Healthy Heart Foods
A nutritionist and coach give us a run-down of the best and worst foods for your heart
We asked a nutritionist and a coach to tell us the best and worst foods for your heart. You can also read more about heart health, including five things you probably didn't know about your heart, plus 10 risk factors and what you can do to minimise them.
Healthy Heart Foods
Nutritionist Taru Towers (thrivelondon.com) reveals the best and worst foods for your heart.
Five of the Best Foods for your Heart
1. Non-starchy vegetables: A source of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients, veg is at the centrepiece of a heart-healthy diet. Aim to include a portion the size of your fist in every meal with a minimum of two different colours.
2. Fatty fish and flaxseed: Sardines, herring and anchovies or flaxseeds are all a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils. Fresh, non-rancid oil directly from these foods helps the body to modulate inflammation, often an underlying cause of heart disease.
3. Avocado: Pear-shaped perfection for cardiovascular health, the avocado packs considerable fibre, healthy monounsaturated fat and potassium.
4. Colourful berries: Rich in antioxidants and vitamins, and lower in sugars compared to most fruits. Defrosted frozen berries are a great option and sometimes more nutritious than fresh because storage and transport can reduce the nutrient values of fresh foods.
5. High quality lean protein: The quality of your protein is imperative – don’t forget to use plant protein sources such as lentils, beans and tofu, and enjoy lean animal protein in moderate quantities, leaving a day or a two a week for purely vegetarian meals.
Five of the Worst Foods for your Heart
1. Processed foods and takeaways: These foods are the clubhouse of the trans fats, which love to negatively alter your cholesterol composition. They are the healthy heart’s dietary enemy number one.
2. Soft drinks: Sugars and sweeteners induce a hormonal cascade, which is harmful systemically, let alone for your heart. Soft drinks can also leach potassium out of the body, possibly even leading to hypokalemia (potassium deficiency).
3. Alcohol: The experts are currently bickering over whether modest quantities of red wine are part of a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, but alcohol in itself is nothing but liquid full of nutrient-void calories.
4. White bread, cakes and biscuits: Nutrient-void, the negative effects of refined grains are comparable to white sugar – bad for your waistline as well as your heart.
5. Cigarettes: Not strictly speaking a “food”, but the almost immediate positive effects for the heart from quitting the gaspers are so considerable that smoking has been highlighted in all of the research looking at cardiovascular disease risk factors.
More Healthy Heart Foods
Jamie Lloyd (opens in new tab), a fitness writer, speaker and coach is co-author of Total Bodybreakthroughs, adds his recommendations for nutritious foods that give your heart an extra helping hand.
Almonds and other nuts contain healthy oils, vitamin E and other substances that help keep your cholesterol levels in check. They're also a good natural source of protein and fibre. Eat as a snack by themselves or sprinkle slivered almonds on green beans with lemon juice to make a delicious side dish.
Packed with vitamins and lycopene, tomatoes have long been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Add thick slices of tomatoes to sandwiches and salads or enjoy tomato sauce on pasta. In fact, cooked tomato sauce and canned tomato sauce both contain more lycopene than the equivalent weight in raw tomatoes.
Full of monounsaturated fats, olive oil lowers LDL, reducing your risk of developing heart disease. Look for extra-virgin olive oil because it's made using a natural process that involves no chemicals or any other additives.
Popeye knew firsthand the value of eating spinach. Hands down, spinach is the powerhouse of the vegetable kingdom. Its rich, dark colour comes from the multiple phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals (especially folic acid and iron) that also fight disease, protect against heart disease, and preserve your eyesight.
Your grandma called it roughage and we need plenty of it each day. Oatmeal is one way to pack it in. Oats are wholesome whole grains and a great source of vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol-lowering fibre. Research shows oats lower cholesterol levels, keep you regular and may help prevent certain cancers.
Forget any childhood aversion you may have had to this green veggie, your heart is a fan. Brussels sprouts contain a high amount of soluble fibre compared to other vegetables. Soluble fibre binds cholesterol in the digestive tract where it's then excreted by the body. 200g of cooked sprouts contain 4g of soluble fibre.
Omega-3s make this fish a darling of heart health, as it lowers triglycerides and slows the rate of hardening of the arteries. Other heart-healthy fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, and lake trout, also contain high amounts of omega-3s.
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