10 Foods to Improve Your Heart Health: Part 2
Top 10 Foods, #6-10
This, as the title suggests, is the second half of my list of the ten healthiest foods for the heart. If you're coming to this hub first, click here to read the first half of the list.
Isn't it good to know that there are so many naturally occurring foods that are good for your heart? Indeed, there are many more than 10. I just picked this number because I thought it would be easier to work with and remember.
So, sit back, take some notes, and learn more about how you can keep your heart in shape simply by eating the right things.
Legumes of all kinds are incredibly good for the heart, and black beans are especially so. Not only do they pack the punch of Omega 3 fatty acids, they are also high in fiber, folate, calcium, and magnesium. For a more thorough discussion of how these nutrients pump up your heart, see the descriptions in the first part of this list.
In addition to all these heart healthy ingredients, black beans contain a significant amount of another one of the B-complex vitamins, niacin. The good news is that niacin is found in many different foods besides black beans, so most people don't have to worry about increasing the amount of niacin in their diet. Niacin increases the amount of HDL cholesterol in your body. This good cholesterol helps to clean out the LDL cholesterol and triglycerides from your blood. This cleansing effect can help lower your overall cholesterol level and reduce your risk of heart disease. It is important to remember that low levels of HDL cholesterol are as predictive of heart disease as high levels of LDL cholesterol, so make sure you do all you can to raise your good cholesterol levels.
Salmon and other oily fish are perhaps some of the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Salmon's role as a heart disease combatant is to reduce blood pressure and prevent your blood from clotting. By just including salmon in your diet twice a week, you can lower your risk of heart attack by 30 percent.
In addition to Omega 3 fatty acids, salmon also contains a very high amount of the carotenoid astaxanthin - a powerful antioxidant. Astaxanthin has been shown in clinical studies to heal damage to the heart that occurred in lab rats who were experimentally given heart attacks.
Before you go out and buy your salmon, though, you need to know that wild salmon has much higher levels of Omega 3 and astaxanthin than farm raised salmon. It also contains lower levels of mercury, which is especially important information for pregnant and nursing women.
Just one cup of avocado has almost one-third of your daily requirement of fiber. It is also a terrific source of potassium, folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and copper.
Vitamin B6 has been shown to have similar effects on the heart as folate, reducing the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Clinical studies have shown that copper can reduce the amount of damage done to rat hearts due to experimentally induced heart disease. More research needs to be conducted on humans, but the results suggesting that ingestion of copper can heal a wounded heart are definitely promising.
Avocados also have oleic acid, Omega 9 fatty acid, that has been shown to both decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Vitamin E is also present in avocados, and this vitamin can help prevent heart disease, as long as it is not consumed in especially high doses. More than 1500 IU per day can actually hurt your heart - not help it.
You might want to try combining avocado and salmon in one meal. Pairing avocados with carotenoids can actually enhance absorption of these antioxidants, so you can get the maximum benefit from your astaxanthin.
Everyone needs a little fat in their diet, and olive oil is a very healthy source of monounsaturated fat. This type of fat lowers your risk of heart disease by lowering the level of LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in your blood. Just two tablespoons per day of this delicious oil can have this beneficial effect on your blood and heart.
Try substituting extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO, as Rachael Ray would say) for butter or margarine whenever you can. Butter and margarine contain saturated fats that can actually increase the amount of LDL and total cholesterol you have in your blood. So, adding olive oil into a diet already high in saturated fats wouldn't do as much to help your heart as would replacing the saturated fats with the olive oil.
And you need to make sure you use EVOO because it is less processed than regular olive oil. It also contains higher levels of polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that can stop LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and attaching itself to arterial walls, thus causing heart disease.
So start sauteing your vegetables in EVOO. Just make sure you don't get the oil too hot (smoking point). If you do, you will lose the health benefits entirely. Be careful baking with olive oil because it has a distinvtive taste that does not go well with some baked foods.
You could always use it cold along with some vinegar as a yummy, fresh salad dressing. Or, as Naples Olive Oil Company owner Marie Heiland suggested recently on The Balancing Act, try drinking two tablespoons every morning when you first wake up. This maximizes your body's absorption of this healthy oil. And, according to the show's host, it doesn't taste as bad as it sounds!
Remember that song from the old Popeye cartoon: "I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eat me spinach"? Well, eat your spinach, and you just may be strong to the finish, too.
Spinach is full of many of the heart healthy vitamins and nutrients that have already been discussed: folate, magnesium, Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, fiber, copper, Omega 3 fatty acids, and niacin. But it also contains some heart healthy benefits that these other foods just don't have.
For instance, only two plant sources (spinach and broccoli) have Co-enzyme Q10 (Co-Q10). This antioxidant is known to have a strengthening effect on all of the body's muscles, and patients who are given drugs to lower their cholesterol are also given Co-Q10 because statins can weaken muscles and make them sore. Also, research has shown that Co-Q10 itself can prevent, and even treat, many different types of heart disease.
Spinach also has high amounts of the antioxidant carotenoid lutein. This antioxidant (also present in large doses in tomatoes) has been shown to prevent one of the major causes of heart attacks and strokes, atherosclerosis.
The green leafy vegetable is also a good source of a vitamin-like chemical compound called betaine. This compound reduces heart disease risk by keeping the body's levels of homocysteine low. Homocysteine is a toxic byproduct of methionine metabolization.
Finally, eating spinach can help protect your heart from major damage in the event that a heart attack does occur because of the quantities of nitrate it contains. Nitrates have also been shown to lower blood pressure.
So, whether you eat canned spinach like Popeye or raw spinach in salads, adding this nutritional powerhouse to your diet is definitely a smart idea!
You're on Your Way to Good Heart Health
I hope you've enjoyed this look at the Top 10 Heart Healthy Foods and have learned a lot. I know I learned a lot while researching and writing it. And again, keep in mind that there are many other healthy foods out there that are not mentioned here. Use this as a starting point and go out and do some research on your own. Find out all you can about good nutrition for your heart. Keeping your heart healthy now by eating the right foods will be so much easier and less expensive than having to medically treat your heart once something has gone wrong with it (assuming it's not too late to treat whatever is wrong). Here's wishing you and your family long life and a happy, healthy heart!
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