From breakfast to dinner (and snacks in between) you’re entire day can be heart-healthy. A heart healthy diet doesn’t have to be bland or boring.
A Guide to Nutrients in Heart-Healthy Foods
Phytoestrogens are substances in plants, such as flaxseeds/linseeds, that have a weak estrogen-like action in the body. Studies suggest these plant components may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels and even your blood pressure.
Phytosterols are plant sterols that chemically resemble cholesterol. A diet high in these plant components appears to keep blood cholesterol levels in the normal range. All nuts and seeds, including wheat germ, contain phytosterols.
Carotenoids are heart-protective antioxidants in many colorful fruits and veggies. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene are carotenoids.
Polyphenols are another set of antioxidants that help protect blood vessels, lower blood pressure and reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol. Flavonoid polyphenols include catechins, flavonones, flavonols, isoflavones, reservatrol, and anthocyanins. Non-flavonoid polyphenols include ellagic acid (found in all types of berries).
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon) and alpha-linolenic fatty acids (found in plant foods like walnuts) may also play a part in keeping our hearts healthy. They help lower triglyceride levels, protect arteries from plaque buildup, are anti-inflammatory, and lower blood pressure.
B-complex vitamins, like Vitamin B-12 (folate) and vitamin B-6, protect against blood clots and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Niacin (vitamin B-3) helps increase HDL “good” cholesterol.
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage. Magnesium, potassium, and calcium help lower blood pressure.
Soluble-fibre rich foods help lower cholesterol levels too.
Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD) – including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and other circulatory diseases. CVD is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for 36% of all deaths. The largest number of these deaths relate to CHD – mainly heart attack – at 5,000. 22% of premature deaths (under age 65) are from CVD.
Source: Irish Heart Foundation website: www.irishheart.ie
Top Foods for your Heart
- Oily fish e.g. salmon (fresh, frozen or tinned)
- Olive oil
- Unsalted nuts
- Low fat dairy
- Soy and soy foods
- Brown rice
- Sweet potato
- Dark chocolate
Celebrate Valentine’s Day by eating Red
- Tomatoes– lycopene rich.
- Tart cherries and juice – for recovery drink after training/sport.
- Strawberries –7-8 strawberries will give you the same amount of vitamin c as a medium orange. Use them in smoothies, salads etc.
- Red peppers – vitamin C
- Red onions -flavonoids
- Red grapefruit –b carotene
- Beetroot for blood pressure, sports nutrition etc.
- Red grapes – resversatrol
- Red wine – polyphenolic compounds
There are many red fruits and vegetables to choose from and they each bring something a little bit different to the table. Many red fruits and veggies are loaded with powerful, healthy antioxidants, such as lycopene and anthocyanins, that may help fight disease.
- A tomato is full of vitamins and minerals (e.g. vitamin C, beta carotene) but is most renowned for its carotenoid called lycopene, which gives tomatoes their vivid red colour. Lycopene neutralises free radicals before they can cause damage to tissues.
- Unusually, this is one case where processing can actually enhance the availability and absorption of nutrients, as lycopene is unharmed by cooking and food processing, which means that tomato-based products such as soups and sauces offer many of the same health benefits as the fresh fruit.
- A recent study from Finland provided interesting results – this included just over 1,000 men aged 46 to 65 years in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor cohort. Researchers measured the level of lycopene in their blood when the study began and followed the men for about 12 years. During that time, 67 men had a stroke.
- Men who had the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were 55% less likely to have a stroke, compared with men who had the lowest levels of the antioxidant in their blood (Karrpi et al., 2012).
- The lowered risk was even greater for strokes caused by blood clots in the brain, called ischemic strokes. These are the most common type of stroke. Men who had the highest lycopene levels were 59% less likely to have this kind of stroke than men with the lowest levels. The findings appeared in the Oct. 9, 2012, issue of
- This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke. It’s important to note though, that the study just showed a link – it was not designed to say whether or not eating more tomatoes can lower stroke risk. The best ways to lower stroke risk is to eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, and to exercise regularly.
- Also good for the waist line – a medium tomato has only 14 kcals, 0g, 23% of your daily requirement for vitamin C, 7% of the RDA for potassium and 1g of fibre (4% of the recommended 25g).
- Strawberries are fat free and only contain 30 calories in an average serving (8 strawberries). A great snack for those managing their weight.
- A serving has more fibre than a slice of white bread (1.4g V’s 0.7g)
- 8 strawberries provide the same amount of Vitamin C as a medium sized orange and 130% of the RDA for vitamin C.
- A serving also provides 6% of the RDA for folate (folic acid).
- Berries are a good source of polyphenols, especially anthocyanins, micronutrients, and fiber. In epidemiological and clinical studies, these constituents have been associated with improved cardiovascular risk profiles. Human intervention studies using cranberries, blueberries, and strawberries (either fresh, or as juice, or freeze-dried) have demonstrated significant improvements in LDL oxidation, lipid peroxidation, total plasma antioxidant capacity, dyslipidemia, and glucose metabolism (Basu et al., 2010).
- Dip them in dark chocolate for Valentine’s day for a heart healthy treat .
- Red peppers are high in vitamins A and C, which are antioxidant vitamins and good for heart health.
- They are also a source of vitamin B6 which is essential for releasing energy from protein. To get the same amount of vitamin C as just half a red pepper, you would need to eat 2 oranges, 3 kiwis or 40 cherry tomatoes! Red peppers usually contain twice the vitamin C content of green peppers.
- The level of lycopene can be up to nine times higher in red peppers compared to green peppers (the association between lycopene and heart disease has already been discussed in relation to tomatoes).
- Red peppers are a good source of potassium (9% of the RDA in one pepper). Increasing potassium intake in the diet can help lower blood pressure, which is important for optimal heart health.
- Peppers are also a source of cholesterol- lowering fibre (3.4g of fibre in one pepper = 14% of the GDA).
- Chilli peppers contain a substance called capsaicin. Capsaicin in topical form is promoted mainly for pain caused by conditions such as arthritis and general muscle soreness but it is a potent inhibitor of a neuropeptide associated with inflammatory processes. It also acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells of the body from damage by harmful molecules called free radicals.
Pink and Red Grapefruit
- You want to go for color when you choose grapefruit, because pink and red grapefruit have higher levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, compared to white grapefruit.
- They are also a good source of pectin, which helps lower cholesterol.
- A good source of potassium, which can help control blood pressure and protect the heart – one grapefruit provides 10% of the RDA for potassium.
- The pink and red fruits also sweeter in taste and a better option for anyone that doesn’t like the tangy white variety.
- One grapefruit has 48 calories, almost 3g of fibre (12% of the GDA), basically 100% of the RDA for vitamin C (one grapefruit has 58mg vit C).
- Rich in antioxidants and fiber, red grapes are very heart-healthy. Some research studies suggest that red and purple grape juices may provide some of the same heart benefits of red wine.
- Grapes are rich in health-protecting antioxidants, including resveratrol and flavonoids. These antioxidants are found mainly in the skin, stem, leaf and seeds of grapes, rather than in their pulp. The amount of antioxidants in grapes depends on many factors, including the kind of grape, its geographic origin and how it’s processed. Dark red and purple grapes tend to be higher in antioxidants than are white or green grapes. Likewise, the level of antioxidants such as resveratrol found in wine varies, with higher levels in red wine.
- Red grapes have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and reduce heart muscle damage related to a high-salt diet. They have also been shown to reduce blood triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol levels, and improve blood vessel function.
- Because purple grape juice does not contain ethanol, it has been suggested that its antiplatelet and antioxidant effects are due to flavonoids2 and increased intake of dietary flavonoids has been associated with a reduced risk of CHD events.