|16 Heart-Healthy (by NESHMIA)
Foods You Aren't Eating
Eat Your Heart Out
You may love to eat, but does the food you eat love you back? If you munch like most Pakistanis, the answer is no. With excessive calories, sodium, saturated fat and refined carbs, the typical Eastern diet can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and ultimately heart attack and heart disease. But many foods contain beneficial nutrients that help lower heart disease risk and improve overall health. Here are 16 heart-healthy foods to add to your menu.
Cherries get their bright red hue from anthocyanin, a type of antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of heart disease and may help prevent stroke. For maximum benefit, buy and eat fresh cherries. Frozen cherries can lose as much as 50 percent of their anthocyanins during 6 months of freezing.
Whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats. And they're high in both soluble and insoluble fibre which helps keep blood sugar levels more even, reducing inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Soluble fibre also helps lower levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Whole grains may also protect against diabetes, another big risk factor for heart disease.
Eating a small handful of pistachio nuts a day can increase the levels of antioxidants in the blood of adults with high cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol, according to a recent study. Antioxidants are thought to help prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidising, building up as plaque in the blood vessel walls and causing inflammation.
Spice up your heart-healthy menu with cinnamon. Antioxidants in cinnamon have been linked to lower inflammation as well as reductions in blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Reap benefits by eating about three teaspoons a day. Try sprinkling it on top of your morning oatmeal, mixing it in with yogurt or adding it to a smoothie.
You were on to something as a kid: it turns out beans are good for your heart. In addition to being packed with cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre, beans are high in magnesium and potassium which help regulate blood pressure. Eating four or more servings of beans and other legumes a week helps lower the risk of heart disease by 22 percent according to a large survey. If you're worried about embarrassing gas, rinse beans after soaking before eating.
When eaten in moderation, olive oil is one of the heart-healthiest foods around thanks to its concentration of monounsaturated fat which helps lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Skip the 'light' varieties – they're just refined versions of regular olive oil and have no less fat but possibly fewer nutrients – and choose extra-virgin olive oil. Cold-pressed olive oil retains the most heart-healthy antioxidants.
Oats have the highest proportion of soluble fibre of any grain – two grams per one-cup serving. Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance in the body which helps sweep up cholesterol in the body. Don't just save this whole grain for breakfast!
This tangy, juicy fruit contains three grams of cholesterol-fighting fibre as well as blood-pressure regulating potassium. Researchers recently reported that a type of flavonoid antioxidant in orange juice called hesperidin may also improve blood vessel function, reduce clogs in the arteries and help lower heart disease risk. Like all citrus fruits, oranges are good sources of the B-vitamin folate (folic acid). Folate helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, that is related to heart disease, atherosclerosis, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
The health benefits of tea keep pouring in. Researchers in Netherlands found that, compared to drinking less than a cup a day, drinking three to six cups of tea a day (black, green or similar leaf teas; not herbal) was associated with a 45 percent reduced risk of death from heart disease, and drinking more than six cups a day was associated with a 36 percent lower risk of heart disease. Other studies have shown that tea helps to keep blood vessels relaxed and prevent blood clots. In addition, flavonoids, the major antioxidants in tea, have been shown to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol that leads to plaque formation on artery walls. For maximum benefit, drink caffeinated tea. The decaffeination process can reduce antioxidant levels.
Spread heart health by substituting butter for margarine that's been fortified with stanols and sterols, plant compounds that help lower cholesterol and cut heart disease risk. All you need are two grams of stanols or sterols a day – the amount found in about two tablespoons of fortified spreads.
Similar to tea, Dutch researchers found that drinking two to four cups of coffee a day is linked to a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to drinking less than two or more than four cups a day.
Other studies back this evidence. A 2008 study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that women who drank two to three cups of coffee a day, for instance, had a 25 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease than non-coffee drinkers. Stick to regular coffee, though. Decaf may increase cholesterol levels.
Like olive oil, walnuts are rich in monounsaturated fat. Plus walnuts are high in omega-3 fats which can reduce triglyceride levels, prevent arterial plaque build-up, lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Try sprinkling a few chopped akhrot on top of yogurt, cereal or oatmeal or mix in with salad or rice.
Lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants, is abundant in tomatoes, watermelon and other red fruits and veggies. Studies have shown that consuming tomatoes and tomato products like pasta sauce reduced the risk of heart disease. Lycopene also has anti-inflammatory effect on the lining of the arteries.
Omega-3 fats are what give fish their heart-healthy boost. Omega-3s lower triglyceride levels, slow the growth arterial plaque, slightly lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden death. To reel in these benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish a week, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout and sardines.
Blueberries may help ward off several key risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood sugar and belly fat. Findings from a study found that, women whose diets were high in anthocyanins, the antioxidant that gives blueberries their signature hue, had a lower risk for heart disease.