Almost all of us know someone who’s been affected by heart disease. As the leading cause of death worldwide, it’s estimated that about 92 million American adults have at least some form of heart disease, and by 2030, researchers project that nearly 44 percent of the US population will be affected. (1)
Atherosclerosis is one of the major causes of heart disease. Caused by the build-up of fatty plaque inside the arteries, this condition results in the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. High blood pressure is another common cause, which places extra strain on the heart and leads to a gradual weakening of the heart muscle. (2)
Traditional treatments for heart disease range from medications to surgery. However, to really prevent and protect against heart disease, making some major lifestyle changes is crucial. In particular, staying active and modifying your diet are key when it comes to reducing your risk of heart disease.
What you put on your plate can have a major impact on the health of your heart. Trans fats, sodium and added sugars are all linked to a higher risk of heart disease, while other foods have been shown to preserve heart health and prevent the build-up of plaque in the arteries. By making some simple swaps and including the following nutritious foods in your diet, you can keep your cardiovascular system healthy and strong to ward off heart disease.
Long revered for its health-promoting and medicinal properties, garlic has been associated with a number of benefits when it comes to heart health. In fact, studies suggest that upping your intake of garlic can even lower levels of cholesterol. (3, 4) According to one 2015 analysis, garlic can reduce blood pressure and may be especially effective for those who have high blood pressure. (5)
Garlic can also prevent platelet aggregation, reducing the risk of blood clot formation and stroke. (6) However, it’s important to note that these effects mostly apply to high doses of garlic supplements rather than raw garlic cloves, which appear to have little effect on platelet function. (7)
IF you’re looking to add more garlic to your diet, be sure to crush, slice or chew garlic and let it sit for a few minutes. This allows time for the formation of allicin, the compound that’s responsible for many of the beneficial effects of garlic. Ideally, aim for 1-3 cloves daily of fresh or raw garlic, although it can be used cooked as well. Aged garlic supplements also pack in a more concentrated amount of nutrients and can help maximize the therapeutic properties.
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Bursting with both antioxidants and vitamin C, pomegranates top the charts as one of the most nutrient-dense fruits available.
The edible seeds of the fruit, also known as arils, are especially high in polyphenols and antioxidants, which can protect the cells against oxidative damage and alleviate inflammation. (8) In addition to the arils, pomegranate juice has also been shown to have a greater antioxidant potential than red wine, with some research indicating that it could even help keep blood pressure under control. (9)
Enjoy both the juice and fruit as nutrient-rich additions to a heart-healthy diet. If you do opt for the juice, though, be sure to look for a brand without added sugar or extra ingredients to ensure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck.
High in natural compounds like catechins that can keep your heart in tip-top shape, green tea is one drink that definitely belongs on any heart-healthy diet.
As one of the most extensively studied ingredients on the planet, there’s plenty of research to back up the benefits of green tea. It’s been shown to reduce levels of triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol, and a higher intake of green tea has even been associated with a 28 percent lower risk of death from heart disease. (10, 11).
Drinking a few cups of green tea per day is the easiest and most effective way to get in your fix of this super nutritious beverage. Select a high-quality brand and add just a squeeze of lemon rather than sugar to bump up the flavor without diminishing the potential health benefits.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
It may seem like a no-brainer, but adding a serving or two of leafy greens into your diet is one of the best things that you can do when it comes to heart health. Leafy green vegetables like spinach, arugula, kale, and collard greens are rich in a wide array of micronutrients that support cardiovascular health, including magnesium, potassium, B-vitamins, iron and vitamin C.
Additionally, leafy greens also boast a good amount of nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body. This important compound acts as a vasodilator to reduce blood pressure and has even been shown to block blood clot formation as well. (12, 13)
Shoot for a few servings per day of leafy greens to take advantage of the many nutrients they supply. Other nitrate-rich veggies such as beets, celery, and carrots can also make excellent additions to a heart-healthy eating plan.
Loved by many for their creamy texture and rich flavor, avocados are equal parts delicious and nutritious, plus versatile enough to fit seamlessly into a nutritious diet.
Avocados contain a pretty impressive set of essential nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fatty acids. (14) Many of the vitamins and minerals found in avocados are especially important when it comes to heart health. In fact, according to one study in 2015, adding just one avocado per day to a moderate-fat diet led to significant reductions in cholesterol levels. (15)
Use avocados in your favorite salads, side dishes or spreads. Alternatively, try avocado oil, which has a high smoke point that’s perfect for cooking and can boost your intake of healthy fats.
Incorporating a few servings of these foods and others like them into your diet is a great first step towards improving the health of your cardiovascular system. However, it’s important to remember that adding in a few nutritious foods is just one piece of the puzzle.
Reducing your intake of processed junk, added sugars, trans fats, and refined grains is equally important when it comes to heart health. Additionally, be sure to adjust your lifestyle as necessary, minimizing stress levels and getting regular exercise to keep your heart in top condition.
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