There are many types of heart disease, with a condition called atherosclerosis being the most common cause. This is typified by a build-up of plaque in the arteries which thickens and stiffens the artery walls making it difficult for blood to flow freely to the vital organs and tissues. Atherosclerosis can be caused by a number of reasons such as unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, obesity, stress and smoking, with health conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes being major risk factors. A heart healthy diet and lifestyle choices can hugely impact heart health and help prevent and manage heart disease. Below are some of the most beneficial foods and supplements for those with, or trying to prevent heart disease.
Colourful berry fruits, such as blueberries, are among the best cell-nourishing and -protecting foods available, as they are high in vitamins, phytonutrients, and phenolic compounds such as anthocyanins (which give fruit their red or purplish colour). They slow the reproduction of rogue cells and immobilise mutated cells, which helps us to age gracefully and healthfully and remain vital. Their juice reduces platelet levels, which decreases the risk of blood clots and offers circulatory system support. They also contain compounds that may help to reduce inflammation and strengthen the body’s collagen tissue. More specifically, they promote high levels of ‘happy’ HDL cholesterol and inhibit oxidation of ‘lousy’ LDL cholesterol. Eat when in season on a daily basis.
Turmeric nourishes the heart by virtue of its blood building quality. By increasing blood flow and reducing total cholesterol, turmeric helps the functions of the heart. It has an anti-platelet activity and scrapes accumulations from the channels (lekhaniya) that helps to prevent coagulation and reduce kapha obstructions in the blood. Studies suggest that it can reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, and also prevent the damage to LDL cholesterol that may lead to cholesterol being deposited in the blood vessels. As heart disease involves inflammation too the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric or curcumin may also play a beneficial role here.
Nuts, especially almonds are a particularly rich source of plant sterols, a substance known to naturally lower cholesterol levels, high levels of which being a major risk factor for heart disease. Just 1 oz of nuts a day, as part of a balanced whole food diet, has been shown to contribute to a healthy heart. A handful of almonds with an apple makes the perfect snack as part of your heart healthy diet.
Avocados are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, are a good source of fiber and also contain small amounts of plant sterols, proven to help lower LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. They are a great food choice as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Choosing fruits high in soluble fiber is helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, with optimal intake of fruit & veg helping to keep blood pressure in the normal range. Both high cholesterol and high blood pressure are two major risk factors for heart disease. Apples are rich in heart-healthy nutrients and contain plant sterols and pectin that help lower cholesterol. So an ‘apple a day’ really works as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Garlic is amongst the world’s healthiest foods and studies have shown that regular use of garlic can be beneficial for heart health and can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, two major risk factors for heart disease. So use garlic liberally when cooking as part of a diet to help prevent and manage heart disease. Garlic can also be taken in supplement form, but one of its many health benefits is helping to thin the blood, so consult your doctor before taking garlic supplements if you are on blood-thinning medication.
Oily fish such as wild salmon should be a staple in any heart-healthy diet as they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids found in abundance in oily fish contribute to heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and reducing inflammation and blood viscosity. Omega-3 fatty acids are also known to reduce LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase HDL ‘good’ cholesterol. Eating at least 2 portions of oily fish per week can help to prevent or manage heart disease.
There is lots of evidence showing that adopting a Mediterranean diet is beneficial for heart health. Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, regular consumption of which has been shown to help prevent and manage heart disease.
Cayenne pepper acts as a vasodilator and can instantly lower high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. One tsp of cayenne pepper in a small glass of lukewarm water gives a great circulation boost, good for maintaining heart health.
Chromium has been shown in some studies to increase levels of HDL, ‘good’ cholesterol and decrease levels of LDL, ‘bad’ cholesterol in people with diets high in refined foods. It also helps balance blood sugar levels, which may in turn help prevent type 2 diabetes. An overall beneficial mineral for heart health.
CoQ10 is a naturally occurring enzyme in the body. It’s used for energy production and is needed by every cell in the body, especially high energy cells like those in the heart. Bodily supplies of CoQ10 decrease with age and many people with heart disease are thought to have inadequate supplies. People taking prescribed statin medication to lower cholesterol levels may also have reduced levels of CoQ10 in the body. Consider taking as a supplement to benefit general health as well as heart health.
Hawthorn is a herb that positively affects the working of the entire heart. It helps to relax the arteries, thus improving blood flow, which in turn helps reduce high blood pressure. Hawthorn also appears to block enzymes that weaken heart muscles, thereby helping the heart to pump more efficiently. In addition, it has antioxidant properties that may help prevent oxidization of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol particles, which is thought to be damaging to the arteries. All in all, it is thought to be an all purpose heart enhancer and well worth supplementing with to help prevent or manage heart disease.