National Heart Month Heart Healthy Diets and 14 Heart Healthy Foods

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death world-wide. The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices, including diet and exercise, may reduce the risk of heart attack by more than 80% (1).  The inclusion of functional foods and supplements are gaining increasing recognition as important components in cardiovascular health. Here we’ll look at some dietary practices and 14 foods that may help protect the cardiovascular system.

 Plant Based Diets

Plant-based diets are associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood lipids, and reduced platelet aggregation than non-vegetarian diets. They are also beneficial in weight management, reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes (1,2). Some research suggests that vegetarian diets reduce cardiovascular mortality and the risk of coronary heart disease by 40%. This is backed up by findings that indicate that a high intake of flavanoids from fruit and vegetables is associated with reduced risk of mortality from CVD in men and women (3). There seems to be lots of evidence to support the use of a well planned plant-based diet for cardiovascular health.

The Problem with Animal Protein

Meats and dairy products are rich in sulphur amino acids which may increase the risk of cardio-vascular disease. Eating a diet rich in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains, means you will benefit from consuming fewer sulphur amino acids (4).

The Mediterranean Diet

If you don’t fancy going vegan or vegetarian how about trying a Mediterranean diet? There is lots of evidence showing the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, rich in antioxidants and healthy fats from fruit, vegetables, olive oil, fish and nuts. In particular it is associated with a lower incidence of atherosclerosis, a common cause of cardiovascular problems (5).

The Microbiome, Weight and Heart Health

Our microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes that affect many aspects of health. There is evidence to suggest that altering the balance of organisms in the gut, by using antibiotics for example, can affect the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and weight gain (6). So for a healthy heart it’s clearly important to look after your gut.

The good news is that certain components in foods alter the gut bacteria in a way that is beneficial to cardiovascular health (7). The beneficial food components include:

  • Fibre from rye, barley, oats and berries
  • Plant stanols found in grains, nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils
  • Components in soy beans and oily fish.

Rather than following a vegan, vegetarian or Mediterranean diet you might just want to know which foods to eat for cardiovascular health so you can add them to your healthy diet.

Here are 14 heart healthy foods to incorporate into your diet:

  1. Go Nuts – eating peanuts and tree nuts is associated with a lower risk of CVD (8,9).
  1. Chocolate – the good news is that consumption of cocoa is beneficial to cardiovascular health. This is partly due to the polyphenols, especially flavanols, in cocoa, which exert a favourable effect on many aspects of cardio-vascular health including decreasing platelet aggregation, lipid oxidation, insulin resistance and inflammation (10,11,12). Studies show a 50% reduction in mortality in those who eat dark
  1. Apples - reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, probably due to the polyphenols in apples. Apple peel contains higher amounts of phenols and flavanoids than the flesh (13).
  1. Berries – reduce the risk of CVD by reducing blood pressure and improving endothelial function, blood lipids and glycaemic profiles (14,15).
  1. Carobpolyphenols and insoluble fibre in carob lower triglycerides and cholesterol (16).
  1. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) - In North Africa there is a tradition of drinking a glass of diluted apple cider vinegar daily to promote weight loss (17). This may not be as crazy as it sounds as research shows that metabolic diseases caused by eating a high fat diet are thwarted by taking ACV. ACV reduces cholesterol and total lipids and has a satiating effect (18).
  1. Omega 3 fats – low incidence of sudden cardiac death is correlated with a high intake of omega 3 fats (19). These fats are found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and cold pressed oils.
  1. Seeds – eating seeds such as flax, chia, pumpkin, hemp and sesame seeds has been found to have an anti-atherogenic, liver protective, and antioxidant effect (20,21,22,23,24).
  1. Olive Oil – contains mono-unsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory compounds which have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health (25).
  1. Coconut flour and oil – reduce body weight, blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides (26, 27,28)
  1. Maca – lowers cholesterol and triacylglycerols and reduces high blood pressure (29).
  1. Psyllium husks - lower cholesterol (30,31). If you are on medications to lower cholesterol consult with your medical specialist before introducing psyllium into your
  1. Oats – rich in soluble fibre and beta-glucans, oats have been shown to lower cholesterol.

Exercise

The benefits of a healthy diet are massively increased if physical activity is included in the plan.

Exercise prevents oxidative stress, inflammation and vascular dysfunction (32).  It also raises metabolism, burns calories, decreases fat and increases muscle mass.

Tom Oliver’s Products for Heart Health

The following foods and supplements may be useful additions to your heart healthy diet:

If you suspect you may be at risk of cardiovascular problems it’s important to get checked out by your doctor.

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