February is American Heart Month! We’ve been sharing heart-healthy tips and advice all month long, and today we have yet another heart-inspired post. Taking care of your heart isn’t only good for you, it’s delicious! These are the 5 best foods for heart health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States—accounting for over 600,000 fatalities every year. And while most people associate heart disease with middle-aged men and those who are overweight or obese, the reality is that there are more and more young and seemingly healthy people with less-than-healthy hearts.
Heart attacks, brought on in most cases by coronary artery disease (CAD), are most common in older adults, with the 65 being the average age of a first heart attack in men. But a study examining the corpses of more than 700 teens and young adults found that early signs of CAD were already present. This suggests that the prevention of heart disease should begin early in life and be an ongoing process—well before middle age sets in.
The good news is that heart disease is relatively easy to prevent with the right diet. Inflammation causes most diseases, including heart disease, and by consuming foods that reduce or eliminate inflammation, you can drastically reduce your chances of developing CAD or other illnesses, while also enabling your body to effectively heal any current damage. These 5 foods provide the best defense.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Leafy greens are the poster child of a healthy diet—and for good reason. They are rich in antioxidants that restore cellular health, along with anti-inflammatory flavonoids. And some greens, like swiss chard, are especially high in vitamins A, C, and K, which are all potent antioxidants that can fight against free radical damage.
Thought celery was only good for flavoring soups and slathering with peanut butter or cream cheese? Think again. Celery has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels—two markers that are key in the fight against heart disease.
Celery also helps to maintain the critical balance of sodium in potassium within the body. Most people consume more than enough sodium, which helps the body retain fluids, but many people do not consume enough potassium, which then flushes toxins out of the body. Too much sodium and not enough potassium can cause the body to hold on to toxins, thus creating the perfect environment for inflammation and disease, but potassium-rich celery can remedy that.
Pineapple contains the natural digestive enzyme bromelain, which, in addition to helping to break down the food we eat, can also help regulate immune responses and prevent the body from attacking itself (as is the case in asthma, arthritis, eczema and other autoimmune conditions). But perhaps more important—at least when it comes to heart health—is bromelain’s ability to fight blood clotting. Serving as an all-natural alternative to a daily aspirin, bromelain has been shown to prevent blood platelets from attaching to themselves and/or blood vessel walls, which can ultimately causing a heart attack or stroke.
People looking to treat or prevent heart disease may feel inclined to avoid any and all fat in the diet, as fat has gotten a bad rap for being the cause of America’s weight problems and high incidence of preventable disease. But while some of that blame is certainly warranted, all fats are not created equal.
Omega-3 fats exhibit strong anti-inflammatory properties that are known to lower the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease. As a result, omega-3s are often recommended as part of a heart-healthy diet, and salmon is considered one of the best whole food sources of the nutrient. The important thing to remember, however, is to always choose wild caught salmon over farm raised, as farmed salmon doesn’t share the same anti-inflammatory benefits.
These tiny, nutritional powerhouses have been popping up on restaurant menus and grocery store shelves for some time now, and if you’re concerned about your heart health, you should be adding them to your diet as well. Like salmon, chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fats, and they’re also high in other anti-inflammatory nutrients including vitamins A, B, E and D, as well as magnesium, manganese and niacin. These characteristics enable chia seeds to reverse inflammation while also regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure—all critically important for a healthy heart.