For me, the health of my heart took center stage when at the age of 17, my third grandparent passed away as a result of heart disease.
It was then that food and health captured my heart, I wanted to learn more about how to prevent heart disease.
I find the evidence of what we can do encouraging, delicious and practical.
Perspective, The Importance of a Personal Commitment
According to the American Heart Association 2018 report, approximately every 38 seconds an American dies of heart disease (1).
Per the World Health Organization, “An estimated 17.9 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2016, representing 31% of all global deaths”.
Also noted, the health of our heart often correlates to the health of our brain.
Per the World Health Organization, “Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioral risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol”.
Equally important to reversing and preventing heart disease is maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, reducing inflammation and learning to manage stress.
The eating style that helps support heart health is one that includes plenty veggies, beans, peas, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit, whole grains versus refined grains, with a sprinkle of ocean fish or omega rich algae oil. Heart health oils are found in nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, and olives. For cooking oils choose olive, algae, sesame, ghee or coconut oil.
Plant foods rich in fiber, plant sterols / stanols, antioxidants and phytochemicals are shown to protect our heart.
Limiting red meat, trans-fat, added sugars, refined grains, overly processed foods, genetically modified foods, and unwanted pesticides and additives is essential.
I love the list of foods below written by Ocean Robbins in his Food Revolution blog article https://foodrevolution.org/blog/heart-healthy-foods/, so much so that I adapted it here with a bit of change or addition.
Berries, rich in antioxidants and potent heart healthy warriors. Berries have been shown to contribute to lower blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and body mass index. Love to buy them frozen for sauces and smoothies.
Beans Legumes and Peas are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate brain fuel and fiber. Beans are known to lower cholesterol, decrease inflammation and free-radical damage while contributing to ridding unwanted substances or compounds.
Soaking beans like our ancestors did, makes more nutrients available and reduces lectins which makes them easier to digest :). It’s easy, just soak them in a pot of clean water for 24 to 48 hours in the refrigerator (change water after ~24 hours and add new water to soak 24 more hours), then cook in a slow cooker or an instapot.
If you are buying beans in a can, as far as I know, only Eden brand soaks beans before cooking. They are currently available at Natural Grocers and Whole Foods in my area.
Garlic is a staple at my house. Have you ever tried a garlic clove tucked into an olive? It tastes good, helps lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol as well as fights cancer.
“Charaka, the father of Ayurvedic medicine, claimed that garlic maintains blood flow and strengthens the heart”. If you are on blood thinners, avoid over eating too much garlic as garlic has been shown to have anti-clotting properties.
Turmeric, you knew it would be included right? Turmeric is involved in more than 57 biochemical pathways or actions. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory, helps prevent alzheimer’s, helps fight cancer, helps prevent heart related complications due to diabetes, lowers cholesterol, protects against atherosclerosis, and helps prevent heart failure. Turmeric root can also be used, shredded in soups or in juicing and smoothies.
Ginger is rich in antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory, helps lower LDL cholesterol. Ginger also soothes inflammation, has anti-clotting properties and aides digestion. Try a cup of ginger tea about 20 minutes before or with your meal.
Black Pepper is thought to be the king of spices in oriental medicine. Black Pepper is rich in minerals including potassium and magnesium which help manage blood pressure, blood flow and blood vessel integrity.
Place approximately 1-teaspoon of organic pepper berries in a traditional tea-ball. Steep in hot water for 10 - 15 minutes to make pepper tea. It’s better than one might think :))
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known and has a centuries old medical history.
Moses was instructed to use it in an anointing oil.
Cinnamon is known to help manage blood sugars, lower LDL cholesterol and help with obesity related high cholesterol while also increasing nitric-oxide which helps with healthy blood pressure. I recommend true ceylon cinnamon when you can find it.
Coriander/Cilantro is very good at helping lower cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing the good HDL cholesterol. Cilantro also is known to help rid parasites.
Ocean Fish, I also include ocean fin fish low in mercury such as sardines, anchovy’s, salmon, halibut and cod. Omega three fatty acids are abundant in ocean fish but also in the algae that fish eat. Omega 3 fatty acids contain EPA and DHA which are known to decrease inflammation, support healthy blood flow, reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Dark chocolate, last but not definitely not least is a personal favorite. I add a dash of raw chocolate or cocoa powder to my morning coffee. Dark chocolate is richer in antioxidants that blueberries, acai, cranberries or pomegranates.
Studies show that dark chocolate reduces cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And very good news, cocoa brightens our mood. Of note, buy 72% or greater dark chocolate. In addition, I advocate for fair-trade, organic chocolate with minimal if any added sugar or dairy.
When Deeper Foundational Help is Needed
To help regain balance to our cardiovascular health sometimes therapeutic amounts of nutrients are needed. I often look to turmeric root and phosphatidylcholine for foundational support. Phosphatidylcholine is a primary component of the cell membrane. The integrity of our cell membrane is important for many reasons including for the regulation of nutrients into the cell and toxins out of the cell.
In addition, depending on specific concerns, CoQ10, hibiscus, magnesium, vitamin D, magnesium, grapeseed extract, and olive leaf may also be beneficial. A good multivitamin has an important role in ensuring adequate nutrients daily to support biochemical pathways.
However, if therapeutic nutrients are needed, a one size fits all approach is not wise. It is so worth it to visit your local functional or integrative medicine nutritionist for recommendations specific and safe for you, your concerns and your lifestyle.
Some years ago, one of my patients in cardiac rehab class said it best, when he expressed the idea of grasping a lifestyle that protects our heart as something better than gold to share with his children and grandchildren.
Essentially, the nutrients in food inform our DNA and genes. Food makes a significant contribution to how our body will function. We have the opportunity to make a difference.
To good food, joy, laughter and your health, God bless, Debra
3) https://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f7267 - regarding apples and statins
4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10801908/. - regarding ginger