Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in the UK. Many people are unaware of the powerful role our diet can play in protecting our heart. Here are our top ten heart-healthy foods:
Those who eat nuts on a regular basis have been found to have a lower risk of developing heart disease. This is because nuts are rich in several heart-healthy nutrients including phytosterols, magnesium, Vitamin E and fibre. Enjoy a small handful of raw nuts, or a little nut butter on oatcakes for your mid-morning snack.
Studies have found that eating as little as 3g of oats each day could protect against heart disease by lowering the so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol. This is because oats are rich in a soluble fibre called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan binds with water, forming a thick gel in the digestive tract which in turn binds to excess cholesterol so that it is eliminated from the body as waste.
To get a beneficial effect you need to consume 3g of beta-glucan each day. This is equivalent to 2-4 portions of oat-based foods. While this may sound like a lot, this can easily be achieved. Try starting the day with an oat-based porridge or muesli, then have a couple of oatcakes for a mid-morning snack. You can also add oats to soups and smoothies.
One study found that taking 20g of ground flaxseeds a day for 60 days resulted in the same reduction in cholesterol as cholesterol-lowering medication. This is due to the fact that flaxseeds are high in fibre and Omega 3 fatty acids. Aim for a tablespoon a day. Add to cereals, bread and smoothies.
A 2011 study found that people who consumed at least one serving of blueberries per week were 10% less likely than those who ate no blueberries to develop high blood pressure. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium and fibre. Add to cereal or yogurt for breakfast or blend into smoothies.
A traditional Japanese starter, edamame beans have now become quite mainstream. They can be found in the frozen section of most supermarkets. Edamame beans contain soya protein, which has been shown to lower triglycerides. Use in salads.
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach contain folate which can reduce homocysteine. Having high levels of homocysteine can increase your risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. Baby spinach can be added to salads or wilted with garlic and olive oil.
Olive oil contains antioxidants which lower cholesterol. Extra Virgin olive oil is higher in antioxidants. Aim for two tablespoons a day. It can be used in cooking and added to salads.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which both lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Add to salads or spread onto oatcakes for a snack.
A study published in the British Medical Journal found that those with highest levels of chocolate consumption had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease! This is due to the flavanols in cocoa, which lower blood pressure and reduce free radical damage. Opt for chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa and limit yourself to one square a day. Cocoa nibs are also a great addition to porridge or smoothies.
Fish oils, (in particular Omega-3 fatty acids) are beneficial when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart. Long chain omega-3s can help the heart maintain its rhythm, lower blood pressure, keep blood vessels healthy and lower the risk of blood clots.
So that’s it – your top 10 heart-healthy foods. Next time you’re planning a meal, make sure you pick some foods from the list above to enrich your diet and protect your beautiful heart. If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably also like: 10 Healthy Snacks from a Nutritionist
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