According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the United States, including African-Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians. While there is an entire branch of medicine dedicated to cardiac health, most doctors believe the real secret to a healthy heart lies in what you eat.
Doctors and health experts know this because heart disease has been found to be quite rare in societies where people don’t eat processed foods. No matter what age you are and what condition your heart is in, it’s never too late to switch to a healthy diet. To get you started, here are 7 superfoods that are directly linked to improving heart health and preventing heart attacks.
The popularity of kale as a superfood is well deserved. It is filled with loads of heart-healthy antioxidants, fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains lutein which has been found to provide protection against early atherosclerosis. Glucoraphanin, an unusual compound found in kale activates a protective protein known as Nrf2 which creates a protective coating in your arteries that prevents plaque formation.
2. Dark Chocolate
The health benefits of dark chocolate came to light thanks to the Kuna Indians who live off the coast of Panama. When scientists began to research why the Kuna Indians didn’t develop hypertension as they age, they found that the natives drank copious amounts of minimally processed cocoa. Flavonols present in cocoa improve blood vessel flexibility which keeps hypertension at bay. So the darker and less processed the chocolate, the better it is for your heart.
For a healthy heart, it’s crucial that you bring down your LDL (bad cholesterol) level. However, preventing the oxidation of that cholesterol is also equally important. The oxidized LDL gets stuck in arterial walls which later becomes a site for plaque formation. Pomegranate contains antioxidants that not only block the formation of plaque but can also reverse buildup to some extent.
Garlic helps keep your blood pressure in check. It helps reduce the effect of a hormone produced by your liver called angiotensin, which causes vasoconstriction and a subsequent increase in blood pressure. Though the effect is not as strong when compared with blood pressure medications, having garlic also prevents the buildup of plaque.
When it comes to matters of the heart, it’s the orange and not the apple that keeps the doctor away. Oranges contain soluble fiber pectin that acts as a sponge which soaks the cholesterol in your food and blocks its absorption. Pectin also helps neutralize a protein called galectin-3 that causes scarring of heart tissue which could lead to congestive heart failure. The potassium in oranges counters the effects of sodium helping to keep your blood pressure under control.
Cold-water fish like sardines are among the richest sources of natural omega-3 fatty acids. These are good fats that help lower harmful triglycerides and increase HDL. The result is lesser chances of fatal heart arrhythmias. Having sardines also helps reduce inflammation which destabilizes plaque, causing it to rupture and produce clots that lead to heart-attacks. You can also opt for vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flax seeds but long-chain omega-3s in fish are much more effective.
7. Red Wine
This is one superfood most people have no problems including in their diet. While any alcohol helps increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels, red wine has additional benefits for your heart health. Red wine has compounds called polyphenols which help keep blood vessels flexible and reduce the risk of unwanted clotting. But that does not mean you can drink as much wine as you want. Do keep in mind that chronic drinking is damaging to the heart.