By Jessica, Pure Matters
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and by making some small changes -- quitting smoking, being more active, and eating healthier -- you can reduce your risk of heart-related problems.
When it comes to eating for your heart, the general rule of thumb is to include more fruits and vegetables and less junk. There are some foods, however, that have earned the "heart-healthy" label by going above and beyond when it comes to keeping your body chugging along.
Salmon has more omega-3s per serving than most people get in an entire day! These fatty acids decrease your risk of stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure. Just two servings of salmon per week can help keep your ticker ticking along. It's important to make sure that you're buying low-mercury salmon, though. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) offers an up-to-the-minute guide to sustainable seafood and mercury levels in fish here.
Not a fish eater? Pick up some flaxseeds for the same omega-3 boost. You can buy the seeds whole or ground, and mix them into yogurt or smoothies, or sprinkle them on salads or cereal for a heart-healthy upgrade.
When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, oats are a nutritional powerhouse. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, folate and potassium, these fiber-rich grains help to lower LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. To get the maximum benefit, opt for steel cut, not instant oats. Not only is real oatmeal better for you than the stuff in the packet, it's also heartier and tastier.
You've probably heard about how healthy the Mediterranean diet, and olive oil is one of its superstars. The oleic acid in this healthy oil is a monosaturated fat responsible for lowering bad cholesterol and blood pressure. Cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil offers the most health benefits. Whip up an easy, tasty salad dressing by shaking up one part vinegar, three parts olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and your choice of herbs or spices.
All tree nuts are good for your heart, but walnuts contain a higher amount of alpha-linolenic acid, which has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and improves a wide variety of cardiovascular function, most notably blood pressure. My favorite way to get more walnuts into my diet is to swap it in for pine nuts in homemade pesto. It even tastes better!
Finally, an excuse to drink more red wine! Resveratrol, a polyphenol in red wine, helps to prevent damage to red blood cells and blood clots. The key is drinking in moderation, though, which means one 5-ounce glass per day for women, and 1-2 servings for men. Let's all raise a glass to that.
When it comes to antioxidants in food, blueberries are rock stars. The high levels of the free-radical-fighting nutrients in these berries helps to reduce bad cholesterol and raise HDL, the "good" cholesterol, and it helps to protect your blood vessels. Healthiest breakfast ever? Oatmeal topped with flaxseed and blueberries. Have it tomorrow morning -- your heart will thank you.
Black beans are loaded with soluble fiber, which helps to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. They also contain phytonutrients, which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Tip: Buy dried black beans and soak them overnight before cooking. They retain more nutrients that way, plus they're easier on the wallet and the digestive tract.
Spinach is one of those superfoods that we should all be eating, all the time anyway, but it's especially good for the heart due to its peptide content. Peptides lower blood pressure and keep blood vessels healthy, which reduces the risk of atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. For a double dose of heart support, toss spinach leaves with a homemade olive oil dressing or sauté spinach in olive oil.
When it comes to heart health, soy is a controversial topic. The general consensus seems to be that whole soybeans -- rather than tofu, tempeh or other processed soy products -- offer the most cardiovascular support, though. So keep a bag of edamame in the freezer for a filling, healthy snack.
Want to reduce your risk of dying from any disease? Sip on some green tea. The high amount of polyphenols in green tea protect against heart disease, lower the risk of stroke, and save arteries from free radical damage. Some studies even show that drinking green tea all day is even better than drinking water, so brew up a big batch of regular or decaf and drink to your health.
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