A well-functioning heart is essential for our body’s ability to carry out every function it needs to survive. It’s no wonder, then, that so much emphasis is placed on eating in specific ways, and in certain amounts, to keep the heart working as well as it can. Most “heart healthy” diet plans can be rather boring and spend a lot of time talking about all the things you can’t have (fat, sugar, salt, carbohydrates, processed meats…). While informative and often beneficial, reading that list leaves me feeling kind of uninspired and dejected, not excited, or ready to try some new foods (or add more of the ones I already enjoy). For now, instead of giving you a long list of things to avoid, I want to focus on the foods that are most beneficial for your heart so you can add options to your diet instead of adding restrictions.
Fat – If you’ve read anything about heart health, I’m sure you’ve seen the importance placed on fat, and sometimes may have even been told to follow a low-fat diet. What is most helpful is to consume more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats than saturated fats. Poly and monounsaturated fats have an anti-inflammatory effect and when looking to keep our hearts healthy, reducing inflammation is key. These can be found in foods like olives and olive oil, fatty fish like salmon and herring, nuts like almonds and walnuts, seeds like pumpkin and sunflower, and avocados.
Fiber – When it comes to reducing inflammation and promoting heart health, fiber is essential. Aim for 20-30g of fiber per day in both the insoluble and soluble forms. Insoluble fiber, found in foods like whole grains, wheat bran, nuts, vegetables, beans, and potatoes, has consistently been associated with lower risks of heart disease through helping reduce LDL cholesterol and improving insulin resistance. Soluble fiber, found in foods like apples, pears, oats, barley, bananas, beets, cabbage, berries, seeds, carrots, and peas, forms a gel and coats the intestines, trapping cholesterol before it enters the bloodstream resulting in lower cholesterol. Both fibers are important and getting a variety of them daily is the best way to ensure adequate intake. There are a lot of tasty foods on these lists, and many can be combined with one another- oatmeal with berries, flaxseeds, and almonds for breakfast? Yum!
Leafy greens – Spinach, kale, Bok-Choy, collards, Swiss Chard, and arugula are all good sources of vitamin K, which helps to protect your arteries and promote blood clotting (note: if you are on blood thinners, you can still have foods with vitamin K in them but limit yourself to 1 serving/day to avoid interfering with your medication. As always, consult with your doctor if you have any concerns.). Leafy greens also contain nitrates which can reduce blood pressure and improve the function of the cells that line your blood vessels. Try a salad, mixing some sauteed greens into a grain bowl or some pasta, or adding some spinach to turkey meatballs.
Dark Chocolate – This may be my favorite heart healthy food category of all. If you know me, you know how much I enjoy my dark chocolate! Dark chocolate contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which help prevent blood clots and influence your gut bacteria in a way that aids in lowering blood pressure. Aim for moderate consumption (about 6 servings per week) of a high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao content to reap these tasty benefits.
When it comes to our health and our bodies, nutrition is just one piece of a large puzzle that contains other elements like exercise, stress management, and quality sleep. It can feel overwhelming to try and make several changes at once because we’re told how good they are for us, but if you start small and focus on the area you feel could use the most attention first, it can feel easier and more manageable. In my work, I always seek to meet my clients where they are and bring my expertise and experience to our sessions to provide support and guidance on an individual level. If you are curious about nutrition and how it might help you feel your best, contact me to set up a free chat and learn more about what I offer.
Thank you Ashleigh for this wonderful post. – to contact Ashleigh visit https://www.gurtlerwellness.com/