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Here’s a scary statistic – every 40 seconds somebody in the United States suffers from a heart attack.1 This common but debilitating condition occurs when oxygen-rich blood supply is suddenly cut off from a section of your heart. Coronary heart disease, a condition where plaque builds up inside arteries which supply blood to your heart, is the most common cause of heart attacks. Plaque inside your artery may eventually rupture, leading to the formation of a blood clot which, if it’s large enough, can block blood flow and cause a heart attack.2
The Need For Heart-Healthy Foods
Fortunately, the major risk factors for a heart attack like high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and being overweight can be controlled through diet, exercise, and sometimes medication.3 Naturally, what you eat can have a significant effect on your risk of heart attack. Which is why having a heart-healthy diet is crucial to keeping your ticker running smoothly.
Consuming a diet that rich in fruits, vegetables whole grains, fish, dairy products that are fat-free or low in fat, poultry, lean meats, nuts, eggs, legumes, seeds, soy products, and healthy fats can help your heart. You also need to limit the consumption of trans fats saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and alcohol.4
Aside from a heart-healthy diet, some specific foods have a protective effect on your heart. Here’s a list of foods you should eat.
1. Dark Chocolate
Cocoa contains flavanols, which are organic chemicals with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant property. These flavanols also improve your levels of nitric oxide, which can lower your blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. One study found that people who had dark chocolate, which is particularly rich in flavanols, for 15 days experienced both a decrease in their blood pressure and improved glucose sensitivity.5 So if your heart’s pining for some dark chocolate, go ahead and indulge!
Pomegranates can do your heart a world of good. Studies have found that can it lower blood pressure and cholesterol.6 The oxidation of LDL cholesterol – which is the bad kind of cholesterol as opposed to HDL cholesterol – is a critical step in the development of heart disease. One study found that when patients with diabetes and hyperlipidemia had 40 g of concentrated pomegranate juice their LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels were significantly lowered while their HDL cholesterol levels weren’t impacted.7
Research has also found that these amazing fruits can increase the activity of an enzyme known as serum paraoxonase which works against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.8
A few cloves of garlic can amp up the flavor of any dish. But did you know that this common spice is also great for your heart? According to research, it’s quite effective at lowering blood pressure. So how does garlic work? When garlic is crushed, a reaction is triggered that forms a compound known as allicin. This compound can dilate blood vessels and inhibit angiotensin II, a hormone that makes blood vessels constrict, leading to a reduction in blood pressure.9 So spice up your cooking with some garlic to please your taste buds and your heart!
Your morning glass of orange juice is bursting with flavonoids that are good for your heart. Studies have found that having orange juice can improve HDL cholesterol levels while lowering LDL cholesterol levels.10 But that’s not all – one study found that consuming orange juice daily can also lower your blood pressure. Interestingly, it was observed that commercial orange juice was more effective at this than natural orange juice. The researchers suggest that this might be because commercial products, which are concentrated forms of the fruit, tend to have a higher content of flavonoids, essential oils, and pectin when compared to natural juice.11
5. Oily Fish
Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of polyunsaturated fat. These are healthy fats that help to keep your heart healthy by lowering blood pressure, slowing down the accumulation of plaque in your arteries, and reducing levels of triglycerides, a kind of fat that’s present in your blood. Omega 3s also bring down your chances of getting an irregular heartbeat. Go for at least a couple of servings of omega 3-rich fish in a week to keep your heart running like a well-oiled machine.12
If you’re fond of yummy berries, know that they’re great news for your heart too. One study looked at the relation between the risk of heart attack and the consumption of strawberries and blueberries among women. Those who had the most quantity of these berries were 34% less likely to get a heart attack than those who had the least. Flavonoids known as anthocyanins present in berries are credited with being especially heart-healthy though other compounds may also play a part in their heart-protective properties. Have half a cup of strawberries or blueberries 3 or more times a week to reap their full benefits.13