Healthy Foods for a Healthy Heart

Cardiovascular disease is a term that describes a spectrum of disorders involving the heart and blood vessels; and includes diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, congestive heart failure and strokes.  Today in America, Heart Disease is still the #1 killer of both men and women annually, surpassing that of cancers and strokes.

Most of the complications of cardiovascular disease begin with the formation of fatty cholesterol plaques in the blood vessels that prevent proper blood flow to and from your heart.  These plaques can start forming in most people in their early 20’s and slowly grow over time.  When a blood vessel becomes completely blocked in the heart by one of these plaques, a person will experience a Myocardial Infarction better known as a heart attack. 

Research suggests that the best way to prevent and reverse heart disease is by stopping the formation of these fatty plaques; which seem to begin secondary to systemic inflammation and the presence of increased cholesterol in the blood. 

Numerous studies attest to the fact that heart disease is completely preventable with changes in diet and lifestyle of and individual.  Research suggests that a heart healthy diet should consist of 70% complex carbohydrates, 20% healthy fats and 10% lean protein.  Some other dietary modifications to protect your heart should include.

Decreasing Pro-Inflammatory Foods

Foods that help cause chronic inflammation in the diet are definitely to be avoided when trying to stop or prevent heart disease.  Remember, underlying inflammation seem to begin the process of heart disease so avoiding  Pro-inflammatory foods is the first place to start when creating your new heart healthy diet.  Foods that cause inflammation include those that contain refined white sugar and white flour; such as cakes, ice cream, cookies, sodas and breakfast cereals. Also included are alcoholic beverages, fruit juices from concentrate and processed foods such as hot dogs, pizza and frozen dinners.  It is best to avoid these foods as much as possible since they lead to obesity which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Avoid Trans fats

Trans fats are those found in products such as margarine and shortening and fried foods such as French fries, doughnuts.  These fats have harmful effects to your body’s cells and increase your, LDL or “bad cholesterol” while decreasing your HDL or “good cholesterol”.  Eliminating all trans fats from your diet is difficult due to food labeling guidelines that state a product can have 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving and still say that there are “zero” grams of trans fats in the product.  However, limiting as much as possible these fats from your diet are key in maintaining a healthy heart.  Look for avoid foods that contain the ingredients; partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or hydrogenated vegetable shortening, these are just other names for Trans fats.  Other foods that contain Trans fats include potato chips, cookies, pies, crackers and some commercially baked breads and cakes.

Increase Monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as olives, avocados, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, seeds and beans.  These fats are important in decreasing Triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.  Additionally these fats help to decrease the effects of systemic inflammation in the body because they are rich in anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E. Increasing these foods in your diet can help to not only prevent heart disease but also shown in research to be helpful in controlling insulin levels in Type II Diabetes, which is a risk factor for Heart Disease. 

Increased Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 Fatty Acids are polyunsaturated fats that help protect against heart disease by decreasing systemic inflammation, decreasing the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaques, and decreasing triglyceride levels.  At therapeutic doses, Omega 3’s can help to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of having fatal arrhythmia.

Some foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids include:  Cold water fish such as Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna. Non-flesh sources include flax seeds and walnuts.

Eating Foods High In Fiber

Foods that are high in fiber, especially soluble fiber have been shown to prevent heart attacks, lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol in the blood.  Examples include legumes (beans and peas), bran, barely, seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, red and green lettuce and collard greens.

Eating foods Rich in Antioxidants

Including more foods that are rich in heart protective antioxidants is key to preventing heart disease.  One type of antioxidant called Bioflavonoids have been proven to prevent and in some cases reverse the effects of heart disease.

Bioflavonoids are powerful compounds found in plants that are rich in anti-oxidants.  This allows them to help that reduce systemic inflammation and promote healthy arteries and veins. Some of the most well known bioflavonoids include apples, blueberries, broccoli, red grapes, green tea, strawberries, dark chocolate, onions and cabbage.

If you will just follow these simple guidelines you will be well on your way to having a healthier heart

 

Dr. DeJarra K. Sims, NMD

Dr. DeJarra Sims is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Bastyr University California, her medical practice has an emphasis in treating diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and various other cardiovascular disorders.  She also has special interest in treating digestive disorders, skin diseases and hair loss.

This article may be used in whole or in part without written permission as long as proper credit is given.