Top Foods For A Healthy Heart

By Dawn Williams, Senior News Associate Publisher

You’ve probably heard the mantra that food is medicine, and for good reason. Every element we consume affects the way the body functions, for better or worse. Compare this to the way your car works when you use the proper fuel, oil and other fluids. The result is maximum performance, longer life, and fewer problems along the way. Veering from manufacturer recommendations, your vehicle may still function, but not as efficiently as it should, and certainly not without repercussions. Your body is not unlike your car in that regard; what you put in it will either promote health and vitality, or force your system to work harder than necessary to compensate from the low quality fuel you’re providing.

Building your diet on so-called super foods delivers a lot of benefits without unnecessary calories. They’re loaded with vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants, polyphenols, healthy fats and other health-promoting compounds. Just as importantly, though,   avoiding unnecessary chemicals and excesses frees your body to thrive without overtaxing the system. Knowing what to eat - and what not to - can give you an advantage when it comes to maintaining optimal health and possibly preventing adverse health conditions as you age.

Note: Always discuss changes to your diet or execise regimen with your health care provider in advance.

What To Eat

Avocado. It is a good source of heart-protective omega-3s, and the nutrients in avocados  also protect against macular degeneration, depression and dementia. Use it sliced or chopped in salads, or to add a thicker, creamier texture to smoothies and homemade salad dressings.

Beans. Legumes are high in protein without the high fat content of other protein sources. In addition to fiber and antioxidants, black beans are a good source of iron, which is important for people who limit consumption of red meat. Beans also help you avoid overeating, because they raise levels of leptin in the body, a hormone that affects appetite.

Nuts and seeds. Just a handful of nuts or seeds delivers huge health benefits. Walnuts, for example, are full of omega-3s as well as alpha linolenic acid, melatonin, copper, manganese and Vitamin E. Sunflower seeds are also high in vitamin E, as well as magnesium, a mineral needed in virtually every cellular process in the body.

Tea. The antioxidants in tea, both green and black, help fight cell damage and premature aging. Green tea has the added benefit of a specific antioxidant called ECGC, which may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Other research suggests it may be helpful in preventing atherosclerosis and possibly in lowering cholesterol.

Berries. The phytonutrients in blueberries, blackberries and raspberries fight against free radicals that cause us to age prematurely and damage our cells. They also lower the risk of cancer and may provide some protection against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. For something more exotic, try acai berries, which are full of anthocyanins that fight heart disease, and goji berries which Chinese herbalists use to treat poor circulation, eye disease and the immune system.

Nutritional yeast. Unlike the kind of yeast used to make bread, nutritional yeast has no leavening properties, but it is a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamin B12, a nutrient you may not be getting if you don’t eat meat. With its slightly cheesy flavor, it’s a great topping for pastas and stir fries, for popcorn, and as a fat-free ingredient in cheesy sauces.

Greens. Kale, spinach, collard or mustard greens, and Swiss chard all stave off heart disease and cancer and give you vitamins A, C, K and folate, plus calcium, potassium,  phytochemicals and plenty of fiber. Use greens for salads in place of iceberg lettuce, steamed or sautéed, or added to omelets and even smoothies for a huge nutrition boost.

Yogurt. In addition to calcium, magnesium and potassium, yogurt contains beneficial bacteria called probiotics that help your digestion and keep you regular. These same cultures may help other conditions including H. pylori infection and IBS, and might be effective in fighting the development of colon cancer. The proteins found in yogurt help regulate blood pressure, especially combined with the minerals it contains. Avoid flavored or low-fat yogurt, as these are loaded with sugar.

Pumpkin. The vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in pumpkin make this a clear champion among super foods. It supports vision and slows the decline of degenerative eye disease, helps maintain healthy skin, bones and teeth, prevents or improves hypertension, improves sleep quality, increases production of the feel-good hormone serotonin, protects against heart disease and cancer, and improves sexual health in men. Fresh is always better than canned, but if fresh isn’t available, be sure the can reads 100% pumpkin.

Tomatoes. In salads, on sandwiches or simmered as a sauce, tomatoes offer vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and an antioxidant called lycopene that isn’t available in many other foods. Lycopene may prevent some cancers and lower LDL cholesterol. Folic acid  limits the production of the stress hormone homocysteine, and high potassium in tomatoes helps reduce the risk of stroke and preserve bone densitiy.

Healthy Fats. Several years ago, the truth about fats began to emerge. Previous dietary guidelines linking consumption of saturated fats with heart disease, experts explained, were based on a flawed study. While excessive fat consumption is certainly not recommended, nutritionists now emphasize the importance of including a variety of fats in one’s diet. Fats should constitute 20 to 35 percent of daily caloric intake. Yes, that includes butter! Extra virgin olive oil is best used for salad dressings because of its low smoke point. Coconut oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids, which the body more easily uses for energy and less likely to be stored as fat, according to Dr. Josh Axe of Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats and a good source of vitamin E, which helps boost immunity and improves skin condition as we age. And unlike olive oil, avocado oil is a good cooking oil due to its high smoke point.

If you’re not eating these foods regularly, consider incorporating them into your diet a bit at a time. Small changes add up to significant health benefits.

What To Avoid

Natural health experts are in agreement that some of the most commonly found items in our pantries and refrigerators can have extremely adverse affects on the body.

Here are just a few that you may want to consider eliminating from your diet.

Processed foods. According to Medical News Today, processed foods are loaded with ingredients that patently are not food at all. These include preservatives that keep food from rotting, and numerous other chemicals that give the product a particular color, texture, or flavor, and all of which may have a negative impact on the body. Many of these chemicals are not required to be listed on the package. Further, processing destroys nutrients, are low in fiber but high in empty carbohydrates and sodium.

Artificial sweeteners. Dr. Axe noted that sugar-free products are often recommended to diabetics and others who are watching their weight because they are low on the glycemic index. Unfortunately, he explains new research suggests sugar substitutes such as xylitol and sorbitol have a negative impact on gut flora and may actually cause diabetes. They have been linked to conditions ranging from allergies and headaches to seizures, high blood pressure, and even some forms of cancer. Better options include green stevia, monk fruit or raw honey.

Microwave popcorn. Unlike real popcorn which is high in fiber and antioxidants and low in calories, the microwave version offers no benefits and the potential for serious harm. Dr. Axe says the primary problem is the use of nonstick perfluorochemicals used to coat the bag. The chemicals have been linked with cancer. Equally concerning is diacetyl, the flavoring compound used to create a buttery taste; diacetyl is known to cause serious lung disease when inhaled in large quantities.

Farm-raised fish. Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, but Alaskan wild-caught salmon is the variety to choose. Farm-raised salmon (also sometimes labeled Atlantic salmon) contains only half the levels of omega-3s, and dioxin levels up to 11 times higher than wild-caught fish. Dr. Axe cites research linking dioxins with organ damage, immune system dysfunction, and cancer.

Fresh strawberries. The Environmental Working Group last year rated non-organic strawberries as the top produce to be contaminated by pesticide residue. Traces of more than 20 different pesticides were found in a single strawberry, chemicals that have been linked with numerous disorders in multiple studies. Paying just a little more for organic produce gives you all the nutritional benefits without the risk.