It’s possible to achieve a healthy heart one bite at a time: A new Canadian study published December last year in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation, reports that eating more fruits, vegetables and fish may help prevent heart attack and stroke from recurring in adults with cardiovascular disease. Researchers discovered that consuming plenty of heart-healthy foods reduced the risk of cardiovascular death by 35 percent; congestive heart failure, 28 percent; stroke,19 percent; and the risk of new heart attacks by 14 percent.
In the Philippines, cardiac disease is the top cause of mortality in the country, based on statistics from the Department of Health. Cases of heart disease continue to rise, and food consumption may possibly be one of the reasons.
The way to a healthy heart begins with what we put on our plate. Here are the 10 expert-approved foods that deliver cardiovascular-protective benefits:
Oatmeal – Perla Esguerra, R.N.D., chief dietitian of the Division of Nutrition and Dietetics in the Philippine Heart Center, says soluble fiber found in oats and oat bran may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fatty acids, also found in oatmeal, may play a role in reducing inflammation in the blood vessels and joints, adds Daryl Estrella, R.N.D., clinical dietitian of the Nutrition Management Services in The Medical City, who recommends eating oatmeal three times in a week.
Olive oil – Estrella says this type of oil, a source of monounsaturated fat, helps in lowering LDL cholesterol, clearing arteries and normalizing blood pressure and blood clotting. Estrella suggests a moderate consumption of two to three teaspoons three times in a week.
Salmon – “Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that protect your heart by reducing both inflammation and the risk of blood clots. These fats also work to
keep your cholesterol levels healthy,” Esguerra explains. The AHA recommends eating two servings of fatty fish—salmon, mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna, among others—at least twice a week.
Tuna – Esguerra says the omega-3 fatty acids in tuna are responsible for a long list of cardiovascular benefits “by aiding in the prevention of irregular heart rhythms, making blood clots less likely, and improving the ratio of good HDL cholesterol to potentially harmful LDL cholesterol.” She recommends eating two to three servings per week to help reduce the risk of contracting heart diseases.
Sweet potato – The humble root vegetable can play an important role in protecting our heart. “High in potassium, sweet potatoes can help prevent the onset of heart attack and stroke. Potassium also helps to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance in the body, which is important for stabilizing blood pressure and regulating heart function,” says Esguerra who recommends eating sweet potatoes three to four times a week.
Broccoli – Carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene are heart-protective antioxidants that are found in many colorful fruits and vegetables, Esguerra says. And the lutein in this calciferous vegetable may slow down or prevent the thickening of arteries in the human body, while vitamin B6 and folate also reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke, she elaborates. Aim to eat at least five servings per week.
Apple – According to Esguerra, quercetin, a phytochemical found in this fruit, acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent that may help prevent blood clots. A tennis-ball sized piece counts as one serving, Estrella says. Aim to eat between four to five servings per week.
Berries – Fresh or dried, these potent fruits are packed with antioxidants that keep our ticker healthy. “Berries reduce heart disease and the chances of developing diseases related to inflammation of the cells,” Estrella notes. The dietary fiber in them, she adds, also helps lower blood cholesterol and may prevent certain types of cancers. Estrella recommends eating berries three times a week.
Legumes – Beans, peas and lentils are examples of legumes, and Estrella says their protein content helps reduce the need to consume animal proteins, which contain saturated fat. Meanwhile, their calcium content helps decrease blood pressure. These pulses also contain cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, fatigue-fighting iron and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Consume three times per week.
Avocado – Estrella enumerates the nutritional and cardiovascular benefits this fruit delivers: The antioxidant vitamin E protects cells from free radical damage and may also help prevent blood clot formation, which could lead to heart attack or venous thromboembolism; monounsaturated fat helps lower bad cholesterol; and folate aids in decreasing atherosclerosis risk and reducing heart defects. Moderate consumption—only thrice a week—is advised.
Get tips on how to incorporate these foods into your daily menu in the February issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.