While February is Heart and Stroke Awareness Month, it is always a great idea to consume foods that are heart healthy. There are many widely available foods that benefit the heart and circulatory system, but these five are common foods that you might not have considered.
Here’s the lowdown, including the reasons each of them are good for the heart…
- Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are starting to gain more popularity these days as a healthy food, and for good reason. They contain many important nutrients, such as selenium, copper, phosphorus, vitamin B1, and manganese.
There are other nutrients in flax seeds that make them a food that can benefit heart health:
- Good fat: an omega 3 fatty acid in the form of Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. Omega 3s have an anti-inflammatory effect, which is beneficial. Many medical professionals consider inflammation to be the primary cause of most chronic illnesses, including heart disease.
- Fiber – both the soluble type and the insoluble type of fiber, which is helpful for reducing cholesterol levels.
- Lignans: There are more lignans, a phytonutrient, in flax seeds than in other plant foods. The combination of lignans, omega 3 fatty acids and fiber have proven to help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
- Magnesium, a necessary mineral that supports heart functioning.
Flax seeds will absorb water, so be sure to drink plenty of water when consuming flax seeds.
- Raw Chocolate (Cacao)
When chocolate is in it’s raw state, it is loaded with nutrients, and many benefits for the heart and circulatory system:
- It contains magnesium, a mineral that is known to support the heart. Magnesium also helps build bones, supports brain function, helps the muscles of the colon, and helps our body maintain an alkaline pH balance.
- Raw chocolate also contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat which is heart healthy because it can help reduce blood cholesterol levels.
- Other nutrients found in raw cacao are: antioxidants, Vitamin C, zinc, chromium, manganese, iron and copper. Antioxidants are particularly important to help protect the cells and organs from the damaging effects of oxidative stress.
Recent studies have indicated three other interesting heart benefits of raw dark chocolate:
- it can have a positive effect on the heart by reducing blood pressure
- it could reduce blood platelet clotting, which translates into lower risk of blocked blood vessels and reduced risk of heart attacks
- it could have anti-inflammatory effects and reduce inflammation in the circulatory system, protecting the heart.
Cabbage has been a staple in many North American kitchens for decades. For this reason, it could easily taken for granted, and be overlooked for the valuable nutritional qualities it has. Cabbage contains many nutrients, including B Vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, and manganese,
There are other nutrients in cabbage that are particularly helpful to the cardiovascular system:
- Magnesium: As mentioned above (see flax seeds and raw chocolate) magnesium is very beneficial to the heart.
- Anthocyanins: Red cabbage contains anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that have been known to reduce inflammation that can bring about cardiovascular disease.
- Polyphenols – antioxidants that are abundant in cabbage, could reduce blood pressure and prevent platelet buildup in the arteries, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Fiber: The fiber in steamed cabbage easily binds to bile acids in the digestive tract, making it easy for the bile acids to be excreted from the body. This has the effect of lowering cholesterol levels. Raw cabbage can do the same thing, but to a lesser degree.
Grapes have many nutrients, but it is the antioxidant nutrients in grapes that are most beneficial for cardiovascular health. The benefits of these antioxidants include:
- Lowering cholesterol, particular LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Regulating blood pressure.
- Reducing platelet cell clumping, which decreases the risk of blood clots.
- Reduce inflammation in the blood vessels.
- Decreases oxidative stress by lowering the number of reactive oxygen molecules in the blood.
Walnuts have a long list of nutrients including omega 3 fatty acids, copper, Vitamin B6, folate, iron, manganese, potassium, magnesium and calcium. The combination of these nutrients has been shown to help reduce metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health issues that can have a negative effect on the heart, including elevated trigylcerides (excessive fat in the blood), low HDL (good) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity (particularly abdominal obesity).
Here are some specific ways in which walnuts benefit heart health:
- Walnuts contain L-arginine, which is healthy for artery walls, making them more flexible
- Benefit from omega 3 fatty acids: Walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids, including ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid), a plant based omega 3 fatty acid, which could possibly reduce the formation of blood clots, and improve the quality of the blood.
- Regulation of blood pressure: Walnuts contain minerals that help regulate blood pressure: potassium. magnesium and calcium.
- Cholesterol levels: Walnuts can help to reduce overall cholesterol levels, including LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Decreases inflammation of the arteries.
It is worth mentioning that walnuts are healthy for the brain as well as the heart, because they help cognitive function and memory.
Many foods offer health benefits for the heart, and consuming foods from this short list is a great place to start. Other ways you can protect your heart include getting plenty of exercise every week, maintaining a healthy diet consistently (including consuming less refined foods), eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits every day, getting enough healthy sleep, laughing a little, and maintaining good social connections and loving relationships.
Are you ‘spinning your wheels’ when it comes to making lifestyle changes that will benefit your health? Do you know which lifestyle changes work for you, but you have trouble getting things going in the right direction? You’re not alone! Health Coaching can help! Contact me and let’s chat about it.
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