Once upon a time it was believed that fat and cholesterol clogged arteries and that’s what led to stroke and heart attack.
What researchers now know is that heart disease is caused by inflammation. Negative stimulus in the bloodstream — sugar, salt, lack of nutrients, toxins — causes cells in the vessels to migrate and inflame and this is what leads to the lesions or blocked arteries that cause strokes and heart attacks.
While the cause of this inflammation can be many things, your diet is one of the major contributing factors. By focusing your attention to heart-healthy food sources, you can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease.
But it’s not just about eating healthy — it’s about eating foods with nutrients and compounds that fight for your heart health.
These are some of those very foods, and you should aim to eat include them in your diet on a daily basis…
Extra virgin olive oil
The main form of fat consumed in the Mediterranean region, extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). These alone provide heart-protective benefits but on top of this, olive oil contains more than 36 polyphenols that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The MUFAs and polyphenols combined:
- Decrease total cholesterol levels
- Reduce LDL (the bad stuff)
- Increase HDL (the good stuff)
- Decrease oxidative stress
- Decrease inflammation
All of these factors influence the health of your arteries and vessels, directly warding off heart problems.
Aim for two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day (you’ll also help ward off cancer!). Use for cooking, in salads, drizzled over stir-fries or in smoothies.
Berries such as blueberries and strawberries contain anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid with impressive qualities.
These anthocyanins are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, scavenge free radicals, and help modulate what’s happening inside your arteries, so they function better and keep your blood sugar in check.
Eating three servings or more of blueberries and strawberries per week provides the above benefits.
Nuts are like disease kryptonite, and there are so many delicious ones to choose from — almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, pine nuts, and pecans.
Nuts are a great source of healthy fats — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated — and they also contain fiber, protein, tocopherols, minerals, phytosterols, and polyphenols, all of which add up to a big punch of heart-healthy goodness.
Eat a small handful a day, about one ounce per serve. And make sure you eat a wide variety as the different nuts offer different heart-healthy benefits.
Green leafy vegetables
As a nutritionist, I really can’t say enough about green leafy vegetables. They are the most nutritious veggies you can eat and I recommend eating at least one big serve of these green wonders on a daily basis.
In terms of heart health, they reduce stiffness in the arteries, help regulate blood pressure and contribute dietary nitrates that convert to a compound known as nitric oxide that aids blood pressure and directly helps prevent dysfunction of the artery walls.
You need to eat green leafy vegetables regularly because the effects begin to wane after about two days. Green leafy veggies are also high in lutein, magnesium, and folate, which contribute antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, too.
If you have a hard time getting your greens every day, see what a “green” powder supplement can offer.
Fiber is a disease-fighting must-have. Consuming adequate fiber is important to blood sugar regulation, gut bacteria and metabolism, which all have important consequences on cardiovascular health. Fiber has also been shown in many studies to lower cholesterol — yet another heart-healthy benefit!
You’ll find fiber in vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans, legumes and fruit. Notice something about these foods? They are all plant-based whole foods.
Unfortunately, the modern Western diet is low in fiber because many processed foods are made with refined ingredients. And though some of them contain “added” fiber, it’s not the same as eating whole food fiber-filled sources, which also provide vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, flavonoids, and phytochemicals that have additional heart-healthy benefits.
The recommended daily intake for fiber is 25 to 38 grams per day.
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!
Freeman AM, et al. Trending Cardiovascular Nutrition Controversies. — Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017;69(9):1172-1187.
Mirmiran P, et al. A Prospective Study of Different Types of Dietary Fiber and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study. — Nutrients. 2016;8(11):686.