It’s February, Heart Month, time to nourish your heart. The good news is that when you eat right for your heart, you improve your circulation, while also benefiting your mental sharpness, energy, waistline, and sexual function, too.
What are the best foods for your heart? Here are my top six you should enjoy.
- Vegetables (Eat at least 3 cups of vegetables every day)
Eating 1 cup of green leafy vegetables will make an average person 11 years younger. Green leafy veggies protect you from aging and are loaded with fiber, vitamin K, mixed folates, potassium, and healthy plant pigments. Great choices are broccoli, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, colorful salad greens, and Brussel sprouts, just to name a few.
Beyond green leafy options, don’t forget my favorite vegetable for your heart—beets, as the red pigment improves blood flow. All colorful vegetables are great for your cardiovascular system, as the pigments help block oxidation and inflammation. Enjoy carrots, peppers, tomatoes, fennel, celery, and others you like.
The only vegetable I’ll ask you to limit is potatoes, due to their high glycemic load. Better options than a white potato would be sweet potato or boiled purple potatoes.
- Omega-3 rich seafood (Eat at least 2-3 servings of omega-3 rich seafood 2-3 times/week)
Cold water seafood has been an integral part of the human diet for 100,000 years. Cold water plankton manufacture long chain omega-3 fat to keep their tissues flexible in cold water. You’ll find these essential fats in seaweed, shellfish, and fish. The best sources of long chain omega-3 fats are in seaweed, mussels, oysters, wild salmon, sole, sardines, and herring.
Medium-chain omega-3 fats are found in many plant foods, such as flax seed, organic edamame and tofu, and chia seeds. Although these are healthy food options, they do not have the health benefits of long chain omega-3 fats; they do not reduce inflammation or prevent heart arrhythmias in a significant way.
If you don’t eat food sources of long-chain omega-3 fats at least 2-3 times per week, consider taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement with 1000 mg of EPA and DHA daily.
- Olive oil and other healthy cooking oils (Enjoy 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil daily)
Add 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to decrease your risk for a cardiovascular event, improve your blood pressure and cholesterol profile, and lower inflammation. Plus, it makes your food taste fantastic.
Don’t cook with extra virgin olive oil at medium-high to high heat, as the high temperature will damage the oil. Use it for salad dressings, or low heat cooking. For higher heat cooking, other healthy choices include avocado oil (my favorite all-around cooking oil), almond oil, and macadamia nut oil. On occasion, I will also use organic ghee (clarified butter) for high heat cooking. Butter has a neutral impact on your heart, not harmful, nor beneficial.
- Nuts and other healthy fats (Enjoy 1-2 ounces of nuts, plus a slice of avocado daily)
Eating more nuts helps you lose weight (nuts suppress appetite), improve cholesterol profiles, and lower blood sugar levels. My favorite nuts for your health are almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts. Eat at least 1-2 handfuls (ounces) each day. Another healthy fat choice would be avocado, which is loaded with fiber, potassium, and monounsaturated oils, similar to olive oil.
- Berries and cherries (Enjoy 1 cup of berries or cherries daily)
The anthocyanin pigments in fruits (that make berries and cherries red, blue, and purple) block inflammation and decrease oxidation, reducing your risk for a cardiovascular event. Despite their wonderful sweet flavor, berries and cherries have a low glycemic load, meaning they do not cause a significant rise in blood sugar levels. Aim to eat 1 cup of these rich, flavorful pigments every day. Fresh or frozen, they make food taste fantastic.
- Cocoa and dark chocolate (Enjoy 1-2 Tbsp of cocoa or 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate daily)
Consuming dark chocolate and cocoa will decrease your blood pressure, block oxidation of LDL cholesterol into plaque, reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, and nourish your brain. Just make sure it really is dark, at least 74% cocoa. If the first ingredient says sugar, then it isn’t really dark chocolate. Eat 1-2 ounces daily, or drink a cup of cocoa without sugar daily to protect your heart and brain.
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS
Not only are these foods fantastic for your heart, they also help to improve brain function and prevent memory loss.
I have spent the last nine months researching my new BRAIN BOOK (title yet to be decided), with a breakthrough plan to improve mental sharpness and prevent memory loss. The book and new PBS show supporting it will release March 2018! That’s just one short year from now. More details to follow.