February is deemed American Heart Month by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a month already dedicated to matters of the heart, this is the ideal time to focus attention on and build awareness about heart disease.
According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Food is often an overlooked, yet critical factor in heart disease prevention. Hippocrates said to “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Focusing on fresh foods full of heart-healthy fats, soluble fiber, and antioxidants can decrease your risk of developing heart disease and cut your chances of a heart attack.
Heart health isn’t separate from health in general. You don’t have to eat differently for your heart. Eating a well-balanced, whole foods, non-refined diet is healthy for your heart and whole body. It’s all about eating whole, fresh foods.
Six Simple Steps for Heart-Healthy Eating
1. Fat Isn’t the Enemy
Americans have been advised for the past 30 years to consume less fat. In spite of this advice, heart disease still claims the most lives. Recent research explains that processed carbohydrates, which many of us eat in place of fat, is likely the culprit that increases the risk of heart disease more than fat does. What’s the takeaway from this? You don’t have to shy away from foods like butter, avocados, and grass-fed red meat. Instead, reduce or eliminate the highly refined “white” foods, white flour and sugar, as well as foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
2. Trans Fats, However, are not Your Friend
It is now widely recognized that trans fat found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils cause significant health problems and are much worse with respect to coronary heart disease than saturated fat. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels and promote inflammation. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences states that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption. So be sure to read those food labels!
3. The Role of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are an important component in the prevention of cellular damage from free radicals, the common pathway for a variety of diseases including heart disease. Antioxidant-rich (and delicious!) foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, and green tea.
4. Fiber and the Heart
Fiber plays an important role in heart health. There are two main types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Of these, soluble fiber can help lower the risk of heart disease by helping to lower cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fiber are oatmeal, barley, apples citrus fruits, beans, and cruciferous vegetables.
5. Go Nuts for Nuts
A study last year concluded that people who ate nuts every day were 20% less likely to die from heart disease than people who didn’t eat them. Nuts are a good source of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and several antioxidants.
6. Maintain a Healthy Gut
Research shows that probiotics are an excellent option in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. Be sure to include in your diet probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, yogurt, cultured vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, and kombucha, a delicious fermented tea beverage.
The Bottom Line
Maintaining heart health requires eating a variety of fresh, whole foods with limited processed foods, coupled with other lifestyle choices like not smoking and finding an exercise routine that works for you. The best food for your heart is actually what will keep your whole body in tip-top shape, namely whole, organic, real food. Real food includes fresh vegetables and fruits, properly prepared whole grains, nuts, pastured meat and eggs (yes, eggs!), healthy fats such as coconut and olive oil, and probiotic-rich foods.