When it comes to nourishing your heart as well as keeping the 60,000+ miles of arteries, capillaries and veins that make up your circulatory system performing at their peak, it’s important to know the basics. Luckily, the bedrocks of eating for heart health also help form the foundation for the Clean Eating philosophy:
1. Enjoy plenty of vegetables (including leafy greens) and fruits each day. They’re brimming with vitamins, minerals and protective antioxidants, and many are also a good source of potassium, a key mineral that helps control blood pressure.
2. Choose whole grains, especially intact whole grains (grains that haven’t been processed into flour), over refined and highly processed options. Whole grains are an important source for dietary fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels, and they have a protective effect against heart disease (not to mention type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity).
3. Enjoy fish that’s rich in omega-3 fats at least twice a week. These essential fatty acids reduce chronic inflammation and are consistently linked with better cardiovascular and cognitive health.
4. Incorporate an abundance of plant foods into meals and snacks – especially legumes, nuts, seeds and whole, non-GMO soy.
5. Cook it all with some delicious olive oil, which is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. We’ve incorporated these keys to heart health in this carefully planned seven-day menu, jam-packed with quick and easy recipes, as well as a number of nutritional rock stars (check out Power Foods, right, for heart-healthy foods you should incorporate into your diet).
Want to know where to look (beyond oatmeal) when it comes to heart health? Here are 8 power foods to add to your shopping list this month.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
A landmark study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found a Mediterranean-style diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts slashed the risk of heart disease by 30%. Look for a high-quality oil to be sure you are getting pure olive oil and not a blend that may contain other types of (lesser-quality) oils.
The American Heart Association recommends eating omega-3-rich fish (such as salmon or mackerel) at least two times a week to significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. Bonus: Omega-3 fats are powerful anti-inflammatories.
Go wild as often as you can – wild blueberries pack almost twice the antioxidant content of regular blues and are teeming with a class of antioxidants called polyphenols (the same components found in wine). A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming as little as ¾ cup wild blueberries each day significantly improved endothelial function (the endothelium is the lining found in the heart cavities as well as the blood and lymphatic vessels), an important marker in overall heart health.
See Also Blueberry Kickstarter Smoothie
The high level of polyphenols in pomegranates contributes powerful protection against aging arteries – they ward off arteriosclerosis and fight free radicals and oxidative stress.
Drinking green tea helps chase away the winter chills and it’s a rich source of antioxidants called catechins, which help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. One meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who drank the most green tea had a 28% lower risk of heart disease than those who drank the least.
Boasting almost as much protein as a glass of whole cow’s milk, soy milk is associated with a drop in cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease (and soy protein is FDA-approved for a heart-health claim). Choose non-GMO soy.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. A small study published in Food & Function found that when healthy men added fresh avocado to their burger, it significantly reduced the amount of inflammation and narrowing of the blood vessels in the hours following the meal when compared with eating just the burger. (We’ve implemented this trick in our Meal Plan!)
In moderation (key with this one!), high-quality cocoa (70% cocoa or higher is a good mark to aim for) contains compounds called flavanols that have been shown to help improve blood flow to the heart and brain and to lower blood pressure.