2005 Aug;39(8):893-904.
  7. Pittaway JK, Robertson IK, Ball MJ. Chickpeas may influence fatty acid and fiber intake in an ad libitum diet, leading to small improvements in serum lipid profile and glycemic control. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jun;108(6):1009-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.03.009.
  8. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Magnesium. (last accessed 2013-08-23)
  9. Ortiz RM, Garcia S, Kim AD. Is Almond Consumption More Effective Than Reduced Dietary Saturated Fat at Decreasing Plasma Total Cholesterol and LDL-c evels? A Theoretical Approach. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:265712. doi: 10.1155/2012/265712. Epub 2012 Nov 29.
  10. Pauwels EK. The protective effect of the Mediterranean diet: focus on cancer and cardiovascular risk. Med Princ Pract. 2011;20(2):103-11. doi: 10.1159/000321197. Epub 2011 Jan 20.
  11. Dreher ML, Davenport AJ. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(7):738-50. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.556759.
  12. Hudthagosol C, Haddad E, Jongsuwat R. Antioxidant activity comparison of walnuts and fatty fish. J Med Assoc Thai. 2012 Jun;95 Suppl 6:S179-88.

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