In the United States alone, 1 in 7 people die each year from heart disease. But, there are many ways to set yourself apart from the many people who suffer from cardiovascular illness – and in a way that tastes good! Don’t wait until your heart becomes damaged irreversibly at some point down the road. Start taking steps today to reduce your risk of heart disease. This week, I’ll be going over a few foods essential for improving heart health. Stay tuned!

 

Oranges
Many people who have heart attacks are completely unarmed and unprepared. Many of them also have one thing in common – high levels of stress. Oranges, just like many other fruits, contain a variety of vitamins. These natural boosters can pick up your mood and energy levels when they’re lacking and help you deal with life’s many causes of stress. Oranges are not just juicy and refreshing fruits that taste great, they also contain a substance called pectin, which works to absorb the cholesterol you consume (like magic!). They are a great source of potassium, which also helps keep cholesterol and blood sugar in balance. As a final bonus, the antioxidants reduce your risk of developing scar tissue around your heart, which will lower your risk for heart failure. All this from just a simple fruit!

Apples
This fruit certainly packs a punch when it comes to all the different ways it prevents heart disease! For starters, the skin contains high amounts of pectin – a form of soluble fiber that mops up cholesterol in our arteries. The fruit itself contains many antioxidants but there are two key players when it comes to heart disease: quercetin, which prevents the hardening of the blood vessels, and chlorogenic acid, which prevents oxidation of bad cholesterol. This helps keep LDL and triglyceride levels in check. Finally, it reduces the action of renin and aldosterone, which are 2 hormones involved in the control of blood pressure, thereby preventing hypertension. It’s no wonder they say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”!

 

Kale

One of the best greens you can eat is kale. In fact, kale is often called a superfood, and for good reason! Along with containing fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and plenty of antioxidants, it also does something extra that specifically helps to battle heart disease. By activating the Nrf2 pathway, the body produces a protein that works hard to protect your arteries from building up plaque. Plaque forms in the walls of damaged arteries. Sometimes bits of the plaque can break off and cause blockages in smaller blood vessels causing chest pain. Not getting enough Nrf2 activators, like kale, therefore puts you at risk of heart attacks. Luckily, kale is extremely easy to cook with and can be a delicious, nutrient-packed ingredient to use with any meal throughout the day. Think: an omelette at breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and sautéed as a side dish for dinner. It can even be eaten raw!

Dark Chocolate

As delicious as chocolate tastes going down, it tastes even better when you realize just how many benefits it has too. Did you know that a piece of indulgent, rich dark chocolate could drastically improve the health of your blood vessels? It also allows you to have a more restful night’s sleep, and alters how happy you feel! The best types are those that are organic with at least 70% cacao content. The darker, the better because this means it’s closer to its raw state with a lot less sugar added. Just a few pieces of dark chocolate daily is all you need to reduce your chance of suffering from a stroke and improve your heart health. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t want to stop at just a few pieces!

 

Coconut Oil

Many people have been told that consuming too much fat leads to heart disease. However, recent research has shown that trans fat is the specific type of fat that does this. Coconut oil is a form of medium chain triglyceride. So, while it is a type fat, it’s much different than the type of fat you’d find in, say, a fatty cut of beef or a package of French fries. The primary form of fat in coconut oil is broken down into lauric acid, caprylic acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid. Consuming coconut oil on a regular basis, due to its high lauric acid content, is going to help to significantly lower your risk of heart problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. This form of oil is going to increase good cholesterol levels while decreasing bad cholesterol levels, and also reduce the risk of plaque buildup, which leads to hardened arteries. Coconut oil is also a rich source of vitamin E, vitamin K and iron.

Almonds

You’ve probably heard that nuts are a great food for dieters, but do you know why? These nutrient-packed snacks can improve your heart health, lower your cholesterol, and help you lose weight. Nuts are so beneficial because they contain an amazing blend of fiber, unsaturated healthy fat, and vitamins like vitamin B and E. Researchers are optimistic about the effect of vitamin E on heart health. Studies are ongoing, but it is thought that vitamin E can prevent plaque buildup and even heart attacks. Vitamin E also promotes good circulation, increased healing capability, and healthy skin and hair. And since it’s fat-soluble, vitamin E is ideally consumed with unsaturated fat, like that found in nuts, which helps your body process and use it. Just one handful seems to be enough to reduce risk factors for heart disease.

Coffee

I always knew there was something extra special about my morning cup of java! I’m so excited to be sharing this with you, not just because my steaming cup of coffee is keeping me buzzed and alert, but because coffee has been shown to reduce heart disease and it’s complications! Studies in men show that both the risk of a heart attack and stroke were lowered when they were coffee drinkers. But, for women, only the risk of stroke was lowered. In the Nurse’s Health Study, the risk of stroke for coffee drinkers was about 20% lower than non-coffee drinkers. Part of the reason for this difference may be the increased risk of heart attacks women have after menopause, when estrogen levels drop. Nonetheless, coffee can be a good source of antioxidants and confer health benefits when taken correctly – that means none of those flavored syrups and whipped cream toppings that add refined sugars and calories!

Red Wine and Grapes

While there are risks to consider with excessive consumption, studies have found that moderate amounts of red wine may actually be good for you. It reduces your likelihood of developing heart disease and also lowers the chance that you’ll suffer a fatal heart attack or stroke. However, not everyone receives all these benefits. For example, someone that already is at high risk of developing heart disease or has been found to have high cholesterol doesn’t fare as well as someone without these factors. There are also genetic attributes that dictate how much alcohol your body can safely consume. It is probably a safer option for this group of people to get their dose of the phytonutrient resveratrol from grapes instead.