Healthy lifestyle habits including eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, but what specific foods have the most protective effect? Research has shown plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish to be especially beneficial.
Powering up on the following foods will help stave off heart disease.
1. FISH. The main benefit of fish is the type of fat it has called omega-3 fatty acids. The specific omega-3 fats in fish, EPA and DHA, can lower blood triglycerides, make platelets less sticky, reduce electrical disturbances to the heart and reduce inflammation. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the most beneficial. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice weekly. One serving is 3.5 ounces of cooked fish or ¾ cup of flaked fish. Getting your omega-3 fatty acids from food is preferable, but for people with existing cardiovascular disease a fish oil supplement is advised. Nature Made and Costco brand supplements are a good choice. Look at the amount of EPA and DHA in the supplement; they should add up to 1,000 mg.
2. FRUIT. There are many beneficial properties to fruit besides its fiber content. Fruit is high in antioxidants such as Vitamin C and potassium. Antioxidants shield the body from stress by relaxing the arteries and stabilizing plaque that builds up in the arteries. Fruits high in Vitamin C include oranges and Clementine’s, kiwi, strawberries and papaya. A number of fruits also contain potassium which can help lower blood pressure. Dried fruits such as raisins, prunes and apricots, bananas, oranges, papaya and cantaloupe are all good sources.
3. OLIVE OIL. The benefits of olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, are found in its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Make this your primary oil source, but go easy on the amount as it high in calories. Buy your olive oil in small quantities as it can go rancid if it is stored for too long. Olive oil is not a good choice for high heat cooking because it has a low smoke point. Use grapeseed oil or a canola oil such as Spectrum brand oils for higher heat cooking.
4. GRAINS. Go for whole grains. Whole grains have more antioxidants and magnesium than refined grains. Magnesium can help lower blood pressure. Oats and barley are good sources of a fiber called beta-glucan that can lower blood cholesterol and improve the action of insulin.
5. LEGUMES. Aim to eat beans four times weekly. Beans are heart protective as they are rich sources of potassium, magnesium, glucose lowering starches and soluble fiber, a type of fiber that lowers cholesterol. If gas is an issue, start slowly and your body will adjust.
6. NUTS and SEEDS. Eating a variety of nuts and seeds boosts your intake of healthy monounsaturated fats, magnesium and antioxidants. Because nuts and seeds are calorie dense limit your portion to 1 ounce or ¼ cup a day. Be sure to chose lightly or unsalted nuts to avoid getting too much sodium.
7. VEGETABLES. Aim for variety and color. Try to eat two servings daily to boost your intake of antioxidants and potassium. Vegetables are also high in fiber and can help you lose weight as they are low in calories. Dark leafy green vegetables such as collard and kale have a hefty dose of antioxidants and potassium.
Stacey Trogdon, RD, CDE
CHER Diabetes Center
Stacey Trogdon, RD, CDE, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She received her degree in dietetics from Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA and completed her dietetic internship at University of Washington in Seattle. Stacey has been practicing as a dietitian for over 10 years in both inpatient and out-patient settings. She specializes in diabetes, nutrition therapy for medical conditions and sports nutrition. Stacey is a member of the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists practice group of the American Dietetic Association. Stacey is also a freelance writer with articles published in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine and InHealthNW. She has also practiced as a corporate wellness dietitian promoting wellness and disease prevention in Bellevue, Washington.