February is American Heart Month, and since Valentine’s Day so appropriately falls in February as well, we found it fitting to direct our attention to the organ that works so hard every second of every day… our heart! The heart is one of the five vital organs that is essential for human survival. Throughout the average lifetime, the heart beats about 2.5 billion times, pushing millions of gallons of blood to the entire body. The heart not only brings oxygen, fuel, hormones, and essential cells through the body, but it also removes the waste products of metabolism. The heart, of course, functions optimally when it is healthy, however, an unhealthy heart can cause a host of unpleasant health conditions such as high blood pressure, angina, valve disease and heart failure. An unhealthy heart can be caused by a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, infection, or genetic predispositions. Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women – approximately 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease every year. The good news, however, is that heart disease may be controlled by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Healthy choices and heart protection go hand in hand.
To boost heart health, it is recommended to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day and engage in physical activity, even for just 30 minutes each day. Sleep is also very important- and it is suggested to get 8 hours of quality sleep every night. Of course, that is difficult for most, but definitely something to strive for (do it for your heart)!
Research has shown that certain foods and nutritional supplements may help to support healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels. The following may help to maintain a healthy heart:
- Fiber– Foods rich in fiber can reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food, which can lower overall blood cholesterol levels. It’s best to get your daily fiber from both soluble and insoluble forms such as fruits, grains, vegetables, and legumes.
- Steroids and stanols– Similar to fiber, plant sterols and stanols may help reduce the amount of cholesterol the body absorbs from food. Find them in nuts, grains, fortified foods such as orange juice, and nutritional supplements such as beta sitosterol. For people with high cholesterol, experts recommend 2 grams a day.
- Coenzyme Q10– CoQ10 as a supplement may help to support healthy blood pressure. Studies have shown that this nutrient may help to replenish depletions caused by heart medications such as statins and certain antihypertensive drugs.
- Fish oil– According to research, fish oil may help to reduce triglyceride levels by 30% and may also support healthy blood pressure. This oil is full of omega-3 fatty acids, and can be obtained by food or supplements. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat at least two, 3.5-ounce servings of fish each week.
- Flaxseed– Contains omega-3s, fiber, and phytoestrogens. If you’re consuming the seeds, they are best absorbed if they are ground up. Flaxseed oil is alternatively available as a nutritional supplement.
- Oatmeal– Contains omega-3s, magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin, calcium and soluble fiber. Oatmeal is best if it is steel cut or whole rolled oats, as compared to quick oats.
- Black or kidney beans– Contain B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, magnesium, Omega-3s, calcium and soluble fiber.
- Nuts– Almonds or walnuts contain omega-3s, vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, mono- and polysaturated fats and phytosterols.
- Soy milk– Contains isoflavones, B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phytoestrogens.
- Organic Tofu– Contains niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium.
- Brown rice– Contains B-complex vitamins, fiber, niacin, and magnesium.
- Berries– Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries contain beta-carotene, lutein, anthocyanin, ellagic acid, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber.
- Vegetables– Asparagus, tomatoes, and carrots contain beta-carotene, lutein, B-complex vitamins, folate and fiber.
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(2) Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Heart Health. Retrieved January, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/heart-health
(3) Heart Disease Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
(4) Lopez-Jimenez, F., M.D. (2019, January 09). Easy rules for avoiding heart disease. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/expert-answers/healthy-heart/faq-20057842
(5)The Top 10 Foods for Heart Health. (2010). Weill Cornell Medical College Food and Fitness Advisor, 13(1).
(6) 6 Supplements for Heart Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/supplements-heart-healthy#2