Heart-healthy diet top 10

The right food items to protect the heart

By Elma Sandoval

With cardiovascular diseases as the number one killer in the Philippines, more and more people are becoming conscious of their health and well-being. For those serious about heart health, a change in lifestyle is essential, and the food we take in is critical.

Below is a list of 10 items that should be part of a heart-healthy diet:

Leafy greens – Spinach and kale top the list of leafy green vegetables that are packed with vitamins and minerals good for the heart. They’re rich in Vitamin K that protect the arteries and promote proper blood clotting. They’re also high in dietary nitrates, which help reduce blood pressure. A diet rich in leafy greens is said to lower the risk of coronary heart disease. As alternatives, add kangkong, mustasa (mustard greens), malunggay or alugbati, a local spinach variety, to your diet.

Fish high in Omega-3 Salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines contain Omega-3, fatty acids known to boost heart health. Though mostly available in canned forms, it is still better to consume them fresh. Studies show that a decrease in fish consumption, especially those rich in Omega-3, increased the risk for heart disease, while continued inclusion in the diet helped lower cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and fasting blood sugar.

Beans/legumes A rich source of fiber and B vitamins, legumes include all kinds of beans such as garbanzos, peas, kidney beans, black beans and soy beans (in the form of tofu). These are good for the heart because they consist of resistant starch, which doesn’t raise glucose to very high levels and helps the good bacteria in your large intestine. This helps reduce blood pressure as well as triglycerides.

Almonds/walnuts Among all nuts, almonds and walnuts are best for the heart. Walnuts are a great source of magnesium, copper and manganese, which help lower bad cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure, thus reducing the risk for heart disease. Almonds are nutrient-dense as it is a source of mono-unsaturated fats and fiber to help get rid of belly fat and lower bad cholesterol.

Avocado Like almonds, avocado is an excellent source of mono-unsaturated fat and is rich in potassium, which is essential to lowering blood pressure.

Olive oil Several studies have shown the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil. Packed with antioxidants, it is also rich in mono-unsaturated fats that can help lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of developing heart ailments.

Whole grains Brown rice, whole wheat, whole oats and corn are among the types of whole grains that can provide the body with fiber and protein. Most are rich in Vitamin B, minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus, and antioxidants. Three or more servings of whole grains a day can decrease the risk of heart disease up to 30 percent.

Fruits Combined with a healthy lifestyle, consuming Vitamin-C rich fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and papaya among others, can lower the risk of heart disease. While available in food supplement form, it is still best to take foods high in Vitamin C to help reduce bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Dark chocolate Chocolate made of 60 to 70 percent cocoa has been found to contain polyphenols that help control blood pressure, clotting and inflammation. Only dark chocolate, not milk chocolate or candy bars is beneficial to heart health.

Green tea High in polyphenols and catechins that act as antioxidants, studies have found green tea to significantly lower cholesterol levels, as well as decrease blood pressure.

Two medical professionals point out that while people may be aware of the need to eat healthy and natural items, very few are proactive when it comes to changing their lifestyle to avoid cardiovascular problems.

Dr. Tracy Hernandez-Garcia, a Dr. Sears Health and Wellness coach, shares her criteria in classifying a “superfood”: it must be nutrient-dense, with proven benefits; must be natural rather than factory-made, it should taste good and satiates the appetite; can be prepared in a variety of ways, and doesn’t contain harmful ingredients. These should contain the right fats, be plant-based, contain flavonoids, polyphenol, and antioxidants, and be high in fiber to help lower bad cholesterol.

Dr. Mary Rose Anne Lacanin, a medical fellow in Adult Cardiology, the anti-inflammatory effects of antioxidants in vegetables and dark chocolates have been linked to a halt in progression of atherosclerosis and its complications. Dr. Lacanin emphasizes that moderation and individualizing diet prescriptions is key. “There are foods that may affect certain medications taken by patients (already diagnosed with CVD),” she explained, citing as example leafy vegetables rich in Vitamin K may not be good for someone taking warfarin. Cutting back on salt is also advised.

The physician-health coach says preparing snacks instead of buying them will ensure they’re not only healthy but less expensive. Substitute fatty foods and sugary drinks with fruits, dark chocolate, nuts and oatmeal smoothies. Adding seeds – flax, sunflower, pumpkin or chia seeds – to the diet is also good for heart health. Oatmeal, using whole oats, is a rich source of fiber, too. And finally, in lieu of salt, adding spices – chilli, ginger, garlic and cinnamon – should keep the heart healthy.