Written by Julie Hammerstein, CN
With February being the love month, and also the month for promoting heart-health, I wanted to step deeply into my role as nutritionist and offer ideas for incorporating heart-healthy foods into your diet.
I’ve listed my favorite heart-loving foods, although these are just a handful. Hop online and you’ll find an abundance of foods to choose from, some of which you may already have in your fridge.
My challenge to you this month is to try a new healthy-heart food every week. It’s truly an act of self-love when you feed your body well. Plant foods rank high on my list, and you’ll find, that when prepared with love, they are richly nourishing for your soul.
Try on these foods and enjoy:
Asparagus is high in saponin, a phytochemical (plant chemical) that binds with fatty acids and cholesterol, washing these fatty compounds from the body. Pair this with saponin-rich foods like quinoa and you’ll have a more therapeutic effect of rich anti-inflammatory nutrients per serving. My favorite way to eat asparagus is lightly steamed, still crunchy, and drizzled with a little bit of grapeseed oil and fig-flavored balsamic vinegar.
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is rich in a chemical called theobromine, which stimulates the heart, relaxes smooth muscle and dilates blood vessels. In some clinical settings, chocolate has been used to treat chest pain, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries. Dark chocolate has 65% more cocoa (the substance that makes chocolate so good for us) than milk chocolate, and less of the added sugar. My favorite brand chocolates are Lindt-brand 70% Dark Cocoa and Divine-brand Dark Hazelnut Truffle.
Green tea contains the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, in addition to tannins, and flavonoids. Researchers writing in the latest issue of the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation have found that people who drink green tea have better blood vessel function just 30 minutes later. Specifically, green tea improves the function of endothelial cells. Endothelial cell dysfunction plays a key role in the development of clogged arteries, a process called atherosclerosis. My favorite way to drink a cup of green tea is mixed with a touch of honey and a splash of unsweetened coconut milk.
Salba is a grain similar in nature to flax seed. The leading brand of salba, which is SalbaSmart®, is grown completely free of any chemical fertilizers. Salba is the richest whole food source of Omega 3 fatty acids and fiber found in all of nature. It contains eight times more Omega 3s than salmon and four times more fiber than flax seed. If that’s not enough, Salba is an incredible source of calcium, antioxidants, magnesium, folate, and iron – all shown to reduce the incidence of heart disease. My favorite way to eat Salba is sprinkled into my daily breakfast smoothie, on top of my oatmeal, or mixed into tomato or pesto-based pasta sauce.
Compared to other grains, quinoa contains the most heart-healthy nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc. You can also feel good knowing that quinoa is one of the most complete foods in nature because it contains amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients ~ a powerful combination for preventing inflammation and oxidative stress that can damage the heart. My favorite way to eat quinoa is in the lovely Heart-Warming Quinoa Breakfast.
Spirulina is a form of blue green algae is an extremely powerful super food. It has one of the highest concentrations of beta carotene, iron and the rare essential fatty acid GLA which helps to reduce high cholesterol and hypertension—factors associated with heart disease. It is also known for it’s immune-boosting properties, and helps to detoxify the liver and improve energy levels. My favorite way to get spirulina is in the new and improved version of the JuicePlus+ Complete shake mix ~ this makes for a low-calorie, power-packed breakfast or snack.
This coral-colored tropical fruit is a good source of digestive enzymes and potassium. Because it helps maintain smooth-muscle contractions like the heartbeat,
potassium is one of the top three heart nutrients, and papayas have more than bananas. My favorite way to eat papaya is cubed and put into this delicious Tropical Green Smoothie.
These naturally sweet treats may be one important ingredient in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system by supporting healthy arteries, which helps promote healthy blood flow and blood pressure. Concord grapes may help support flexible arteries to promote healthy blood flow and improved circulation. My favorite way to eat grapes is frozen on a hot summer day, and also added to morning smoothies.
Sweet potatoes are loaded with carotenoid-potent antioxidants ((beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin) that reduce the risk of heart diseases, strokes, cancer and cataracts. These are the same nutrients that protects the plant in nature by making it less vulnerable to the rays of the sun, which also protect our body from heart-damaging free radicals. My favorite way to eat sweet potatoes are baked and drizzled with butter-flavored grapseed oil, with a dash of sea salt and black pepper.
Walnuts contain alphalinolenic acid, or ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is needed in the body for its “calming” and anti-inflammatory substances. Often times when people are diagnosed with heart conditions, they’re told to eat less fat. Note that this recommendation refers to harmful hydrogenated or “trans-fats”, and saturated fats found in high-fat dairy and animal foods. This does not mean you should stop eating the heart healthy fats found in plant fats like walnuts and avocados. My favorite way to eat walnuts is by the handful mixed in with other heart-healthy foods like raisins.
You can hop online and search one of these heart-healthy foods to find lots of great recipes. The bottom line? You want include nutrient-dense, low inflammatory, high antioxidant foods in your diet every day. When you do this, you’re taking a powerful step towards protecting your heart for a lifetime.