Secrets to a Healthy Heart

heart health
Written by Lily Soutter

Our heart is the most precious organ we have and is vital to every aspect of health.

It’s easy to take our heart health for granted, but heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, killing about 610,000 people every year.

By making a few simple tweaks to our diet and lifestyle, we can help to protect our cardiovascular health and achieve a long and healthy life. With February being National Heart Month, there’s really no better time than now to start a heart-friendly diet. Here are some foods and vitamins you should be consuming to help your heart get the nutrients it needs.

Healthy Hearts Choose Berries

While all fruit and vegetables contain an array of polyphenols, berries are unique in that they contain a high content of the polyphenol anthocyanin, which is thought to have heart-protective effects. Berries are also low in calories yet rich in fiber and vitamin C.

A study in the American Heart Association journals showed that women who consumed the highest amounts of blueberries and strawberries were 34 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack than women who ate the least of these fruits. What’s more, some research shows that berry consumption may reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

TOP SOURCES: Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries

Vitamin E is Essential to Heart Health

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant, which may help to prevent the development of atherosclerosis. It protects our harmful LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which is a good thing, and prevents its build up within blood vessel walls. Vitamin E-rich foods can also help to minimize blood clots and may play a role in maintaining healthy blood pressure.

TOP SOURCES: Nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocado.

High Fiber Foods Help Keep Hearts Healthy

We currently only consume an average of 15-18 grams of fiber per day, which is about half the recommended 25-30 grams per day. If you’re suffering from high cholesterol, try adding soluble fiber to your diet. This special fiber binds to “bad” LDL cholesterol and bile acids in the digestive tract. This means that cholesterol is eliminated from the body rather than absorbed into the bloodstream.

TOP SOURCES: Oats, oat bran, all berries, beans, lentils, psyllium and flax seed  

Healthy Hearts Need Vitamin C

We all know that fruit and vegetables are good for us, and people who have a higher intake have been shown to have higher blood levels of vitamin C, which has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that vitamin C, an antioxidant nutrient, contributes to a reduction in the oxidation of harmful cholesterol. It may also help to maintain healthy blood pressure.

While many of us think of oranges as a top source of vitamin C, fruits such as strawberries, cherries and guavas actually have a higher concentration of this crucial vitamin. In fact, just a cup of strawberries provides almost 100 percent of our recommended daily intake. Strawberries are rich in fiber, yet low in calories and sugar, making them a perfect snack to balance blood sugar and keep hunger at bay.

TOP SOURCES: Berries — particularly strawberries, cherries, citrus fruit, kale, broccoli 

Oily Fish Provides Omega 3s for Heart Health

All fish has been shown to support heart health; however, oily fish is extra special as it’s a potent source of omega 3 fats. These healthy fats may help to protect heart and blood vessels from disease. The current government guidelines are to consume two portions of fish a week, one of which is oily. Be careful to choose fish that is low in mercury.

TOP SOURCES: Salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, sardines and herring

Poly and Monounsaturated Fats are Great Choices for Heart Health

It may be time to put down the saturated fat-rich coconut oil and switch back to humble olive oil.

A diet high in saturated and trans fats can elevate our “bad” LDL cholesterol, which can increase our risk of heart disease. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help to maintain levels of “good”  HDL cholesterol and decrease levels of “bad” LDL-cholesterol.

TOP SOURCES: Olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado

Health Hearts Love Herbs and Spices

There’s no doubting that excess salt within the diet can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke. Ditch the table salt and get experimenting in the kitchen with flavorsome herbs and spices. As an added bonus, fresh thyme is high in vitamin C, and turmeric is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

TOP SOURCES: Turmeric, oregano, chili flakes, cumin, ginger, cardamom, rosemary, thyme, parsley and dill

About the author

Lily Soutter

Lily Soutter is a nutritionist from London, England. She has a bachelor’s degree in food and human nutrition from Newcastle University and is currently working toward her master’s in nutritional medicine at the University of Surry. Lily's extensive knowledge of the science of food and health enables her to write regularly for The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent, Women's Health and Cosmopolitan. She has also had frequent TV appearances in the UK.

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