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Heart and Vascular Health

5 Hot New Super Foods for Heart Health
02/11/2011

Move over whole grain pasta. Step aside fruits and veggies. Make room for five super foods that keep your heart healthy and strong.

"You are what you eat, especially when it comes to your heart," says Ann Davis, cardiologist with Midwest Heart Specialists. "We're discovering new things about food all the time, and it's important to adjust our diet to include food that offers benefits in the fight against heart disease."

High cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and obesity are risk factors for heart disease, the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States. Eating foods with certain nutrients will help to reduce these risks, according to Dr. Davis.

Your heart will reap the benefits from
these super foods even if you start
small.

Before your next trip to the grocery store, be sure to add these super foods to your list:

  • Blueberries, recommended serving = ½ cup every day
    These little gems are high in antioxidants, potassium and fiber, and help to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. Choose fresh or frozen and look for dark-colored berries, which contain a higher level of antioxidants.

Try this: Top off your morning oatmeal with a handful of blueberries or make a delicious smoothie. Buy a larger amount of fresh berries so you can freeze some for later use. (Keep in mind, blueberry-flavored yogurt doesn't count, unless you add one cup of berries to the yogurt.) 

  • Sardines, recommended serving = 3 ounces, two to three times a week
    Sardines may not be the prettiest fish in the sea but they contain omega 3 fatty acids that help push the bad cholesterol through your arteries. Not crazy about sardines? Opt for other fatty fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel.

 Try this: Sardines and salmon are now packaged like canned tuna - boneless, skinless, and in flavorful, low-fat dressings such as olive oil. Sprinkle sardines on a salad or add a small amount to whole grain pasta with vegetables for a quick and healthy dinner. Make a low-fat salmon sandwich spread using low-fat mayonnaise, hummus or avocados.

  • Legumes, ½ cup daily
    Beans are low-fat and high in folic acid and potassium. They are an excellent source of high-soluble fiber that binds to bad cholesterol so it doesn't travel to your arteries. Legumes are very filling, but they can be difficult to digest so thoroughly rinse the beans. If you have trouble digesting legumes, start eating small quantities and gradually increase your serving size over time.

 Try this: Black beans can be added to taco meat or pureed for a dip with low-sodium chips. Kidney beans taste great in chili and salads. Lentils can be served warm as a side dish or included in your favorite soup. Dried or canned beans are equally high in fiber, but watch out for higher salt levels in the canned variety.

  • Nuts, ½ cup a day
    Nuts can be high in calories but when you choose wisely, the heart health benefits are numerous. Nuts contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for lowering cholesterol. Certain nuts, such as almonds are high in vitamin E, an excellent source of antioxidants.

 Try this: Stick to almonds, pecans, walnuts or pistachio nuts. Pack some lightly salted almonds in place of chips or crackers or make your own trail mix for a tasty snack.

  • Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wa), recommended serving = several times weekly
    This is one of the most nutritious foods around. One cup cooked contains five grams of fiber and eight grams of "complete" protein, and provides your body with all of the essential amino acids you need. Quinoa is an antioxidant, gluten free, and an excellent source of iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamin E and several other nutrients.

 Try this: Quinoa looks like a seed but use it as a grain. Mix quinoa with cinnamon or nutmeg for a breakfast cereal. Add it to turkey meatballs or stir fry it with chicken and vegetables. Use quinoa as a substitute for rice in a pilaf recipe.

"While it was difficult for me to narrow my favorites down to 5, here are a few other gems I've discovered," said Dr. Davis.

  • Chia seeds: First cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs, they are loaded with protein, fiber, and omega 3 fatty acids as well as anti-oxidants. They have blood sugar stabilizing properties as well. You can add them to cereal, yogurt, or baked goods.
  • Green Tea: Has been used in China for at least 4000 years. It is rich in anti-oxidants. A few studies have been promising for heart health and promoting weight loss. These can be incorporated in a healthy nutrient-dense diet.
  • Dark Chocolate: Has mono-unsaturated fatty acides, anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Initial studies have shown improvement in heart health and blood pressure. They boost serotonin and endorphin levels as well as improve mood. Its origin is in the cacao beans and products with at least 70% cacao recommended. A serving size would be about 1 oz.
  • Grass Fed Meats: Leaner than conventionally-produced meat products. Much lower in fat and contins more conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) which has been associated with reduced abdominal fat and building lean muscle. They also have more omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Avocado: Full of health fats and fiber. Reducing swings in insulin while providing an easy substitute for high caloric cream cheeses on bagels (which should be whole wheat or whole grain and portion controlled).

Remember, the super foods should be part of your heart healthy diet that includes:

  • five daily servings of fruits and vegetables
  • three daily servings of fiber-rich whole grains
  • weekly servings of protein
  • less than 1500 grams of sodium each day
  • small amounts of refined sugar and flour

Your heart will reap the benefits from these super foods even if you start small, says Dr. Davis. "The recommended serving sizes for these foods aren't very large, so a person doesn't have to go overboard to experience the health benefits. Your age doesn't matter either --- the earlier you start incorporating certain nutrients into your lifestyle, the bigger advantage you'll give to your heart," she says. 

Find more recipes in our recipe corner at edward.org/recipes.

 




 

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