Heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women and lifestyle plays a major role in who gets it and who doesn’t. Not smoking, staying active and maintaining a healthy body weight lowers the risk but diet is a major factor too. At one time, experts believed the best way to avoid heart disease was to limit the amount of fat in your diet. Now, we know that certain types of fat like monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids are heart-healthy. Heart disease can be prevented in many cases by changing what you put into your mouth. Here are some of the best heart-healthy foods to consider.
Nuts win points for being rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats increase levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol that carries cholesterol back to the liver to be broken down. Almost all nuts are healthy from a cardiovascular standpoint, but pistachios win extra points for being heart healthy. A study from Penn State found that munching on a handful of pistachios a day reduced LDL-cholesterol by almost 12%. To lower your risk for heart disease, replace carby munchies like pretzels and chips with portion-controlled packs of nuts.
Berries are a rich source of anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins. The Women’s Health Study showed that women who ate diets rich in anthocyanins had a reduced risk for heart disease. Anthocyanins have other benefits as well. In addition to lowering LDL-cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, they also keep belly fat in check. Blueberries and black raspberries are two of the best sources of anthocyanins but almost all deeply-colored berries contain anthocyanins. Bring on the blueberries!
Beans are a rich source of soluble fiber and resistant starches. Soluble fiber forms a viscous mass in the intestinal tract that binds cholesterol and helps to lower LDL-cholesterol levels. In addition, the resistant starch in beans is broken down by bacteria to short-chain fatty acids that block cholesterol synthesis. One study showed that people who ate beans most days of the week lowered their risk for heart disease by 22%. It’s not difficult to eat beans daily when you consider all of the varieties you have to choose from. Dark red beans like kidney beans and black beans are good choices because they contain heart-healthy anthocyanins. Add them to salads, soups or serve them as a side dish in place of a starch – and reap their benefits.
Sip a glass of red wine with a meal and you could raise levels of HDL-cholesterol, the good form of cholesterol that lowers the risk of heart disease. Plus, flavonoids and resveratrol, two anti-inflammatory compounds in wine, reduce the tendency of platelets to clump together and form small clots that could trigger a heart attack or stroke. Red wine has benefits when it comes to preventing heart disease, but alcoholic beverages, including red wine, may increase the risk of breast cancer in women. Sip it only in moderation.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Like nuts, olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fats that lower the risk for heart disease. Replacing other oils with extra-virgin olive oil is an important step you can take to ward off a heart attack. Next time you’re at the supermarket, look for extra-virgin olive oil in a dark bottle since olive oil can turn rancid when exposed to heat, light or oxygen. Once you’ve opened the bottle, don’t keep it in your cabinet for longer than four months.
The Bottom Line?
To lower your risk for heart disease, eat lots of colorful veggies, and choose lean sources of protein including seafood, but don’t forget to add some of these heart-healthy foods to your diet.
Science Daily. “Pistachio Nuts May Improve Heart Health”
Health Central. “Pistachios Can Fight Heart Disease”
Fox News. “Study: Eating Blueberries Lowers Heart Disease, Diabetes Risks”
Health Magazine. January/February 2012. page 90.
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