According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is a leading cause of death for men and women in the US and takes over 600,000 lives each year. More concerning is that heart disease can be a silent killer. Almost two-thirds of the women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms and nearly one-fifth of the people with high blood pressure, a leading risk factor in heart disease, don't know they have it. This means that even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for developing this potentially deadly, yet preventable, disease.
To immediately lower your risk and your family's risk of heart disease, make changes in your diet starting today. Whole, unprocessed, nutrient-packed foods that are low in trans fats and preservatives can help protect blood vessels, reduce inflammation (which has been associated with heart disease), and eliminate free radicals that can damage the heart. Since there is no single miracle food that will protect your heart, consuming a smorgasbord of foods high in omega-3 fats, antioxidants and B-complex vitamins is the best dietary way to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Color your diet with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. Rich-colored produce such as carrots, broccoli, spinach, papaya, sweet potato, red bell peppers, asparagus and tomatoes are high in carotenoids, lutein, antioxidants and other phytonutrients that protect the heart and slow the aging process. Additional foods to reach for are oranges, acorn squash, cantaloupe and blueberries, all of which are high in carotenoids.
Foods loaded with B-complex vitamins, particularly folate, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12, can reduce the risk of blood clots and hardening of the arteries. Good sources of B-vitamins include beans, legumes, brown rice, tofu and soy milk.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been identified by the American Health Association as a heart healthy fat found in certain fish species. The three major types of omega-3 fatty acids – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – have been shown to help reduce inflammation associated with heart disease, cancer and arthritis. The AHA recommends that individuals consume omega-3 fatty acids at least twice weekly from fish sources including lake trout, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, halibut and herring.
Garlic has long been touted as a heart-healthy natural supplement and backed by numerous studies that have demonstrated small reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol and a reduction in the formation of blood clots. However, be sure to consult with your doctor before changing your intake of garlic in raw or supplement form because large doses can compromise the blood's ability to clot, particularly when taken in combination with blood thinning medications.
The Mediterranean diet is not so much a diet plan but rather a simple, heart-healthy way of eating that focuses on fresh, unprocessed foods. Low in saturated fat and loaded with fruits, vegetables, olive oil, cheese, yogurt, chicken and fish, the Mediterranean diet also features moderate consumption of flavonoid-rich red wine. In comparison, the standard American diet is higher in processed foods, saturated fats, red meat and beer. Adopting a Mediterranean way of eating is easily accomplished by reducing the consumption of all packaged or processed foods and increasing your intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains as well as preparing food with olive oil. Studies have shown this sensible way of eating is not only beneficial for the heart, it can also reduce the risk of cancer.
The key to heart-healthy eating, eliminating processed foods from your family's diet, and staying out of the fast food drive thru line is to plan ahead.
Give these heart-healthy meal planning tips a try:
Heart-healthy meal planning will not only make your cooking time more efficient and enjoyable, it also helps protect your family from developing heart disease and builds an important foundation of healthy eating for your kids to pass on to their families when they are adults.
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