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What Foods Make Your Heart Stronger?

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Foods rich in heart-healthy nutrients may help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, but to be most effective they need to become part of your regular diet. The key is making them part of it!

Leafy greens contain ample folate, vitamin K and dietary nitrates – known to help lower blood pressure while improving function in cells that line the blood vessels (2).

1. Dark Leafy Greens

Cooked greens such as collards and kale are an essential staple of African American cuisine, providing ample vitamins, minerals, fiber and iron. Their contents also include potassium, vitamin C and folate; which all can help lower heart disease risk as well as break down homocysteine which contributes to its formation in your body – an amino acid linked with cardiovascular conditions.

Leafy greens contain high levels of nitrates, which relax and widen blood vessels. Studies have revealed that individuals who consume more nitrate-rich foods like kale, spinach and bok choy tend to experience less cardiovascular issues than others.

Dark greens should be consumed at least twice weekly to promote cardiovascular health. Either raw or cooked preparation helps the body absorb more of their essential nutrients.

Greens are an excellent heart-healthy choice that are also low in calories and fat content, and are an excellent source of antioxidants to combat inflammation and cancer risk.

Fish can be another healthy addition to a heart-healthy diet, as they contain omega-3 fatty acids which have been proven to reduce blood pressure, decrease triglycerides and prevent arrhythmias.

Nuts such as walnuts are another good source of omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels, as well as being rich in fibre which has been shown to both decrease blood pressure and increase satiety.

2. Black Beans

Eating right is another powerful way to improve heart health, in addition to scheduling an annual check-up and remaining active. Eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease while providing essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that support healthy blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels and insulin responses.

Black beans contain heart-healthy nutrients such as folate, antioxidants and magnesium that may help lower blood pressure; plus fiber that regulates both cholesterol levels and blood sugar. Furthermore, they contain nitric oxide to widen blood vessels and promote good circulation.

Black beans contain fiber that helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels by slowing the body’s absorption of glucose from its bloodstream, potentially preventing post-meal insulin spikes that are common with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This could potentially provide help with managing both conditions.

Black beans make an easy addition to soups, salads and more. Create your own simple black bean dip using only six ingredients from integrative functional medicine-based nutritionist Jessica Michelle Coghill or try Vital Root Wellness’s delicious black bean burger recipe!

When choosing black beans, opt for darker brown or black varieties, which contain more fiber. For added protein, substitute tofu for beans; alternatively edamame is another great source of heart-healthy soy protein which also comes with its pods encasing extra fiber for you to pop out before eating!

Reach for at least 1/2 cup of black beans each day for optimal heart-healthy benefits, or for variety, reach out for other colorful legumes such as kidney and lima beans, cranberry beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas or lentils.

3. Tomatoes

Tomatoes, as members of the nightshade family (which also includes potatoes, eggplant and bell peppers), contain many essential nutrients that promote heart health. Lycopene has been shown to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and keep blood vessels open, helping reduce risk for cardiovascular disease. They’re also high in potassium which plays an essential role in controlling blood pressure while helping prevent muscle and kidney stones forming; additionally folate balances homocysteine levels in your body which has been linked with an increased risk for heart disease.

Tomatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C, an essential nutrient for supporting tissue development and immune function. Furthermore, tomatoes offer plenty of dietary fiber to aid in moving food through your digestive tract efficiently, thus helping prevent constipation, bloating, gas and other issues related to digestion.

Tomatoes may also help improve your eyesight. Their lutein and zeaxanthin content is said to protect eyes from blue light produced by digital devices like computers and smartphones, and may reduce risk for macular degeneration.

One cup of cooked tomatoes packs as much potassium as an entire banana and more than an entire day’s supply of Vitamin C, making adding them to meals an excellent way of reaping these essential vitamins and minerals. When choosing low-sodium tomato products, always opt for those that contain reduced sodium intake; when possible pair your tomato meals with some sort of fat like olive oil for maximum nutrient absorption, according to registered dietician Angela Houlie of Verywell.

4. Walnuts

Walnuts may be the ultimate heart-healthy nut on the market due to their rich source of vitamins and minerals as well as good fats, says Dr. Krishna Rajaram from Loma Linda University’s Cardiology department. In one recent study conducted at Loma Linda, eating walnuts daily for two years resulted in six out of ten blood inflammatory markers being reduced significantly while improving cardiovascular health overall.

Walnuts are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat essential for heart health. Studies have demonstrated its positive effects on cholesterol levels, blood pressure levels and body weight–all contributing to lower risks associated with cardiovascular disease. A 1-ounce serving of walnuts provides 2.5 grams of ALA.

Walnuts contain another heart-healthy nutrient: vitamin E. Eating walnuts alone or adding them to salads, granola bars or stir-fry dishes is an easy way to take in this important nutrient.

Whilst all nuts can help contribute to a balanced diet, walnuts have gained special attention for their unique health benefits. Not only do they contain high concentrations of ALA and antioxidants and fiber; one recent study demonstrated how eating walnuts altered gut bacteria to produce L-homoarginine which helps prevent heart disease while simultaneously lowering cholesterol. Researchers behind the research utilized metatranscriptomics technology which measured gene expression within participants who consumed walnuts daily.

5. Olive Oil

Olive oil is one of the best culinary oils to promote heart health. Packed full of monounsaturated fats and packed with an antioxidant like vitamin E, olive oil can help lower LDL cholesterol and contribute to cardiovascular disease prevention.

Research also indicates that diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids may help lower blood pressure and increase good cholesterol (HDL), helping prevent atherosclerosis – the condition which narrows blood vessels – leading to heart attacks and strokes due to waxy deposits clogging the arteries, restricting blood flow.

Studies have demonstrated that olive oil’s phenolic compounds can enhance endothelial cells’ functions and therefore benefit blood vessel health, especially extra virgin olive oil which contains high concentrations of these phenolics. A recent cohort study determined that those who consumed more olive oil had 41% reduced risks of stroke than those who consumed least.

Olive oil can be an easy, heart-healthy option when used to drizzle salads and cook with, replacing less nutritious options like butter, canola oil and vegetable shortening. Experiment by mixing extra virgin olive oil into marinades and dressings; incorporate it into baked goods; or simply use it for flavoring soups and stews!