You always want to keep your heart pumping at its best. After all, it's one of the most important organs in your body so you should be treating it very well.
While exercising is certainly part of keeping your heart healthy, eating well is ultimately one of the most important things you can do.
Many foods can help keep your heart in tip-top shape. Some help lower your blood pressure while others keep your cholesterol in line. Check out this list and make sure to add these foods to your daily menu for the best in heart health maintenance.
15 SUPERFOODS FOR HEART HEALTH
Salmon and other fatty fish such as sardines and mackerel are the superstars of heart-healthy foods. That's because they contain copious amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, shown in studies to lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries).
“Omega-3s have an anti-clotting effect, so they keep your blood flowing,” says Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD, Bickford Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont. They also help lower your triglycerides (a type of fat that can lead to heart disease).
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of oily fish each week. Keep in mind, a serving is 3.5 ounces. That’s a little bit bigger than a computer mouse.
Nibbling on 5 ounces of nuts each week may cut your risk of heart disease in half. Walnuts have lots of “good” fats. When you use these monounsaturated fats in place of saturated fats (such as butter), you cut your “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise your “good” HDL cholesterol.
Walnuts are also a good source of omega-3 fats. (They don’t have the same kind of omega-3s as fish, though.)
Some people in the past have avoided nuts because they're higher in fat, but most of the studies show that people who consume nuts daily are leaner than people who don't. And, leaner people are at a lower risk for heart problems. Just be sure to look for varieties that don't have a lot of added salt.
Other great options: Almonds, cashews, pistachios, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
According to one recent study, women aged 25 through 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less.
Berries are loaded with polyphenols, antioxidants that mop up damage-causing free radicals in your body. They also deliver fiber and vitamin C, which are both linked to a lower risk of stroke.
Because they come from plants, legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are an excellent source of protein without a lot of unhealthy fat.
Legumes are also a top-notch source of soluble fiber -- the kind of fiber that can lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol.
One study found that people who ate legumes at least four times a week had a 22% lower risk of heart disease compared with those who consumed them less than once a week. And legumes may help control blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Lowering blood sugar levels is key in helping people avoid diabetes complications, one of which is heart disease.
If you buy canned beans, look for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties (sodium can raise your blood pressure) and be sure to rinse them in water to wash off any added salt.
Oats have a type of fiber (called beta-glucan) that lowers your LDL cholesterol. One and a half cups of cooked oatmeal or a little over a cup of cooked barley gives you the amount of beta-glucan you need daily to help lower your cholesterol.
"It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract and soaks up the cholesterol so it is eliminated from the body and not absorbed into the bloodstream," says Lauren Graf, a registered dietician and co-director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
Just make sure to avoid instant oatmeal, which often contains sugar, and instead, opt for old-fashioned or even quick-cooking oats. Other whole grains such as bread, pasta and grits are also good for the heart as long as they still contain the entire grain.
If oatmeal isn't your thing, some other options that contain beta-glucan are barley, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed.
6. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
In a landmark study, people at high risk for heart disease who followed the Mediterranean diet (high in grains, fruits, vegetables) supplemented by nuts and at least four tablespoons a day of olive oil reduced their risk of heart attacks, strokes, and dying by 30%.
Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Olives themselves, both green and black, are another source of "good" fat and they add a lot of flavor to salads.
Make sure to pick a good, quality olive oil. The best olive oil is extra virgin, organic and cold pressed. It is important to protect olive oil because the compounds (polyphenols) in the oil break down when exposed to light and air, decreasing the health benefits it provides. So be sure it is stored in a dark or opaque bottle and sealed properly.
7. DARK CHOCOLATE
Cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made, is rich in flavonoids, or polyphenols, which may help blood pressure, clotting and inflammation. It also acts as an antioxidant, which can keep “bad” cholesterol from sticking to your artery walls.
A study in 2012 found that daily chocolate consumption could reduce nonfatal heart attacks and stroke in people at high risk for these problems. The findings applied only to dark chocolate, meaning chocolate made up of at least 60-70% cocoa.
Unfortunately, milk chocolate and most candy bars don't make the grade when it comes to protecting your heart, so be sure to choose dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) to get more flavonoids and less sugar. (Sugar raises your risk of heart disease.)
These soft, tasty fruits have a well-established reputation for providing the body and heart with healthy fats. Like olive oil, they're rich in the monounsaturated fats that may lower heart disease risk factors, such as cholesterol. They're also high in antioxidants and in potassium.
They also seem to have an anti-inflammatory effect, so you don’t get chronic inflammation that makes atherosclerosis, the hardening of artery walls, worse.
They can be eaten on their own or blended into guacamole, mashed up as a spread in place of butter, cubed in a salad, or over black bean chili. As delicious as they are, avocados are high in calories, so keep your portions modest.
Tomato consumption in the U.S. has been rising and that's a good thing. Tomatoes are high in heart-healthy potassium. Plus, they're a good source of the antioxidant lycopene.
Lycopene is a carotenoid that may help get rid of "bad" cholesterol, keep blood vessels open and lower heart attack risk. And because they're low in calories and low in sugar, they don't detract from an already-healthy diet. They are excellent for the body in a number of ways!
When it comes to your health, you really can't go wrong with vegetables. But green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and kale, may give an extra boost to your heart.
These are high in carotenoids, which act as antioxidants and free your body of potentially harmful compounds. They're also high in fiber and contain tons of vitamins and minerals. Kale also has some omega-3 fatty acids.
Green vegetables are super health-promoting foods, so be sure to get them in everyday!
11. RED GRAPES (RED WINE)
These juicy fruits contain resveratrol, which helps keep platelets in your blood from sticking together.
That may partly be why red wine in moderation (1 glass for women, 2 for men) may have some heart-healthy advantages over other types of alcohol. But health experts don’t recommend that anyone start drinking, because alcohol does have some health risks.
Love your nightly glass of wine? Be sure to ask your doctor to make sure your serving size is OK for you. And feel free to go for grapes straight from the vine anytime.
12. CITRUS FRUITS
Women who consume high amounts of the flavonoids found in oranges and grapefruits have a 19% lower risk of ischemic stroke (caused by a clot) than women who don't get as much of these compounds, a recent study found.
Citrus fruits are also high in vitamin C, which has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease.
However, beware of citrus juices that contain added sugar. And be aware that grapefruit products may interfere with the action of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins and other prescription drugs.
Pomegranates contains numerous antioxidants, including heart-promoting polyphenols and anthocyanins which may help stave off hardening of the arteries.
One study of heart disease patients found that a daily dose of pomegranate juice over three months showed improvements in blood flow to the heart.
Ultimately, though, it's important to have variety in your diet. If you don't like pomegranates or can't afford them, reach for apples, which also contain plenty of health-promoting compounds.
There's no reason to shun potatoes because they're white and look like a "bad" starch. As long as they're not deep fried, potatoes can be good for your heart.
They're rich in potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. And they're high in fiber, which can lower the risk for heart disease. They are definitely not a junk food or refined carbohydrate, they have a lot of health benefits!
Baking is one of the healthier methods for cooking potatoes. Instead of butter or sour cream, consider topping your potato with vegetarian chili, yogurt or broccoli with low-fat cheese.
Eat the skin as well as the flesh, as this is the most nutrient-dense part of the potato. Avoid eating any part of the potato that has green skin or new growth, as these parts contain a bitter toxin.
15. OOLONG TEA
A longtime favorite in China, Oolong tea has grown more popular in the West and may bring with it significant health benefits.
One recent study found that study participants who drank three to six cups of oolong tea per day were 45% less likely to die from heart disease than those who drank less than one cup. Drinking more than six cups of tea per day was associated with a 36% lower risk of developing heart disease than drinking less than one cup.
The findings echo a previous study that found lower rates of death, including death from heart disease, among avid drinkers of oolong tea.
Antioxidants in the tea, known as catechins and polyphenols, are said to be responsible for the effects on the heart.
If you want to add Oolong tea to your daily routine, just be sure you are consuming pure, premium Oolong tea without any pesticides or added fillers that can be found in many grocery store teas. You definitely don't want to be ingesting something you think is healthy for one thing and then getting more than you bargained for (in a really bad way).
It's pretty much the easiest way to keep your heart healthy, your weight controlled, your skin looking radiant, your teeth and bones strong, your immune system boosted and your energy up without any jitters. Pair it with some of the above foods and you are on your way to a healthy lifestyle in no time.
Just 2 cups per day is all you need for a healthy heart and a healthy life.
Have you tried our Pure, Premium Oolong tea yet?
What are some ways you keep your heart healthy? Let me know in the comments below!
Yours in Health & Happiness,