According to Heart and Stroke foundation statistics, 90 per cent of Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke — like smoking, alcohol, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or diabetes. There are an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada alone. So it’s important that we understand which foods we can include in our diets to help fight these tough odds. The following are ten delicious and nutritious foods to keep in mind for your healthy heart:
As one of those desirable omega-3-rich fish, salmon can help reduce high blood pressure and protect against heart disease. The unsaturated fatty acids in fish will lower your cholesterol and reduce inflammation, preventing any damage to your blood vessels.
A delicious dish is teriyaki salmon, marinated with a sauce of brown sugar, low-sodium soy sauce, and honey. Doug Cook (RD MHSc), a registered nutritionist and dietitian from Toronto, commented,
“Fish and seafood-based omega-3 fats are best known for their ability to lower triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, which can increase the risk for heart and cardiovascular disease when elevated. This is why Canada’s Food Guide recommends two servings (75-100 g or 2 1/2 to 3 oz) of fish per week.”
You know how oats become mushy when combined with water? This is the water-soluble fibre found in oats that slowly passes through your digestive tract and attaches to bile acids, eventually clearing your arteries of harmful cholesterol as it goes. A bowl of oatmeal with steel-cut oats is full of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. Try serving it with cut up fruit like apple or banana, and a dash of cinnamon. Makes for a great breakfast!
Almonds and Walnuts
A freezer bag of almonds may be the best snack for you throughout the day, as these are high in antioxidants, keep blood sugar levels down, and balance your cholesterol. In a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tested subjects followed a diet of foods like a handful of almonds per day and were able to lower cholesterol levels by 20 per cent. Almonds can also be used in savoury cooking, as a breading for almond-crusted pork or almond-crusted chicken tenders.
Walnuts, too, are highly acclaimed for their health benefits. Registered dietitian Jodi Robinson states that walnuts have the
“highest source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids compared to all nuts. I recommend clients include them on a regular basis especially if they don’t eat the recommended two fatty fish servings per week due to an allergy or food aversion. Add a spoonful to oatmeal, grab a handful to snack on, or sprinkle on a salad.”
Cultivated in Babylon from as early as 3000 BC, flaxseed is once again taking the world by storm in the 21st century. Since 2010, 300 new flax-based products have been launched with high demand from consumers who are raving about the health benefits. Flax contains Omega-3 essential fatty acids, with their heart-healthy benefits, fibre, and lignans. For each tablespoon of ground flaxseed, there are about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
Doug Cook, RDN MHSc, noted:
“Whole flax seeds are indigestible by the human digestive track. Whole flax seeds are still a good source of fiber but in order to absorb the nutrients found in them, they must be ground, or milled. You can grind them yourself in small batches using a coffee grinder or buy them pre-ground. It’s best to buy ground seeds that are in a vacuum-sealed package and then store them in the fridge or freezer to retain freshness. Don’t buy them ground from bulk store, the omega-3 fats are easily destroyed by air and light.”
You can include flax in a smoothie, with yogurt, into pancake batter or muffins — try cinnamon blueberry, they make for a delicious snack on-the-go.
Cranberries have received fame for their ability to fight against urinary tract infections (afflicting an enormous amount of men and women in North America), but they’re getting new attention for their disease-fighting antioxidants and cholesterol components that may lower heart disease. Studies show that people who drank cranberry juice daily increased levels of “good” cholesterol by as much as 121 per cent — even more than much-loved orange juice. Keep an eye out for pure cranberry juice at your supermarket or health food stores, and stay away from artificially sweetened ones. Cold-pressed juices are available at The Big Carrot in Toronto.
Grapefruit is a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants and it helps reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in people struggling with heart disease. In a study published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, participants who ate grapefruit daily versus those who did not experienced drops in total cholesterol levels, because it’s a rich source of flavonoids. Particularly those who drank red grapefruit versus blond were found to have higher levels of antioxidants.
Sounds obvious, right? It’s surprising how many people are dehydrated, with fluids constantly leaving our bodies, and the overly dehydrating foods and drinks in a typical North American diet. A study in the American Journal of Medical Epidemiology found that participants.
“who drink five or more glasses of plain water a day have a much lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease compared to those who drink less than two glasses per day.”
Try having a bottle of water always on the go with you and make frequent trips to your water cooler at work.
But don’t go overboard — recommended intake is approximately 2 litres per day, depending strongly on the foods you eat and your daily activities. Drinking too much may be as dangerous as drinking too little. If you drink too much, your blood may become diluted and you develop hyponatremia. The risk is especially high when exercising. Common symptoms include nausea, headache, or confusion.
Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart… It’s true! Beans are jam-packed with fibre that will fight bad cholesterol in your blood and keep you away from heart disease. Kidney beans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas — they all will guard against heart attack and regulate your blood sugar. Don’t forget:
“pulses (chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans) are also packed with antioxidants; it’s not just fruit and vegetables that are good sources of antioxidants,” says Cook.
You can make wonderful hummus with chickpeas , tahini, garlic, and lemon juice, or mix your beans with rice or a veggie stir-fry.
Claimed to be one of those “superfruits” of the latest health craze, blueberries are full of nutritive value when eaten raw consistently. They are known to be one of the most antioxidant-rich foods in the world. According to Mercola, new studies show that “women who eat more than three servings per week of blueberries had a 32 per cent lower risk of heart attack” due to flavonoids known as anthocyanins. Berries are in season in Canada and readily available at farmers markets during the summer. Try a handful for breakfast with Greek Yogurt and a drizzle of honey.
To fight heart disease, experts suggest we replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, and have foods with good fats that can lower bad cholesterol levels. Avocados are the only fruit with monounsaturated fat, and 80 per cent of its fats are of the unsaturated variety. The potassium and fibre found within will also lower your risk of strokes and heart attacks by lowering your blood pressure.
Try having mashed avocado in a freshly made guacamole with lime juice, cilantro, tomato, and garlic. Jodi Robinson (RD, FIS, PTS), registered dietitian, recommends we
“try a simple homemade salad dressing of mashed avocado, olive oil, lemon juice, finely diced garlic, and a dash of salt and pepper.” Delicious!