6 Heart Healthy Must Haves

The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 grams of fiber daily for women and 38 grams for men.  Most of us are only getting 15 grams of fiber a day.  The World Health Organization extimates cardiovascular disease causes approximately 17.5 million deaths per year world-wide.  A vegetarian or living food lifestyle will greatly lower your incidence of heart disease than it will for meat eaters.  Saturated animal fats raise cholesterol levels and clog arteries.  Eating a well balanced vegetarian diet will give your body the heart-healthy nutrients it needs.  Foods like fruit, veggies, and whole grains are easy and fun to prepare and eat. 

These six food compounds can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease: Soluble fiber, Potassium, Carotenoids, Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and Flavonoids. 

Soluble fiber combines with water in your GI tract to absorb cholesterol and stop it from being distributed through your body.  It will also push it out of you.  We all know how great fiber is for elimination, right?  Sometimes called roughage, fiber is the indigestable portion of plant food.  Wikipedia says, “Soluble fiber, like all fiber, cannot be digested.  But is does change as it passes through the digestive tract, being transformed (fermented) by bacteria there.  Soluble fiber also absorbs water to become a gelatinous substance that passes through the body”.   What foods are fiber filled?  Whole grains like oats, barley, and pinto beans, potatoes, brussel sprouts and fruits like apples, plums and oranges are good sources of soluble fiber, whereas 100% bran cereal has more insoluble fiber.  Insoluble fiber will pass through the body unchanged.

Potassium is associated with lowering blood pressure levels.  It counters the effect of excess sodium and aids in transmitting nerve impulses and promotes normal muscle function.  Both effective for optimal heart and blood vessel health.  Foods like potatoes, bananas, dark leafy greens, pumpkin seed, avocado and almonds are high in potassium.  Potassium deficiency can lead to high blood pressure problems, hypertension, strokes, and heart irregularities.  Meat, poultry and fish are high in potassium, but it’s not healthy to eat an entirely carnivorous diet.  These foods will cause a rise in acid levels and deplete potassium levels.  Instead of supplements, try a slice of cantaloupe, a banana or strawberries. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that play a key role in heart health.  These are a class of polyunsaturated fats.  They cannot be manufactured by the body so must be obtained from food.  They contain molecules that will ward off blood clots that can trigger stroke and heart attacks.  Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and prevent risk factors associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.  You can find Omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, soy, and baby dark leafy greens like watercress and arugula.

Low blood levels of B vitamins and folic acid have been found to increase the risk of atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.  Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty material collects along the walls of the arteries.  Some sources of B vitamins are fortified breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, potatoes, broccoli and asparagus.

Flavonoids have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties that protect you against heart disease.  They keep the lining of the arteries flexible which will promote healthy blood flow and reduce clotting.  Catechin is a flavonoid compound found in tea and cocoa and it can reduce heart disease.  It’s found in dark chocolate, green tea, red wine, extra virgin olive oil and apples.  Soy flavonoids (isoflavones) can also reduce blood cholesterol and can help to prevent osteoporis. 

Carotenoids have fat solubility and antioxidant properties.  These plant chemicals are a big factor in fighting heart disease. and give fruits and veggies their yellow, red and orange colors, not to mention the green in plants.  There is evidence they interact with bad LDL cholesterol and prevent if from oxidizing and sticking to the artery walls.  Food sources of carotenoids are carrots, spinach, kale, collard greens, red peppers and tomatoes.  However, to maximize the availability of these carotenoids in your food, they should be eaten raw or lightly steamed.

And please….don’t forget your emotional heart.  Feeling emotionally healthy is just as important.  Get in touch with your physical and emotional body.  Yoga, meditation, chi gong…all great ways to start “feeling”.  Releasing all the “baggage” will detox your blood as well as your muscles. 

Breathe, breathe and breathe again.  Keep going……

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