10 Best Foods for a Healthy Heart and Cardiovascular System
1. Green Vegetables – Powerful Superfoods packed with Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
Almost all fruit and vegetables, if ecologically grown, can be considered great food for the heart, and it contains vital nutrients for the its health, such as vitamin B6 and C, and antioxidants such as flavonoids and carotenoids. Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli or kale are the best source of those, and many other essential nutrients.
Chard was valued for its nutritional value and health benefits from the ancient times, in Greece and Rome. Both leaves and roots of the plant have been the subject of numerous scientific studies. The combination of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (especially anthocyanins) and fiber could have a preventive effect on various types of cancer. The components found in chard have a valuable task in the health of bones too, because chard is full of non-dairy calcium, magnesium and vitamin K. Because the high concentration of beta-carotene, it’s a great source of vitamin A, and both of those are vital for good vision as well, same as lutein and zeaxanthin. In addition to all these benefits, one cup of cooked chard has only 35 calories! When buying chard, always consider ones with very green leaves and a hard stem.
Spinach is a great source of iron, same as red meat, but it has far less calories, and literally no fat. It’s packed with phytonutrients and carotenoids which provide antioxidative protection to the cell structures. It has thirteen different flavonoids, which are also strong antioxidants, and that are proven to prevent some types of cancer. The carotenoid neoxanthin, which can be found in other leafy vegetables as well, is said to limit the multiplying of cancer cells and leads them to self-destruction. Spinach is also a great source of energy and vitality. It’s vital for the health of the heart and brain. It’s most valuable when prepared “al dente”, cooked for only about one minute. One cup of cooked spinach has 41 calories.
Broccoli was first cultivated in the Mediterranean, and because of its exceptional nutritional value, it has become one of the most popular vegetables in the world. It’s a cruciferous vegetable, which have the highest concentration of sulfur components which amplify the liver’s enzyme creation. Those enzymes are essential for the neutralization of potentially toxic matter in our system. Broccoli is also full of phytonutrients that are known to prevent cancer, among which are isothiocyanates which, by deactivating estrogen, limit the growth of breast cancer cells. Broccoli has a great effect on the health of the heart and cardiovascular system. One cup of cooked broccoli has 44 calories. Brocolli is a rich source of Quercetin, and everyday consumption is scientifically proven to lower the risk of heart disease by 20%.
Kale originated in Asia Minor, after which it has spread throughout the world because of its nutritional value. Same as broccoli, it has a high concentration of sulfuric elements beneficial for the liver. It’s packed with numerous nutrients, and it improves the immune system significantly. Its value is highest when prepared “al dente”. One cup of cooked kale has 36 calories.
2. Nuts – One of the Best Sources of Healthy Fats
In 2004, the FDA has given three healthiest nuts; walnuts, peanuts and almonds the Qualified Health Claim, a certificate which allows the packages containing these to say that the consumption of 50 grams lowers the risk of heart disease! Two things are scientifically proven; the fact that eating nuts has numerous beneficial effects on our health, but also that they can’t “work” alone, that they need to be eaten together with food that contains low levels of saturated fats, cholesterol and calories. Nuts are one of the best sources of “good” fats, such as Omega-3 or alpha linolenic acid (ALA). They are also full of vitamin E and various minerals. They also contain lignans, which are proven to benefit the health of the cardiovascular system.
Walnuts originated in Persia, and it’s one of the oldest known nuts. Even in ancient Rome, it was known as a pristine food, the food of Jupiter. They are one of the healthiest foods on earth. The three most common walnut species are the English (Persian) walnut, the black walnut and the white (American) walnut. Unsaturated fats make about 15% of all fat in walnuts, which lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that people that consume walnuts have significantly lower cholesterol levels. They are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and ALA, usually found in oily fish. They help with hypertension because they contain a high level of the amino acid arginine (it transforms into carbon oxide in our bodies, which helps keep the walls of arteries smooth and flexible). Walnuts also contain numerous minerals, such as copper and manganese, which enhance the work of enzymes that have an anti oxidative effect. Along with 16 polyphenoles which are strong antioxidants, walnuts also contain three unique tannins. One of them is the ellagic acis, which blocks the metabolic processes that lead to cancer. Along with all these benefits, thanks to tryptophan, walnuts regulate sleep.
Romans considered almonds to be a symbol of fertility, happiness and love, and they used to give them to newlyweds. They are called the king of nuts because of their high nutritional value. They are usually divided to sweet and bitter almonds. Bitter almonds contain toxic components such as hydrogen acid, which have to be removed before the oil extraction. The healthiest way of preparing almonds is by “dry baking” them in the oven. They are food that contains lots of good fats which are very beneficial to the health of the heart and the cardiovascular system. People who have started eating almonds instead of traditional fats have had LDL cholesterol levels 8-12% lower than usual. Five large scale research studies have shown that the consumption of almonds is connected to a lower risk of heart disease. They are a great source of vitamin E, which limits the LDL oxidation, thus the development of atherosclerosis. A low calorie diet that contains almonds has a much greater effects on weight loss than a low calorie diet containing carbohydrates, said the research. Both groups of people in the study have been given the same amount of calories and similar protein quantities. The people who ate almonds have had their body index reduced by approximately 62%, and the waste span by 50%! The people in the group who were suffering from type I diabetes have lowered the medicine use after the experiment. Almonds contain numerous essential nutrients such as magnesium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, B2, tryptophan etc.
A 19th century doctor from St. Louis used to prescribe his patients a crushed peanut mixture he considered to be extremely health beneficial. That’s how one of the world’s most famous foods was created – peanut butter. Peanuts are a source of monounsaturated fats and a highly valuable component called resveratrol (also found in red grapes and wine), which gives them their anti oxidative effect. They are packed with B vitamins niacin and folic acid, vital to the health of the heart. One study has shown that a diet that contains peanuts and peanut butter lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21%. Peanuts also have a high level of phytosteroles which lower cholesterol levels. They are a great source of healthy and cheap proteins, the macronutrients essential because of the amino acids our bodies take from them. The niacin helps prevent the loss of cognitive function and makes peanuts a great brain food too. A research done on people older than 65 has shown that those that had a nacin rich diet had a 70% lower chance of developing Alzheimer’s. As well as other nuts, peanuts prevent kidney stones and benefit sleep.
3. Oily Fish – The Best Source of Omega-3
The Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (especially EPA and DHA) influence the cardiovascular system, regulate the heart rhythm and prevent clotting in arteries (a cause of most heart attacks), and lower the triglyceride levels. Some research have also found a correlation between the consumption of oily fish and lower aggression levels among young people, and the DHA is proven to lower stress levels.
It’s packed with Omega-3’s vital for the health of the cardiovascular system and the prevention of inflammation. It also contains high levels of selenium, potassium and magnesium. The selenium is vital for the production of one of the most important antioxidants in our bodies – glutathione peroxidase, with the help of which the liver does its cleaning of our organism from potentially harmful chemicals coming from pesticides, heavy metals or drugs. Selenium is also proven to be beneficial for cancer and heart disease prevention.
Salmon is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, it has a low number of calories and saturated fats, and it’s abundant in protein and rare healthy fats from the Omega-3 group, especially EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which has a great preventive effect on our bodies. Because of these fats salmon is one of the best foods for the heart and for the brain (those acids make up 60% of our brains!). Several studies have shown a correlation between a low level of Omega-3 and a change in behavior; higher depression rates, hyperactivity, learning and memory issues, increased risk of Alzheimer’s etc. Same as other oily fish, salmon is extremely beneficial for the cardiovascular system and for a healthy heart. It also reduces hypertension, regulates sleep, and it’s a great energy source. All of these benefits only go for wild salmon, and the industrially bred salmon is to be avoided because in the cages where it’s held there is a lot of harmful components, and the fish bred artificially often lacks color so it’s colored in red with toxic paint.
There is six different species of this precious fish names after Sardegna, a beautiful Italian island. Sardines are jam packed with highly valuable nutrients; Omega-3, calcium, vitamin D. They are one of the best sources of vitamin B12, one of the best things you could give to your heart. Along with being extremely beneficial for the health of the cardiovascular system, the high calcium and vitamin D content also helps the bones, so they are often recommended for patients suffering from osteoporosis. Vitamin D also helps regulate cell activity, and it seems that an optimal consumption of this nutrient can be linked to prevention of many types of cancer. Sardines are also a great source of protein, niacin, which gives our bodies energy, and tryptophan, that regulates sleep.
4. Berries – Essential Food for a Healthy Heart
They are full of nutrients that provide a cell and DNA protection. Ellagic acid, as well as other phytonutrients found in raspberries help prevent the development of heart and cardiovascular diseases. They are also a great source of vitamin C, manganese and copper, three strong antioxidants which protect the body from damage caused by high cholesterol. The folic acid in raspberries also lowers the risk of heart disease because it lowers the hemocysteine. The potassium and magnesium in raspberries help regulate blood pressure. Some research has shown that they also help prevent cancer. The ellagic acid, which aids the heart and the cardiovascular system, also has antiproliferative and antioxidant properties which are connected to a range of benefits against cancer, heart disease, and other medical problems.
Strawberries contain phytonutrients ellagitannin and anthocyanin which are both connected to better heart function. There is over 600 different species of strawberries. Apart from being tasty, they are also highly nutritional, they hold high quantities of vitamin C and phytonutrients which have a great effect on the cardiovascular system and the heart, and they also provide an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative protection. The ellagitannin from strawberries is connected to a lower death rate caused by cancer. They also improve the brain function and health, and they protect from arthritis.
Blueberries are one of the highest valued fruits because they are packed with essential antioxidants. They are a source of anthocyanines, which give them their dark blue color, and which, together with vitamin C, resveratrol and ellagic acids, provide the ultimate antioxidant protection. They are proven to protect the brain from various types of dementia, and that a blueberry rich diet expands the learning potential, memory and agility. Blueberries are also full of fiber, and thanks to the tanines they help against infections. They are rich with pectin which is proven to prevent the transformation of bile acids into potentially cancerogenous compounds. One cup of blueberries has 81 calories.
5. Citrus Fruit – The Best Weapon for Fighting Free Radicals
Lemon & Lime
Lemons became highly sought after and very expensive once it was discovered that they help prevent scurvy (a disease resulting from the lack of vitamin C). It happened shortly after vitamin C was discovered, and once it became clear that lemons are highly packed with it. This vitamin is vital for the body because it’s the main antioxidant that dilutes in water, and it’s essential for the immune system. Both lemon and lime amplify the taste of other food, thus they are used to enrich many recipes. Along with numerous precious nutrients, they contain unique flavonoids, such as hesperidin and naringenin, which have been proven to have antioxidative effects, as well as to be beneficial for the health of the cardiovascular system. They also act as an antibiotic, they prevent atherosclerosis and they prevent the development of cerebrovascular diseases. As a source of concentrated vitamin C and the aforementioned flavonoids, consumption of lemons and limes also helps with health of the lungs, with asthma, they fight off free radicals, and they also help with allregic reactions.
Grapefruits were first cultivated in the 18th century, which makes them lemon’s younger cousin. There are two kinds, white and red or pink grapefruit. Because of its high nutritional value and a low calorie number, it’s the ideal food for any healthy diet. It’s one of the best sources of vitamins A and C, which strengthen the immune system, as well as carotenes in charge of anti oxidative effects. Thanks to the pectin, a dilutable fiber which forms a gel like substance in our system, thus “capturing” fats, inhibits the development of atherosclerosis. Lycopene, a carotene that gives the color to red grapefruit, is proven to lower the risk of heart and cardiovascular system disease.The phytonutrients in grapefruit are called limonoids, and they enhance the production of a detoxicating enzyme in the liver, and the pulp of grapefruits (as well as all other citrus fruit) contains glucarates essential in the prevention of breast cancer. Smokers who drink one cup of grapefruit juice a day have a lowered activity of the enzymes which activate the cancerogenous chemicals from cigarette smoke. This power fruit also boosts your energy levels because it’s a great source of the pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) which has a key role in the production of cellular energy.
Oranges originally come from china, and they were cultivated several thousand years ago. For a long time they were extremely expensive, and they were reserved for special occasions such as weddings or holidays. They are most commonly classified into two groups; bitter oranges and sweet oranges. They contain over 60 different flavonoids, which, when combined with vitamin C, which oranges also have an abundance of, deliver a strong anti oxidative and anti inflammatory protection. Some research have shown that the effect of vitamin C is far stronger if taken together with other biologically active phytonutrients found in citrus fruit, than as an isolated supplement. Oranges are a gold mine of numerous heart protecting nutrients; vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, potassium, flavonoids, and the hesperidin that lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and has anti inflammatory effects. Newer studies have shown that the substances concentrated in the peel of citrus fruit, called polymethoxylated flavonoids (PMF), have the potential of lower cholesterol more efficiently than subscription medicine, and what is even more important, without any side effects! Another benefit of eating oranges is the vitamin A, which acts as the “cleaner” of free radicals from our system, calcium, which is important for our bones, and vitamin B1, the producer of energy. Because of their natural sensitivity, to lengthen their expiration date, they are usually treated with dangerous chemicals, and because of transport, they are sometimes waxed. That’s why it’s extremely important to eat organically grown oranges, same as all other fruit and vegetables.
6. Tomatoes – Likopene Gold Mine
Tomatoes are the best source of likopene, a compound that is proven to lower the risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases. Even though fresh tomatoes are a favorite ingredient for many nutritious salads and other dishes, new research has shown that they are most valuable when eaten cooked, because the cooking process amplifies the absorption of valuable flavonoids. The carotenes in the tomatoes, lycopene, the pigment responsible for the red color, has started attracting attention of the science world because there is evidence that it is able to protect cells, DNK and LDL cholesterol from oxidation, and lower the risk of heart disease. Vitamin C in tomatoes provides anti-inflammatory protection and neutralizes free radicals that can damage cells. Tomatoes are also one of the best vegetables for cancer prevention because they have the ability of activating liver enzymes that limit the possibility of cancerous cells development.
7. Dark Chocolate
New studies done in England have shown that regular consumption of up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day lowers the heart disease rates, This comes from the flavodnoids which are abundant in cacao beans. There is some studies which show that any type of chocolate is beneficial, but generally, the higher the cacao content the better (look for bars with 70% or higher).
8. Olive Oil
Olive oil protects against LDL oxidation, which is the first step to developing atherosclerosis. Unlike saturated fats often used in diet, olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, which is far less damaging to our system. It is one of the healthiest fat sources available. It also contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 acids, as well as vitamins E and K.
9. Red Wine
Rosveratrol is the key ingredient in red wine that benefits the heart and the cardiovascular system. It prevents blood clots, lowers LDL, and it helps prevent the damaging of blood vessels.
10. Green Tea
Green tea is the modern day superfood everyone seems to recommend for everything. And that’s true. As far as it’s heart benefits go, it’s full of flavonoids which lower the cardiovascular disease risk.
There is more food beneficial to the heart which should also be a part your diet. Foods such as onion and garlic, which lower cholesterol levels and slow down the fat piling against the arteries. They are also great for lowering blood pressure. Whole grain foods, especially oatmeal which slow down the progress of atherosclerosis. Oat contains beta-glucan which lowers cholesterol, and avenatramides which fight cell damaging free radicals. Powerfoods such as flax seeds are also a great weapon to fight heart problems; they lower cholesterol levels and improve our general health. Soy is a great food choice. because it prevents clotting and lowers LDL and triglyceride levels. the list could go on, but with the ten foods listed above you can’t go wrong. Eating those regularly should keep your cardiovascular system healthy and happy.
If you need ideas for heart healthy cooking you can check out The New American Heart Association Cookbook with More Than 150 amazing Recipes.