Life goes on as long as that good ol’ heart keeps pumping away. Do we ever stop and think what we are putting into our bodies before we are about to take a bit of that delicious deep-fried snack? We only think about what it will taste like and period. We stuff our bodies with so much junk each day and all that unhealthy, fatty food leaves its residues just about everywhere in our bodies. This makes the heart’s job much, much harder. But healthy food must be so bland, you say? It doesn’t have to be. What’s the alternative then, you ask?
Consider, A Cardiac Diet:
A cardiac diet is a heart-friendly, healthy diet which will keep your cholesterol levels in check and also decrease risks of a cardiac arrest. It’s a rounded, nutrient-rich diet including lean meat, fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, whole grains etc. It also cuts back on saturated and trans fat. “Following a heart healthy—or cardiac—diet would be recommended to someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol or any other history of heart disease, or to someone who has a family history of heart disease,” explains Lauren Kelly, MS, RD, CDN and founder of Kelly Wellness in New York City.
Even if there is no family history of cardiac diseases, it doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be any cardiovascular concerns in future. Besides genetics, your lifestyle and diet choices matter a great deal when it comes to your cardiac health. Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University says that sticking to a cardiac diet is otherwise important as well since it helps reduce the risk of heart disease in the future.
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In fact, doctors and experts recommend that this is the kind of diet we should all be following as routine. “Following a cardiac diet can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels,” says Kelly. “It can even boost your energy because of your healthier food choices.” Dr. Lichtenstein reminds that the results vary from person to person as lifestyle choices like exercise, environment and stress levels matter a lot. Some of the healthiest foods for your heart are:
Arthur Agatston, MD, a renowned cardiologist and founder of the South Beach Diet, recommends consuming whole grains like whole wheat, oats, brown rice, buckwheat, rye, quinoa and whole-wheat couscous over the refined varieties. Processed and refined grains are teeming with glutens which have been connected with heart ailments as well as blockage of arteries. Here is how you can make whole grain dinners for the whole family.
Citrus fruits contain vitmanic C and flavonoids, like found in fruits like oranges and grapefruits. Studies have found out that women who take in large amounts of flavonoids are at a 17% lower risk of getting a heart attack from a clot as compared to women who don’t. Make sweet oranges, mandarins, limes, kinnow and grapefruits a regular part of your cardiac diet.
Salmon, mackerel, sardines and other varieties of fatty fish the superheroes of cardiac diet. They are rich with omega-3 fatty acids which lower triglycerides, decrease the risk of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and avoid plaque build-up (atherosclerosis) in the arteries, as shown by studies. Doctors and experts recommend to make fatty fish a part of your weekly diet, at least 2-3 times a week. Try this lemon rosemary salmon recipe for dinner today.
Whole grain oatmeal is a highly soluble fiber which actively lowers cholesterol in the body. Instead of using the instant variety (it may contain sugar) opt for old-fashioned oats or even quick-cooking oats. Steel-cut and rolled oats are super foods. “It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract and soaks up the cholesterol so it is eliminated from the body and not absorbed into the bloodstream,” says Lauren Graf, a registered dietician and co-director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Here is how to make oatmeal a part of your daily breakfast.
Blueberries, strawberries, gooseberries as well as other kinds of berries contain flavonoids and resveratrol which are strong anti-oxidants. These help dilate the blood vessels and also contribute towards lowering blood pressure. These also contain anthocyanin which causes significant improvement in LDL oxidation and lipid peroxidation, as proved by various studies.
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Chocolate lovers can breathe easy. Studies have shown that dark chocolate is benefital for your heart as it decreases the risk of non-fatal heart attacks in strokes among people with cardiovascular issues. Pick the kind with at least 70% cocoa which contains polyphenols. These lower blood pressure, increase blood flow and relax arteries without putting too much stress on the heart. Stay away from milk and white chocolates as well as those with palm oil and saturated fats. Here are 5 ways that chocolate keeps you healthy.
Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, macadamia nuts, peanuts and cashew nuts are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, unsaturated fats and fibers all of which contribute to the good cholesterol in human body. Previously, it was believed that nuts cause rapid weight gain but, Graf says, studies have shown that people who eat nuts routinely are leaner than people who don’t. Avoid salted nuts, this goes without saying.
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In a ground-breaking study, it was observed that the Mediterranean diet (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts),along with 4 tablespoons of olive oil daily, followed by people who were at a high risk for cardiovascular diseases reduced the risk of heart attacks, strokes and fatality by a whopping 30%. The unique feature about olive oil is that it is teeming with mono-saturated fats which not just keep the heart healthy but also reduce blood sugar levels. These can be used as salad dressing as well as to cook your foods with.
Red wine, as well as any type of alcohol in small, moderated amounts helps prevent risks to the heart. What is interesting is that high consumption of alcohol, more than 2 glasses a day, actually puts you at a greater risk for heart attack. So, moderation is the key here. Resveratrol found in red wine is what gives it this special quality of being a heart-friendly wine, but Garf says this is no reason to start consuming alcohol. You can also get resveratrol form non-alcoholic sources likepeanut butter and grapes.
Another beverage working wonders for your heart is coffee. Study shows that men and women who consumed six or more cups of coffee daily were 10 to 15 times more unlikely to suffer heart attacks. Dr. Agatston explains that coffee contains antioxidants and also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. Coffee also raises cognitive stream of thought (after drinking only 3 cups daily) and contributes towards lowering risks for Alzheimer’s.
[related: 4 surprising coffee cures]
Foods to Avoid
There are certain foods that you should avoid if you have high blood cholesterol levels and are at a risk of cardiovascular diseases. It should be remembered that there are good and bad types of cholesterol and not all cholesterol is to be avoided. The good type, which is low in saturated fats (for example, nuts, lean poultry, and fish), must be a part of your cardiac diet. “Cholesterol from your diet actually doesn’t affect your blood cholesterol levels like it was once thought,” says Christy Shatlock, MS, registered dietitian at bistroMD. “However, you do have to be careful because oftentimes foods high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat, which needs to be limited on a heart healthy diet.” Here are foods you should actively avoid:
Trans Fat and Saturated Fat
Trans fat are unsaturated fatty acid of a type which is produced during the hydrogenation process of certain foods like margarine and cooking oils etc. Kelly explains that though trans fat has been banned from processed foods, there are still certain types of foods which have trans fat in minute quantities. Always check the label of these foods for ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ because that’s where trans fat hides:
- Peanut butter
- Fried foods
- Donuts and muffins
- Packaged cakes and cookies
- Fatty cuts of red meat like rib-eye, porterhouse etc.
Saturated fats are present in meat and dairy products, like:
- Whole fat dairy products
- Butter and cheese
- Pork and lamb
- Fatty beef
High intake of sugar has been linked with fatalities occurring from heart diseases. The average American consumes around 22 teaspoons of sugar per day while The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for mean on average. Also watch out for hidden sources of sugar like bread, sauces, cereals and flavored yogurts. Other foods with high sugar levels are:
- Fizzy drinks
- Ice cream
- Fruit juices
- Low-fat yogurt
- BBQ sauce
- Jams and sauces
- Cookies, pies, cakes
- Sweet loaves, waffles, pancakes
High salt levels in diet are a red flag for heart related diseases. 1500 mg is the recommended amount of salt for daily intake as high sodium level in the body causes the blood pressure to rise which in turn takes its toll on the heart. Stay on the lookout for hidden salt sources in your food, foe example, pre-mixed, ready-to-use spices which include salt. “Instead, use herbs and spices or a salt-substitute such as Mrs. Dash,” suggests Kelly. Foods high in salt are:
- Condiments, sauces, dips
- Ready-to-eat, frozen, deep fried foods
- Salted and canned meat
- Sausages, caviar, anchovies
- Salted nuts
- Burritos and pizzas