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Eats for beats: 5 foods to boost heart health


Many of us know eating more fruits and vege-tables may help ward off some types of cancers, that more fiber-rich foods help to keep us full and that protein is the foundation of strong muscles and bones.
Food also plays a big role in healthy hearts. Here are five foods that can help you better manage your cardio-vascular health and ward off heart disease.

These plant-based foods offer a great way to get fiber and a host of nutrients like B vitamins, iron, cop-per and magnesium without the fat content of animal proteins.

“The benefits may be related to decreasing bad cholesterol in the body, lower blood pressure related to improving elasticity of the blood vessels, and antioxidants from the dark or red coats of beans,” said New York-based registered dietitian and nutritionist Jonathan Valdez. “Beans also contain folate, which are responsible for lowering blood levels of homocysteine, which are respon-sible for heart attacks.”

There’s about 50 percent of a daily serving of folate in one cup of cooked kidney beans and about 90 percent in one cup of cooked lentils.

Whether you’re eating tomatoes in a roasted gazpacho, pico de gallo or in a chopped salad, their heart-health benefit is clear.

“Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a nutrient that gives the tomato its red color and one that has very pow-erful antioxidant effects,” said Dr. Larry Santora, a cardiologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. “Studies show it prevents the oxi-dation of LDL cholesterol, lowers LDL and also inhibits clotting. Additional research has shown benefits in lower blood pressure and reduced stroke risk as well as improvement in post heart attack risk and heart failure. Those with lowest levels of lycopene in their blood have a three-fold greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.”

While eating raw tomatoes is good, lycopene is best absorbed if cooked with healthy oils, like olive oil.

Garlic has benefits beyond flavor-ing some of your favorite dishes.

“As little as a clove per day has been shown to lower blood pressure and even reverse early stages of heart disease,” Santora said. “It can also raise the good HDL cholesterol, and lower homocysteine, a marker for vascular disease.”

Valdez said the compound allicin, which is responsible for garlic’s odor and its heart-healthy properties, is not available in whole cloves and only become activated when smashed, chopped and then eaten raw.

If you’re averse to incorporating fresh garlic into your diet, Santora recommended 600mg of dry-age garlic extract twice per day as an effective alternative.

Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
You either love them or hate them, but there’s no denying the heart-healthy properties of these cruci-ferous vegetables. That’s because a substance known as sulforaphane is naturally found in all vegetables in this group, but is especially con-centrated in broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

“Sulforaphane may be able to actu-ally prevent inflammation in certain high-risk arterial areas where plaque tends to form,” Santora said. “The anti-inflammatory properties help mitigate the damage that might oth-erwise occur during a heart attack. Their fiber-related nutrients bind fat in the intestine to prevent its ab-sorption into the blood stream. Eat them raw or only quickly steamed to preserve heart-healthy benefits.”

Fish oil
Fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines provide high levels of ome-ga-3 fatty acids that the body cannot make on its own.

“Omega 3s have anti-inflammatory effects and lower trigylcerides,” San-tora said. “Fatty fish consumption has been shown to lower cardiac risk.”

Not a big fish eater? You may want to become one because benefits are greater when fish are consumed rather than taken through fish oil supplements, Santora added.

Click here to read the October issue of Heart Monitor.

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