We are spoiled with the abundance of colourful fresh fruits and vegetables that are available in all shapes and sizes, including organic varieties. These glorious produce are filled with beneficial phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. By consuming at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, you can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and rid your bloodstream of free radicals.
With a high-fibre diet, your digestive tract will thank you; you will probably feel a little lighter, maybe a new woman — well, maybe not to that extent. Fibre cannot be digested but it acts as nature's broomstick in the intestines. Numerous studies have confirmed fibre's importance and role in a healthy diet, especially with regard to heart-health. One common theory suggests that once fibre is in the digestive tract, it transforms into a binding agent that attaches itself to cholesterol and prevents it from being absorbed into the body, which would cause further damage to your arteries.
So what heart-healthy whole foods can you include in your daily routine to reap the benefits?
Benefits: Omega-3 fatty acids
Try it: Grilled on a vibrant dark leafy green salad with a tangy dressing.
Benefits: Fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and phytoestrogens
Try it: You can sneak flaxseed on to nearly everything from your morning cereal to salads and even baked goods.
Benefits: Soluble fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, folate, calcium and niacin
Try it: Prepare it with skimmed or coconut milk, a pinch of cinnamon and blueberries for the perfect start to the day.
Benefits: Soluble fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate and magnesium
Try it: Create a colourful bean salad with a variety of diced raw vegetables including red bell peppers, topped with aromatic herbs and a vinaigrette dressing.
Benefits: Phytosterols, plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, mono- and polyunsaturated "healthy" fats, fibre, folate, Vitamin E and magnesium
Try it: Chop up a handful and toss into a low-fat Greek yoghurt with berries for a fabulous healthy snack or dessert.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoids, flavonoid, polyphenol, Vitamin C, calcium, folate, magnesium and potassium
Try it: Perfect alone as a snack or toss them into your morning porridge or cereal.
Benefits: Fibre and carotenoid
Try it: When chopped they pair perfectly with hummus for an easy go-to snack.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoid, B-complex vitamins, magnesium, folate, potassium and calcium
Try it: Spinach is very versatile; it can go in green smoothies, omelettes, fantastic salads or is the perfect green for sandwiches or wraps.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoid, calcium, folate, potassium, and Vitamins C and E
Try it: Along with sliced carrots, broccoli also goes well with hummus for a healthy snack alternative.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoid, Vitamins A, C and E
Try it: Roast the sweet potato and serve with a dollop of butter and sprinkle of cinnamon for a wonderful accompaniment at dinner.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoids, potassium, folate and B-complex vitamins
Try it: When sliced, red bell peppers make perfect dippers for hummus and when diced they add the perfect crunch and vibrancy to a bean salad.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoids, folate and B-complex vitamins
Try it: Asparagus are the perfect side dish to any meal, simply steamed or grilled with a touch of lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoids, flavonoids, folate, Vitamin C and potassium
Try it: Nothing beats a juicy fresh orange slice. Be wary of orange juices, as they tend to be high in sugar content.
Benefits: Fibre, carotenoids, potassium, folate and Vitamin C
Try it: For a light and refreshing dish but never short on flavour, try a cherry tomato and rocket salad.
Not everyone can be a saint all the time. You can indulge in these heart-healthy foods every once in a while and still reap benefits:
Try it: Everyone loves a cuppa!
Try it: Anything at or above 70 percent cocoa is fair game but enjoyed in moderation. Haven't crossed to the dark side? The key to enjoying dark chocolate is to bite, chew on the chocolate, then let it melt in your mouth to let the flavour sink in. You will thank us later.
Try it: In moderation, a glass of red wine could help improve HDL or "good" cholesterol. However, that's no excuse to polish off a case by the weekend.
Antioxidants rid the body of free radicals.
Reduce blood pressure.
Plant-based oestrogen hormone, which studies have suggested helps lower the risk of blood clots, stroke and cardiac arrhythmias. Studies have also cited that phytoestrogens help lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.
These help boost the immune system, reduce blood clots, heart attacks and blood pressure. Additional benefits include increased HDL or "good" cholesterol levels and lower triglyceride levels. They also help keep arteries clear and are anti-inflammatory.
These reduce the risks of blood clots, clogged or hardened arteries and help increase HDL or "good" cholesterol.
More heart-benefiting antioxidants that help lower blood pressure, reduce LDL or "bad" cholesterol and protect blood vessels.
Plant-based sterols chemically similar to cholesterol, which benefit the body by working to reduce blood cholesterol.
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