Add these superhero foods to your shopping list to keep your ticker in tip-top shape
Our hearts are pretty amazing things – beavering away endlessly to keep us alive and kicking – but sadly we don’t do a very good job of looking after them. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular disease (which includes coronary heart disease, strokes and heart attacks) is the leading cause of death worldwide. And what’s more, it’s our lifestyle and dietary choices that cause 75 percent of all cases.
Luckily protecting your heart could be as simple as making a few simple tweaks to the sort of foods that you eat. “Diet plays a significant role in protection against heart disease, and by making small changes, it’s possible to help reduce the risk of problems later in life,” says dietitian Helen Bond (helenbond.co.uk).
So, cut down on salty junk foods, processed meats and saturated fats and load up with nutrient-rich vegetables, fibres and whole grains. Then factor in these healthy eating tips below and your heart will thank you for it…
Why not make yourself a delicious salad heaped with crunchy raw carrots, fresh peas, tomatoes, cucumber, red and yellow peppers, shredded spinach, mushrooms and sprouts? You should be aiming to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg everyday – and preferably up to 10 – all of them different colours – to maximise your range of heart-friendly phytonutrients. “This will mean your body is absorbing a good amount of vitamins and minerals which in turn will help your body fight against heart disease,” says Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, director of Your Doctor (your-doctor.co.uk).
The three bears were on to a good thing – a tasty bowl of porridge every morning could be the key to a strong heart, according to scientists. A Harvard study found that people who ate a small bowl of porridge every day had a lowered risk of dying from heart disease. This is because they contain a soluble fibre called beta glucan that can lower cholesterol levels, according to Tom Mercer of MOMA Foods (momafoods.co.uk). He adds: “Oats are also rich in the mineral magnesium, which relaxes blood vessels, supporting the heart muscle, and regulating blood pressure.”
These potent fruits contain a powerful antioxidant and plant sterol called lycopene, says nutritionist Sarah Flower (sarahflower.co.uk). “Not only can lycopene help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, it can also help with arteriosclerosis – the thickening and hardening of the arteries.” What’s more, cooked tomatoes have higher levels of lycopene so healthy home-made pasta sauces and ketchups should be on your menu!
Did you know that a decent dose of fat could be just what your heart desires? “Although fats often receive a lot of negative connections to heart health, healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil actually play a vital role in keeping our heart healthy by reducing inflammation and raising our beneficial HDL cholesterol levels,” says Antonia. Replacing just five percent of saturated fats such as cheese and butter with ‘good fats’ like olive oil and nuts reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 25 percent, according to research at Harvard Medical School. We’re big fans of walnuts, which are a great source of the omega 3 oil ALA, along with heart friendly vitamins B1, folate and vitamin E.
Staying hydrated should be one of your main goals when it comes to looking after your heart, says fitness expert Luke Hughes, director of Origym (origympersonaltrainercourses.co.uk). “Remember, your heart is a muscle, and an active one at that. You wouldn’t run a marathon without considering hydration, so you shouldn’t go through your day-to-day life without staying hydrated,” he says. “When you are dehydrated your heart will compensate by beating faster, which means more strain, and, over a period of time, serious circulatory conditions.”
Take a tip from the Greeks and feast on tasty grilled sardines or mackerel a couple of times a week. “These oily fish are packed full of heart-boosting omega 3 oils which have been shown to lower triglycerides, helping to prevent cardiovascular disease,” explains Sarah. Research published by the Mayo Clinic found that the omega 3 oils EPA and DHA were associated with a 14 percent lower risk for patients with high cholesterol. Your best buys are the smaller fish such as mackerel, anchovies and sardines as the bigger salmon and tuna can often contain traces of harmful heavy metals.
These potent ruby roots are rich in pressure-busting nitrates, explains nutritionist Antonia Magor (antoniamagor.com). “They lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels, as well as being rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that help protect the body from ageing cells and disruptions,” she says. “These compounds are particularly high in beetroots gram for gram, however you can also find them in your diet through dark green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits, and sunshine helps our body synthesise the chemical itself!” So grab a beetroot salad and head for the sun – your heart with thank you for it!
Most of us have too much salt in our diet, which can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease. “The salt we consume is usually already in the foods we buy so it’s important to check the labels of what you’re buying,” explains Dr Riccardo. “Microwave meals are notorious for having a huge amount of salt in – it’s always better to cook from scratch so you’re more aware of what’s going into your food.”
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