Heart disease includes conditions like high blood pressure/hypertension, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol and congestive heart failure, to name a few. And while these conditions don’t kill you right away, it’s the complications that will eventually – heart attack, kidney damage, eye damage, liver disease, and stroke. Although it remains “silent”, here are some of the warning signs: shortness of breath with activity/lying down at night, chest pain, heart skipping a beat, fainting, restless legs, weak pulses in the hands or feet, poor wound healing, and erectile dysfunction. So what can you do to be proactive about heart disease? We all know that our diet plays a huge role in the prevention of heart disease. Food really IS medicine, so here are my Top 5 Heart Hero Foods:
Known in Eastern traditions as a blood purifier, this fabulous little root vegetable contains betaine and folate, two key nutrients that lower an amino acid called homocysteine, which is an inflammatory marker that damages blood vessels. Beets are also chock-full of potassium, an important mineral for heart health that is usually outweighed by sodium in our processed diets. Enjoy beets boiled, baked or shredded raw in salads/slaws at least 3 times per week.
2. Extra virgin olive oil
Rich in polyphenols (anti-oxidants) and the monounsaturated fat oleic acid, this Mediterranean staple helps lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, reduces inflammation and has even been shown to reduce mortality (death) rates in people with heart disease. Always choose “extra virgin” which indicates the first pressing of the olives, and preserves the most amount of vitamins, anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. Enjoy 2 tbsp per day for the most benefits.
3. Garlic & Onions
Another traditional heart health food, garlic is great at lowering bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also reduces the plaque in your arteries and helps to thin the blood, keeping blood flow smooth and reducing your blood pressure in turn. To get the most benefits from garlic, press/crush the cloves to release the active ingredients allicin. Onions are in the same family as garlic, and so they have similar beneficial properties. Consume daily sautéed or whole roasted cloves with other vegetables for the most potent effects. NOTE: if you are on any blood-thinning medication, consult your doctor before adding/removing these foods.
4. Dark leafy greens
Think of kale, swiss chard, and spinach when it comes to your dark green leafies – these veggies contain vitamins and minerals like magnesium and potassium which help regulate blood pressure levels and help with heart electrical conductivity. They also contain tons of fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol levels. Enjoy these veggies raw, sautéed, or lightly steamed with some freshly squeezed lemon juice, and aim for at least 1 serving per day.
5. Wild Salmon
Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce inflammation, improve circulation and mood, and help control blood sugar levels. But there is a difference between wild and farmed – wild fish eat other small fish and incorporate omega-3s into their fat while farmed fish are fed grains, and incorporate more inflammatory omega-6 into their fat. Another concern that some may have is that large fish like salmon tend to be more contaminated with toxins like PCBs and mercury – independent lab tests by the Environmental Working Group found that on average farmed salmon has 16 times more dioxin-like PCB than wild salmon. While it is recommended that pregnant/nursing mothers limit their weekly intake, having a serving or two every week of wild salmon can be health-promoting. If you want omega-3s without any risk of mercury, then choose fish oils from reputable companies that use fish lower on the food chain, like sardines and mackerel.
While incorporating heart healthy foods into your daily diet is definitely a step in the right direction, it is always best to get assessed by a qualified health care professional. Naturopathic Doctors begin by taking a detailed personal and family history, followed by a physical examination. They are also able to order routine laboratory tests and specialized tests like a comprehensive cardiovascular risk profile, and refer you back to your MD for any imaging studies (ECG, echo) if necessary. Recommendations of any products will always be assessed based on current medications, along with risk factors and benefits explained. The end result is a customized treatment plan with fewer side effects than conventional medications for heart disease. Book an appointment with me today and find out how she I help you navigate your heart health!
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2. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Retireved Feb 20, 2013
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