10 Foods to Improve Your Heart Health: Part 1
This is my two-year-old dancing along to a song at our church's VBS this past summer. Her heart is fine now! :-)
The Heart is Your Body's Most Important Organ ...
So you need to take care of it. Millions of Americans have heart conditions and high blood pressure. And over a million people in the United States have heart attacks each year. These, of course, can be fatal. How can these severe medical problems be avoided? One of the best ways is through diet.
I began researching the best foods to eat for your heart after the birth of my second daughter. She was born with a ventricular septal defect (basically a hole in the heart that lets blood go through the wrong way). Even though it is too late to do anything for her heart's development since she is now outside of my body, I thought maybe since I am breastfeeding I could help her heart heal - thank goodness the doctor says this is possible - by adding more heart healthy foods into my diet.
Here is the first half of the list I came up with of the ten foods anyone can eat to improve the condition of their heart.
Your mother was right - oatmeal is one of the best breakfasts you can have to keep your heart healthy. But be sure to eat the old-fashioned kind, not the instant variety. Instant oatmeal has a lot more sugar than rolled oats, and it does not have the same benefits as rolled oats because it is more heavily processed.
What are the benefits? Well, omega-3 fatty acids for one. These fatty acids lower the level of triglycerides in the body, which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. They also increase the amount of good (HDL) cholesterol that is in your blood and work to prevent blood clots. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to lower high blood pressure and levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Oats are a great source of folate, potassium, and fiber. Folate helps take homocysteine out of your blood. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is present in everyone's blood. Too much of this amino acid, however, can seriously damage your arteries, thus placing you at a higher risk of heart disease. Sufficient potassium is necessary for the efficient operation of all muscles in the body, and the heart is one of the body's most important muscles. Potassium helps regulate heart function and blood pressure. Fiber, like omega-3 fatty acids, works to lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease.
And, yes, as the above picture suggests, you can eat good old Cheerios to help your heart. Be aware, though, that one serving of Cheerios does not have nearly as much fiber as a serving of rolled oats. So, if you want to get the full oaty benefit, stick with the hot cereal. And this is the perfect time for it, too, since February is National Hot Breakfast Month.
Flax seeds are also good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, potassium, and fiber, but they have additional heart-related health benefits. They contain other essential fatty acids - Omega 6. Omega 6 fatty acids have similar benefits to Omega 3 fatty acids. They lower bad cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. To get the most out of these fatty acids, they should be consumed together, and that makes flax seed an especially important food to add to your diet.
Flax seeds also contain Vitamin C, which helps strengthen artery walls. It further ensures that LDL cholesterol will not be able to attach to the artery walls and decreases heart disease risk.
Be sure to buy whole, not split, flax seeds to get the maximum health benefits. Buy them fresh and grind them with a coffee grinder so you can sprinkle them on top of salads or cereal, like the oatmeal mentioned above, thereby doubling the goodness for your heart. If you don't have the time or patience to grind your own flax seeds, you can buy packages of flax seed meal, which is already ground for you. Personally, I like this option best because of the time-saving and convenience factor.
Soybeans (edamame) and soy milk (Silk, for instance) are also wonderful sources of Omega 3 fatty acids and fiber.
Soy is also a great source of calcium, which has been shown to lower blood pressure, as has magnesium, which is also present in large quantities in soy. This mineral is also important for regulating the heart's rhythm and preventing blood clots.
Just be careful when you're choosing processed soy products. Foods like soy dogs contain an excess amount of sodium and this, of course, is not good for anyone's heart.
Almonds are one of my favorite nuts. They are delicious and nutritious. Eating a handful of almonds every day can lower your LDL cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. Like the other heart healthy foods mentioned already, almonds contain Omega 3 fatty acids and fiber. But they also have some special health properties of their own.
Almonds are high in Vitamin E. This vitamin helps to block the formation of plaque in your arteries. Arterial plaque is linked to chest pain, heart disease, and heart attack. Almonds also contain plant sterols, which are natural substances that help lower cholesterol. Finally, almonds are a good source of the amino acid L-arginine. This amino acid causes the arterial walls to become more flexible and less prone to blood clots, leading to a healthier circulatory system.
And if you get tired of eating almonds, you can always pour a little almond milk into your oatmeal. You'll get the heart health benefits of both foods at one time. And you'll get triple the effect if you remember to add your ground flax seed.
Just one serving (half a cup) of these beautiful little berries can help improve your heart's condition. They are a terrific source of heart helpers like fiber, Vitamin C, and Folic acid. Additionally, blueberries contain two chemical compounds that have been scientifically proven to lower LDL cholesterol and heart disease risk - resveratrol and pterostilbene.
Blueberries taste great in muffins, of course, but they are wonderful additions to other foods, too - smoothies, cereals, and fruit salads, for instance. And the fruit even comes in delicious dried and juice forms, just like grapes and cranberries (which also have these same beneficial compounds). Try dried blueberries mixed with almonds and granola or Cheerios to create your own version of trail mix. You'll be increasing both the heart healthiness and yumminess of these three foods by putting them together.
It doesn't really matter how you choose to eat your blueberries, just don't leave this superfood out of your diet for another day.
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Don't Forget to Read Part 2
Hopefully this hub has given you some ideas for foods to include in your diet to improve your heart's health, but there are more. I just decided to split this list up into two parts to make it more user-friendly. The link to the second half of the list is at the bottom of this page. And if you don't have time to read it now, don't forget to bookmark this page so you can come back to it. But for now, go out and start munching on some of the foods listed. Why put off doing what you can to save your body's key organ?
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