Plants for your Heart

A new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that adhering to healthy eating patterns is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  They studied four different healthy eating patterns, all of which emphasized eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts while eating less red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.  They found that all four eating patterns led to a lower risk of heart disease, across all racial and ethnic groups.  This is especially important given the higher incidence of CVD that exists in communities of color and  those that are socio-economically disadvantaged which leads to a greater risk of death as well as complications from Covid-19.

A heart-healthy diet is one that will help you prevent the build-up of plaque in your arteries, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce inflammation.  It needs to include the following:

  • Fiber – soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and keeps it out of your bloodstream.  It also helps you control your blood sugar, avoid weight gain, improve gut health, and decrease inflammation — all of which are important for heart health.  The best food sources include oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and beans.  The pectin in apples also binds to LDL cholesterol and takes it out of the body.
  • Anthocyanins – these antioxidants have been shown to help decrease blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduce inflammation.  Your best sources are deeply colored red, blue and purple foods like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, purple cabbage and eggplant.
  • Omega-3 fats – these healthy fats help reduce inflammation, reduce triglycerides, and lower blood pressure.  Plant sources include walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
  • B-complex vitamins – B6, B12 and folate are important for normal homocysteine levels.  Homocysteine is an amino acid produced by the body to make protein, but excess levels of it cause damage to the arteries and is considered a risk factor for heart disease.  It can build up when too many animal products are consumed or B vitamin levels are low, so make sure to eat plenty of leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and Swiss chard.
  • Magnesium and potassium – these minerals are important for lowering blood pressure.  Magnesium also helps to keep your heartbeat steady.  Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are excellent sources, as well as pumpkin seeds, avocados, and dark chocolate.  Watermelon provides potassium as well as lycopene, another excellent antioxidant.

As stated by Dr. Walter Willett at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “with the right food choices, physical activity, and not smoking, we could prevent about 80 percent of heart disease…”

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