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3 Nutrients to Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease

A person holding a Red Apple with engraved heart

February is American Heart Month—a time devoted to awareness about heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer in the world, and it accounts for one in three deaths in the United States annually.[i] While there are many lifestyle factors that can affect one’s risk of heart disease, including smoking and exercise, diet plays a significant role in heart health. Processed, salty foods can lead to higher blood pressure, which puts one at risk for heart disease; foods high in saturated or trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol, another risk for heart disease and diabetes. Many Americans are aware that they need to eat a healthy diet, but most do not. The American Heart Association estimates that less than one percent of Americans meet the AHA’s “ideal healthy diet.”[ii] Perhaps you would like to incorporate more heart-healthy foods into your diet, but it is difficult to know which foods truly contribute to a healthy heart when it seems that there is a new “superfood” or trendy supplement every month. Instead of relying on the latest fads, try to incorporate these nutrients into your diet, which are backed by years of research:

  • Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids have many benefits for the heart. They decrease the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, slow the growth of plaque, and reduce damaging inflammation.[iii] Because fatty fish are rich in omega-3s, the American Heart Association recommends two servings of fatty fish each week, such as salmon or sardines. You can also find omega-3s in other foods, too, like olives and olive oil, walnuts, avocados, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
  • Fiber: Numerous studies have linked fiber with heart health due to lower LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower risk of heart disease. Whole grains, like oatmeal and brown rice, are an excellent source of fiber. Legumes, such as lentils, peas, and kidney beans, are another good choice; not only are legumes rich in fiber, they are a high-protein substitute for meats full of saturated fat.
  • Antioxidants: While studies have shown no benefit in taking antioxidant supplements, diets rich in antioxidant-filled fruits and vegetables have shown a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.[iv] Antioxidants help rid the body of free radicals, which can cause damage to the cardiovascular system. While all fruits and vegetables are healthful, the nutrients of some foods show special benefit to the heart, such as those high in vitamins A and E and carotenoids. Tomatoes, blueberries, citrus, and greens like kale and spinach all top the list as heart-healthy choices; however, any fruit or vegetable is a good choice, especially if it’s in place of a processed snack. Tea is also packed with antioxidants; one study showed that those who drank three to six cups of tea daily had a 45 percent decreased risk of death from heart disease.[v] Don’t forget dessert! Dark chocolate (more than 70 percent cocoa) has been linked to lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels.[vi]

Fight back against the number-one killer, and eat a diet rich in omega-3s, fiber, and antioxidants to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease drastically.

[i] http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_470704.pdf

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3054

[iv] http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/services/vitamin_e

[v] http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20100618/tea-coffee-drinkers-have-lower-heart-risk

[vi] http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20120424/pick-dark-chocolate-health-benefits?page=2

 

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