10 Top 'Superfoods' For Your Heart
When it comes to keeping your heart healthy choosing the right foods can make a real difference.
What you eat may help prevent your risk of developing heart disease - or help protect your heart if you already have problems. Eating a healthy heart diet may also help lower your blood pressure, control blood sugar, and reduce cholesterol too. These 3 conditions are all linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
There's no one magic food when it comes to heart health. "It's important to get the overall balance right by eating foods from all of the major food groups in the right proportions," says Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation.
We asked the experts which foods they'd recommend.
A steaming bowl of porridge is a wonderful way to start your day. Oats are cheap, versatile, easy to prepare and are good for your heart health.
"Oats have become a trendy breakfast! From overnight oats to topping your porridge with colourful berries, these simple grains have become an exciting way to start your day. It's better to buy the plain, non-processed oats as some of the sweeter instant packs can have a lot of added sugar," says dietitian Lilia Malcolm, who's a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.
Oats have many health benefits as these small wholegrains are packed with important vitamins and minerals. They are a particularly good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.
"What makes them so good for our hearts is their role in lowering cholesterol, which is down to the amount of beta glucans - a type of soluble fibre," explains Lilia. "Beta glucans form a thick 'paste-like' substance in our gut that mops up excess cholesterol and reduces its absorption. Beta glucans, consumed regularly at the optimal amount of 3g per day, can reduce the amount of the damaging LDL cholesterol," she says.
Salmon is tasty, readily available and it's good for you too.
The British Heart Foundation recommends 1 to 2 portions of fish a week including one portion of an oily fish like salmon, sardines or mackerel.
What makes oily fish a good heart health option is that it's packed with omega-3 fatty acids which are needed for a healthy heart and circulation.
"These omega-3 fatty acids - specifically the EPA and DHA - have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic effect, as well as protecting the heart and its surrounding vessels from disease. Experts in the field of omega-3 research claim that eating foods with high omega-3 content are associated with a 10% lower risk of fatal heart attacks," says Lilia.
There's plenty of choice when it comes to oily fish. As an alternative to salmon try trout, fresh tuna or pilchards.
3. Soya protein
Soya protein is a healthy alternative to meat. We're talking soya beans, soya mince, tofu, soya milk or soya nuts. Soya protein is a good source of omega-3, vitamins and minerals.
"Soya foods are one of a number of foods that can play a role in cholesterol lowering in the body," says Linda Main, dietetic adviser at the cholesterol charity HEART UK. "Soya foods are generally low in saturated fat and contain significant amounts of vegetable fibres and high quality proteins as well as several micronutrients and isoflavones."
"Soya foods can lower LDL cholesterol by up to 10%. About 4% of the effect is attributed to soya protein. We believe the soya protein directly interferes with liver LDL-cholesterol synthesis. The remaining impact has been attributed to the displacement of saturated fat within the diet," explains Linda.
HEART UK recommends eating 15g-25g of soya protein a day as part of a diet to lower cholesterol.
4. Spinach and kale
Spinach along with other green vegetables like kale and broccoli is full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. A diet high in plant based foods, like green vegetables, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
"Vegetables contain dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals which can lower blood pressure and may reduce atherosclerosis - a build-up of plaque in the arteries. Research suggests that a significantly lower risk of heart disease was seen with every additional 7g of fibre consumed per day. As a nation we are not very good at hitting our recommended daily fibre intake of 18g a day but the recent hype of kale, spinach and other green leafy veg is certainly helping us reach this goal," says Lilia.
The expert advice is to eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruit. "It's important that you get at least 5 portions a day rather than going for specific types of fruit or veg," says Victoria. "Make sure that you choose as wide a variety as possible to benefit from the range of nutrients that they can provide."
Tomatoes are a great choice to add to your rainbow. Raw or cooked.
"Tomatoes contain lycopene, a carotenoid with antioxidant capabilities," says Ian Marber – nutritionist and author of 'Eat Your Way to Lower Cholesterol'.
"Lycopene is more easily absorbed after prolonged heat treatment and so ketchup or tomato paste, puree or passata should be included in the diet."
6. Rapeseed oil
The type of fat we consume has a direct effect on our blood cholesterol - so make a heart healthy switch.
"Swapping saturated fats like butter, lard and ghee for unsaturated fats like olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils can help to lower cholesterol levels," says Victoria.
"The most well-known source of good fats is olive oil, giving rise to the popular Mediterranean diet. However, there is an oil produced much closer to home that rivals olive oil in terms of health benefits - rapeseed," explains Lilia.
Rapeseed oil is made from the plant that blooms bright yellow in fields all over the country in the spring.
"It has less saturated fat than any other oil, and when compared with olive oil it has more polyunsaturated fats and considerably more vitamin E. Rapeseed oil has a light and delicate taste which works well used cold in a salad dressing or when cooking. Most standard vegetable oils in the UK are actually 100% rapeseed oil, and they are much cheaper than bottles labelled specifically as rapeseed oil," adds Lilia.
Rapeseed like all fats and oils is high in calories. One tablespoon is around 100 calories, so use it sparingly.
The earthy taste of beetroot is a love it or hate it flavour but it could well be worth eating it for your heart's sake.
Researchers at Queen Mary University London found a beetroot supplement reduced blood pressure for several hours after taking it.
Beetroot contains nitrate, a substance in vegetables that may help regulate blood pressure by affecting the ‘stretchiness’ of our arteries.
Nitrate-rich vegetables include lettuce, green leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage, parsley and carrots.
All berries are high in antioxidants but blueberries have the most. Their purple colour is from anthocyanin, an antioxidant also found in blackberries, cherries, and aubergine skin. Antioxidants are nutrients that may protect and repair cells. It's not fully understood how they benefit health.
Not only are blueberries sweet, tasty and full of vitamins, some research suggests they may help protect against heart disease too.
A 2013 study in the journal Circulation suggested that people eating 3 or more portions of blueberries and strawberries a week appeared to lower their risk of a heart attack compared with those who ate berries just once a month or less frequently.
"There has been a lot of interest in the role of resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant in reducing cardiovascular disease risk due to its anti-inflammatory effect, but unfortunately the research has not yet proven this theory," says Lilia.
"Resveratrol gives the purple-red colour to foods such as grapes, blueberries, cranberries and even cocoa and dark chocolate. Whilst research has not yet shown direct links to reducing cardiovascular risk, the guidance on eating berries as part of your fruit intake has not changed and people should continue to eat plenty of fruit each day," adds Lilia.
Garlic may be good for scaring away vampires but it may help protect your blood in other ways too.
"Garlic contains polysulfides that can help increase the flexibility of blood vessels. Garlic may protect against atherosclerosis, a process in which fats build up in the arteries forming hard plaques. Crushed garlic, left for 10 minutes before eating, is more potent than when intact," says Ian.
Garlic and onion, which are both part of the same plant family (Allium), both seem to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Do your heart a favour and plump for wholegrains when it comes to your carbs.
"Choose wholegrain rather than white options to help keep your heart healthy. Try brown rice, and wholegrain bread, pasta and breakfast cereals," says Victoria.
Linda from Heart UK says: "One of the main principles of a cholesterol lowering diet is basing most meals on starchy wholegrain carbohydrates like brown rice, wholemeal bread or wholemeal pasta."
Brown pasta cooks in the same time as white pasta, but brown rice can take longer to cook. If you’re pressed for time, buy a microwave-ready brown rice pouch for instant, high fibre rice in under 2 minutes.
Wholegrains can help prevent your body from absorbing dietary cholesterol and may help regulate blood pressure, both major contributors to heart disease.
Story Credit: http://www.webmd.boots.com/heart-disease/features/superfoods-for-your-heart