The heart is one of the organs in your body whose role cannot be jettisoned. With the statistics on heart-related diseases on the rise, your heart may not be safe. Most of these diseases associated with the heart arise from the kinds of food you eat and your physical activity level. Exercise is very good for building cardiovascular endurance and the overall maintenance of a healthy heart. But what if you could eat in a manner that would protect your heart in addition to exercising daily? This post - the first of a two part series - outlines how 10 of 20 foods improve the health of your heart.
Fish is a rich source of protein and it is low in saturated fats (the kind of fats which are known to increase blood cholesterol level). Fishes such as salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown to reduce the level of triglycerides slowing the rate of fat layer formation in the blood vessels, they also reduce the risk for abnormal heartbeat which could lead to sudden death, lower risk for high blood cholesterol, decrease blood pressure and decrease the chance of having type-2 diabetes (insulin resistant diabetes). Consumption of at least 2 servings (about 57 grams or of a cup of flaked fish) of oily fish per week would provide enough omega-3 fatty acids to help protect your heart. People with cardiovascular diseases are advised to eat more servings of fish to help control their condition. Research has shown that people who frequently eat oily fish, fruits and vegetables live longer.
Lycopene is a natural chemical which gives tomatoes its red colour. This compound is known to have antioxidant properties. One of the benefits of this property of antioxidant is its healthful effect on the heart. Fresh tomatoes due to their lycopene content have been found to help lower blood cholesterol level and prevent clumping of platelet cells in the blood vessels (cells present in the blood which help to stop bleeding when there is a cut) which could lead to debilitating heart problems. The antioxidant activity of lycopene in tomatoes have heart-healthy effects. Also, other naturally occurring chemicals have been found in tomatoes which may boost your heart’s health. One of such naturally occurring chemicals is vitamin C. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant which may protect the heart against cardiovascular diseases. Findings from some studies suggest that vitamin C may reduce risk for some cardiovascular diseases.
There are different types of chocolate. Those with higher cocoa solids tend to possess more polyphenols. These polyphenols are known to offer health benefits to those who consume them. The hearty benefits of chocolate are offered by the dark type, because this type contains more cocoa solids; usually, at least 70% cocoa solids. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols which help reduce blood pressure, enhance the flow of blood through the blood vessels and prevent the damage of cells, thereby protecting the heart. Dark chocolate is also known to possess certain components which have some positive effects on the brain as well.
Fibre is an important component of food which has been found to lower blood cholesterol in countless studies. Oats and oats products contains a specific type of fibre which are very effective at reducing blood cholesterol level. The type of fibre in oats known as beta-glucan is even used for the treatment of high blood cholesterol. People with high blood cholesterol level may eat oats and oats products as a dietary means of controlling their blood cholesterol level.
Among the common food sources of antioxidants, blueberries are known to be the chief of them all; it is packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals which protect cells of the body from damage, protect against certain diseases such as heart diseases, skin problems and cancers. The chemical that gives blueberries their natural colour; anthocyanin, is a strong antioxidant which protects the cholesterol in the body particularly the blood from oxidative damage. A study revealed that a 75-gram serving of blueberries consumed after a high carbohydrate, low-fat breakfast increased protection against oxidative damage after 3 weeks. This activity of the antioxidant in blueberries is a vital mechanism for preventing heart-related diseases. Additionally, regular intake of blueberries has been found to reduce blood pressure; an important determinant of risk for heart diseases. You can put these in your yoghurt, oatmeal and smoothies and enjoy their benefits.
This is an excellent source of vitamin B1, B2 and folic acid. Asparagus is also a rich source of niacin, choline, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. These vitamins play a critical role in the regulation of homocysteine (an amino acid whose high concentration in the blood is a risk factor for heart disease). Further, a 100-gram serving of asparagus contains a considerable amount of soluble fibre. Intake of soluble fibre has been proven in many studies to help reduce blood cholesterol leading to a reduced risk of heart diseases. The antioxidants present in asparagus also contribute to the benefits to the heart.
Coconut (Coconut oil and coconut water)
Coconut is more than just a tropical fruit; it is loaded with so many nutritional and health benefits. Its edible products have been proven to possess healthful effects on the body. Coconut water is a clear, naturally flavoured drink/juice which has a sweet and astringent taste. The juice contains a high amount of potassium, a mineral which when consumed together with low sodium intake could decrease blood pressure. Also, some studies suggest coconut oil helps to reduce total lipids in the blood. The oil could also be used to reduce the amount of calories supplied by cooked white rice. Although coconut oil contains saturated fatty acids, the kind of saturated fats in coconut oil are short chain fatty acids which have been found to reduce blood cholesterol level. All of these contribute to the positive effect on the health condition of your heart.
Bissap drink (Sobolo)
Drinking bissap drink lowers blood pressure. The risk of hypertension could be reduced significantly by the consumption of bissap drink according to a study done in the United States because bissap drink contains compounds which inhibits angiotensin converting enzymes (enzymes which play a role in raising blood pressure) thereby reducing blood pressure. In fact, another survey shows that when people with mild to moderate hypertension drink 500mls of bissap drink, the drink is effective in reducing blood pressure just as if they were taking Captopril (a drug for reducing blood pressure). It is recommended that adults with pre-hypertension and mild-hypertension make bissap drink part of their daily diet as it may prove an effective way of putting their blood pressure under control.
Like many other vegetables, cauliflower contains antioxidants. Beyond the antioxidant content is allicin, a naturally occurring chemical which helps to reduce cholesterol levels, aids blood flow and reduces the risk of heart attacks. Cauliflower is also high in fibre; a critical dietary solution for high blood cholesterol. Additionally, this vegetable contains a fair amount of potassium; a mineral which could reduce blood pressure.
Lemons are sour and are known to have several effects on the body. An often less spoken about effect on the body is its effect on the heart. The effect of lemon on the heart is linked to three components of the fruit; vitamin C, fibre and hesperidin. Vitamin C has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease mainly due to the antioxidant activity of vitamin C. Lemon also contains a significant amount of fibre. Fibre is known to reduce blood cholesterol levels; a major risk factor for heart diseases. Hesperidin and other compounds found in citrus have been reported to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. If lemon is too sour for you, you may go with oranges but lemons contain a higher amount of vitamin C; a strong shield against stroke.
You are always welcome to share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Also watch out for the final series on this next Monday.