Thursday, February 13, 2014
Most of us have heard the statistics that heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. Unfortunately, for some, this may fall on deaf ears as good health is often taken for granted until it is threatened. Heart disease is a chronic disease that develops over the years, meaning living a healthy lifestyle is significant. So while you are buying candies and chocolates for loved ones this month, also take awareness of your heart health. In honor of American Heart Month, here are five heart-healthy foods you can add to your diet. All five are included in Cleveland Clinic’s 40 most powerful foods for heart health.
Great to snack on, add to salads, or top to your oatmeal, walnuts are a rich plant source of omega-3 fats. Omega-3s help to reduce inflammation, stabilize heart rate, improve efficiency, reduce blood pressure and possibly reduce risk for depression. Additionally, these fats are protective for bone metabolism and the brain. Diets that contain higher amounts of these fats are associated with reduced risk for dementia and cognitive decline. Walnuts provide some plant protein and fiber too, so adding a small serving to your meals can improve satiety and assist with weight loss.
2. Dark Chocolate
You may have heard chocolate is good for your heart, but do you know why? Cocoa is rich in phytonutrients (“phyto” meaning plant in Greek), particularly flavonoids. These chemicals, although not essential for keeping us alive, have been shown to strengthen the body and help protect against disease. Flavonoids act as antioxidants and have positive effects on cardiovascular health by improving blood flow, reducing blood pressure and reducing the possibility of plaque build-up in the arteries. The darker the cocoa and higher the percentage, the less processing of the cocoa was involved, which means less flavonoids lost. So the more bitter, the better, and just watch your portions.
3. Berries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Cherries
Think red for heart health. Fruits rich in the color red contain a high amount of the compound anthocyanin. This compound has been shown to reduce inflammation, a marker for heart disease, and is a rich source of natural antioxidants. These fruits also contain a lower glycemic index which is helpful in reducing waist circumference, another risk factor for heart disease. You can easily add these fruits to your morning oatmeal, cereal, baked goods, salads or side dishes. Choose dried, fresh or frozen, without added sugar.
Including fiber in your diet helps to lower cholesterol and high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. The soluble fiber in oats binds to the cholesterol, which contributes to the lowering effects, and the insoluble fiber aids in digestion and assists with weight loss. Oats are also a rich source of magnesium, potassium and B vitamins. Choose old-fashioned or steel-cut oats rather than the sweetened packets for more bang for your buck in terms of price and nutrients.
5. Sweet potatoes
The typical “Westernized” diet tends to provide an imbalance of too much sodium to too little potassium and this ratio can contribute to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease and stroke, so including potassium-rich foods is cardio-protective. Most fruits and vegetables contain some potassium, but including those rich in potassium will ensure you meet the daily recommended intake. Sweet potatoes are a high potassium food, available almost year-round, high in nutrition for a very low cost and don’t require much “dolling up” as they are naturally very flavorful. They are also a great source of beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants.
Lauren Zimmerman is a registered dietitian originally from Rock Hill, but has made the Old Village home over the past few years. She works in a cardiac rehabilitation center where day-to-day she teaches a heart-healthy diet to her patients through weekly education classes and one-on-one counseling sessions. She lives and breathes healthy eating and enjoys making it practical for those she is helping. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, art, music, bike riding and seeing the ocean as frequently as possible.