Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. Too often, heart disease is thought of as a sudden disaster — the clutching of one's arm or pounding, crushing chest pain.
But the truth is that heart disease is more like the long arc of a baseball in the air; we notice its movement as it approaches us, but in reality, the ball has been descending for most of its flight.
But by the time full-fledged clinical heart disease is apparent, with symptoms like chest pain, most of the damage has already been done. The good news is that if you make the basic right decisions about diet, you are already protecting yourself against the bulk of the risks.
The battle against heart disease, as with all the conditions I cover in my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, is part of a lifelong commitment to actively pursue health through good lifestyle choices, ones that "turn on" your health-promoting genes. Below is a list of heart-healthy foods and substances that I recommend to my patients at risk of heart disease.
1. Bring in the omega-3s.
Omega-3 fats found in cold-water fish like salmon and cod, as well as supplements, have been shown to lower blood pressure.
2. Remember the "Q."
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a powerful, natural, antioxidant found in the majority of cells in the body; it also converts food into energy. A meta-analysis revealed that CoQ10 lowered blood pressure when taken at prescribed doses.
3. Go nuts.
Nuts are another good option to protect against heart disease. They're full of good fats, they lower LDL (the so-called "bad" cholesterol) and protect against coronary heart disease. Both pine nuts and almonds are good choices.
4. Get "D" good stuff!
Vitamin D has been shown to contribute to heart health in many ways. It blocks hormones that are released by the kidney that are involved in raising blood pressure in the body. Vitamin D also lowers the risk of a heart attack and mitigates other factors that can affect the heart such as the calcification of blood vessels and heart tissue scarring.
5. Crunch on cabbage.
Red cabbage contains anthocyanins and is rich in vitamin C; a study reports that boosting vitamin C levels helps to prolong the life of people with heart failure. Red cabbage has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
6. Learn to love tomatoes.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a phytonutrient that provides the reddish pigment. Besides adding the bright red color to tomatoes, lycopene is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrient that plays a role in reducing bad cholesterol.
7. Enjoy some tart cherries.
Yes, these tangy and tart treats are powerful antioxidants. They also contain anthocyanins, which provide cherries with their red-pigmented color, fight free radical formation, and reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation worsens the development of plaque formation within blood vessels, which contributes to heart disease.
8. Get olive leaf for arterial health.
Oleuropein is found in olive leaf extract, and has been found to reduce blood pressure. Oleuropein also pinpoints hardened arteries by reducing arterial resistance and stiffness as well as enhancing endothelial function to decrease blood pressure. It's found in both olive oil and in olives.
9. Say yes to dark chocolate. And grapes.
Flavanols are nutrients found in foods including cocoa, grapes, and many teas. Cocoa flavanols (found in cocoa powder, for example) are important nutrients that are thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. There's also some research suggesting that they reverse age-related memory decline in older adults.
While the types of foods that we eat play a huge role in promoting or preventing heart disease, we can't forget the importance of physical activity, which also helps protect against the development of heart disease. So combine good nutrition and physical activity to optimize your health.