The Best Heart-Healthy Nutrients
Many of us know at least a couple of rudimentary facts when it comes to heart-healthy nutrition — primarily from TV ads and supermarket labels. Cheerios are good for you because they contain whole grain oats, right? And we should eat salmon because it contains omega-3 fatty acids.
Well, yes, but…there is more to it, and we’d all do well to become knowledgeable about heart-healthy nutrition. Cardiovascular health is everyone’s business. Here’s why:
America’s Heart-Heavy Burden
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, costing the U.S. $316.4 billion. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity (2010 figures).
So, it’s time to get serious about including heart-healthy foods into your daily diet.
Feed Your Heart the Nutrients It Craves
Here is a primer on the top heart health nutrients and their most common food sources. You may want to post this on your refrigerator next to your shopping list.
These are heart-protective antioxidants found in many colorful fruits and veggies. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene are carotenoids.
Found in: Tomatoes, carrots, red bell peppers
These are substances in plants that have a weak estrogen-like action in the body. Studies suggest that flax seed lowers the risk of blood clots, stroke and cardiac arrhythmias. It may also help lower total and LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, and even blood pressure.
Found in: Flax seed, soy
Plant sterols that chemically resemble cholesterol, phytosterols even seem to help reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Found in: All nuts and seeds, including wheat germ
These antioxidants help protect blood vessels, lower blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol. Flavonoid polyphenols include catechins, flavonones, flavonols, isoflavones, reservatrol and anthocyanins. Non-flavonoid polyphenols include ellagic acid.
Found in: All types of berries
Omega-3s and Alpha-Linolenic Fatty Acids
Both of these types of fatty acids help boost the immune system, reduce blood clots, and protect against heart attacks. They also help increase HDL “good” cholesterol levels, lower triglyceride levels, protect arteries from plaque buildup, are anti-inflammatories, and lower blood pressure.
Found in: Fatty fish like salmon, fortified eggs, walnuts
Vitamins like B12 (folate) and B6 help protect against blood clots and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Found in: Animal protein, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
This essential vitamin helps increase HDL cholesterol levels.
Found in: Peanut butter, beans, avocado
Vitamins C and E
Found in: Citrus fruits, fortified cereals, peanut butter, broccoli, bell pepper
Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium
These nutrients help lower blood pressure.
Found in: Oats, beans, nuts, grains, seeds
Foods rich in fiber help lower cholesterol levels.
Found in: Fresh fruits, whole grains, beans, flax seed