The next time you are standing in a long line-up at your favorite fast food restaurant, remember that the food choices you make now play an essential role in how healthy your heart will be in the future. Okay, so it’s probably not what you want to hear when you’re about to devour a greasy burger and fries, but better to hear it now than battle high cholesterol or severe heart disease a few years down the road.
Most Common Type of Heart Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading type of heart disease. It is caused when there is a narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels leading to the heart. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle, which will result in heart failure and arrhythmias. It is one of if not the most common types of heart disease and is the leading cause of death and heart attacks in the U.S.
Heart Disease: Facts Don’t Lie
Approximately 610,000 people die each year in the U.S. because of heart disease—one in every four deaths! Coronary artery disease accounted for 370,000 of those deaths. In 2009, more than half of the deaths caused by heart disease were men.
Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
Did you know that almost 50% of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside the hospital? This illustrates the fact that most people are completely unaware of the signs and symptoms of heart attacks and do not act when they experience them. Let’s take a look at a few of the major warning signs and symptoms for heart attacks:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats
The people who are at a higher risk of getting a heart attack are those who have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, and smokers. Almost half of the American population can probably factor in at least one of these risk factors. In addition, there are several other medical conditions and lifestyles that can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
Maintain Your Heart with Healthy Food!
Okay, so now you’re ready to eat right and take good care of your heart! If you’re a bit confused about what types of food to consume, here are some helpful tips on what your diet should look like and what you should be eating on a daily basis.
Use Up Those Calories:
- The first thing you need to know is how many calories you should be eating and drinking in order to maintain your weight; speak with your doctor about this
- Never eat more calories than you know you can burn each day
- If you do want to consume more calories, you need to increase the intensity of your physical activities to match the calories you are consuming
- Do some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes a day; exercise will help you maintain or lose weight and help you reach your cardiovascular fitness goals
Eat Nutritious Foods:
It is extremely beneficial to consume nutrient-rich food containing minerals, vitamins and other nutrients that will help control your weight, your cholesterol and blood pressure. Follow a dietary pattern that will focus on the following:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- Poultry, fish, and nuts
- Limiting red meat, sugary foods, and sugary beverages
Base Your Eating Pattern on These Recommendations:
- Eat fish at least twice a week. Research has shown that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids can lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease
- Reduce saturated fat to about five percent of your total calories to lower your cholesterol
- Avoid beverages and foods with added sugars
Foods That Are Healthy for Your Heart
1. Wild salmon: You can eat it broiled, baked or grilled; it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids that will improve the metabolic markers for heart disease. It has rich levels of selenium, which is an antioxidant that will increase cardiovascular protection. The omega-3s found in salmon (and other fatty fish) also benefit your heart by:
- Keeping your blood flowing; omega-3s have an anti-clotting effect
- Helping to lower triglycerides,a type of fat that contributes to heart disease
- Try to eat at least two servings of oily fish each week (3.5 ounces constitutes one serving)
2. Sardines: Also packed with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil; it will boost your positive cholesterol levels and will reduce the risk of a sudden heart attack for people who have had heart attacks in the past.
3. Liver: Your heart needs some fats for the heart, liver contains those fats.
4. Walnuts: These contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, and folate, all promoting healthy hearts. Some benefits from walnuts include:
- Just five ounces of nuts each week may cut your risk of heart disease in half
- Good monounsaturated fats to help lower “bad” LDL cholesteroland raise “good” HDL cholesterol
5. Almonds: Just like walnuts, these are packed with monounsaturated fats and provide a good alternative for people who do not like walnuts. They also provide a healthy serving of fiber to boost your heart health, while being rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Eating just 1.5 ounces of almonds per day can lead to noticeable reductions in LDL cholesterol.
6. Oatmeal: If you’re always struggling to decide what to eat for breakfast, oatmeal might be the best solution; it is known for reducing cholesterol. Oats feature a large serving of beta-glucan, a type of fiber noted for its ability to lower LDL. One and a half cups of cooked oatmeal can give you the amount you need to help drop LDL.
7. Blueberries: Blueberries, or any type of berries, really, are packed with antioxidants that encourage heart health and can provide a defense against coronary disease. You can actually put these in your oatmeal to gain even more nutrients. Furthermore:
- Berries are rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against oxidative stress inflammation
- Eating blueberries daily improves the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which helps control blood pressure and blood clotting
- Berries lower LDL, systolic blood pressure, body mass index, and certain markers of inflammation
8. Green Tea: We all like to get that caffeine fix, but why not try drinking something that is even healthier for your body? Green tea is filled with flavonoids, antioxidants that will help reduce blood clots. Some noted benefits include:
- Reductions in blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol
- Polyphenols and catechins, particularly EGCG, which can prevent cell damage, reduce inflammation, and protect overall heart health
9. Soy Milk: This contains the organic compound isoflavone, which has been known to reduce cholesterol. It is low in fat and, unlike animal milk, it contains zero percent cholesterol.
10. Raisins: If you want to lower your blood pressure, grab some raisins. The reason they lower your blood pressure is because they contain potassium, which helps lower hypertension and increases immune-boosting antioxidants.
11. Olive Oil: Commonly used in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil can offer some major benefits for heart health. A rich source of healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, studies have shown it can:
- Lower the risk of heart disease
- Reduce the risk of dying from heart disease
- Lower blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic)
12. Chickpeas: Fiber-rich lentils and other forms of beans and legumes can lower LDL cholesterol with their soluble fiber. When buying canned beans, try to select “low-sodium” options and always remember to give them a good rinse before cooking. Beans are also associated with lower inflammation and blood pressure levels.
13. Avocados: Like many other foods on this list, avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats that can lower LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that people who eat avocado more often are less likely to have metabolic syndrome, while other research has shown their consumption significantly reduces LDL. Furthermore, avocado is rich in potassium, which plays a major role in heart health and lowering blood pressure.
14. Tomato: One of the best sources of the natural pigment lycopene, which is bountiful in antioxidants, the tomato can help prevent inflammation and oxidative damage—two major components of heart disease. Research has linked low levels of dietary lycopene to increased risks of stroke and heart attack, while diets rich in lycopene have shown risk reductions. Moreover, eating raw tomatoes has shown to have significant benefits in boosting “good” HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps maintain clear arteries by removing LDL plaques from arterial walls.
15. Flaxseed: Flaxseeds and a variety of other seeds are rich sources of heart-healthy fiber and fatty acids. In fact, flaxseeds are one of the rare plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. A number of studies have found that adding seeds to your diet can improve blood flow, battle inflammation, reduce LDL, increase HDL, and lower triglycerides. Research has indicated that flaxseeds, in various forms, can:
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control. One study showed that eating 30 grams of flaxseed every day for six months decreased systolic blood pressure by 10 points and diastolic by seven points
- Reduce total cholesterol and LDL
Making the Right Food Choices for a Healthy Heart
The decisions made at meal and snack times can have huge implications for your health. And although you may not feel the harm or benefits immediately, each thing you eat makes an incremental difference to how heart health develops. Trying to eat more of the foods on this list can help reduce your chances of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The proof is in the (oatmeal) pudding: diet massively affects heart disease risk.
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