You can't live without your heart, so it only makes sense to take care of this vital organ. You probably know you should avoid eating too many deep-fried foods or living on a diet of steak. What can you eat to benefit your heart health?
Your body needs certain nutrients to keep your ticker pumping away. Choosing the right combinations of foods can nourish your heart and keep you feeling your best. Many of these have additional benefits, too — so you have the perfect reason to grab your fork.
1. Fatty Fish
Did you know that the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week? Fish such as salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical to heart health. Heart disease rates are typically lower in Asian nations, where fish is a significant dietary staple.
Exercise caution if you're pregnant, though. Some varieties of fish, like mackerel, contain high levels of mercury that could harm your developing fetus. Stick to choices like canned tuna and catfish.
2. Dark, Leafy Greens
You might have heard that you should eat more kale — but do you know why? Dark, leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses. They're chock-full of vitamins and nutrients, including those that benefit your heart.
Don't think you have to resign yourself to eating salads every day. You can prepare greens like romaine on the grill by brushing them with oil and adding your favorite seasonings. They heat quickly, so toss them on as your main dish finishes cooking — or make them into a speedy meal by themselves.
Flavonoids are fabulous chemicals found in food. They contribute to the vibrant hues in particular items, like berries. You can also find high levels in onions.
Flavonoids act as antioxidants by preventing the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol. Researchers believe that this process forms the first stage in plaque production. When plaque builds up in your arteries, it can lead to a heart attack.
You might think, "Aren't nuts high in fat and salt? How could they benefit my heart?" However, while nuts do contain fat, it's the heart-healthy variety that lowers your cholesterol. Plus, if you purchase them at health food stores, you can find them without added sodium.
The vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids in nuts improve the lining of your arteries, keeping them from hardening. This flexibility can prevent heart failure from the organ pumping too hard to increase circulation.
Did you know that many Americans consume hefty amounts of sodium each day, mainly due to additives in processed foods? Too much salt can lead to increased blood pressure and damage to your blood vessels. Cucumbers, conversely, contain high levels of potassium, an electrolyte that helps counter the effects of salt. It helps your kidneys excrete excess sodium, thus lowering your blood pressure. If you don't enjoy the flavor of raw cucumber, put a few slices in your water bottle for flavor.
You might have heard that garlic keeps vampires at bay, but the myth may have originated in this herb's beneficial effects on your blood. Investigators believe your red blood cells turn garlic's sulfur into hydrogen sulfide gas. This expands your blood vessels, making blood pressure regulation easier. You can eat a full clove per day for maximum effect — just don't consume it before a hot date night.
What pairs perfectly with garlic? Tomatoes, of course. Go ahead and have a slice of pizza. The combination can benefit your health, especially if you skip processed toppings like pepperoni and ham. Plants in the allium family, like garlic and onions, also increase the bioavailability of lycopene in these fruits. Lycopene helps your vision, so if you have trouble seeing at night, go out for Italian.
8. Olive Oil
Even though olive oil is 100% fat, it's also the heart-healthy kind. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, which lowers total cholesterol, as well as LDL levels. Drizzle it on salads, or brush it on a pizza crust.
You have another reason to love avocado toast: The vitamin E in this green fruit helps to keep your veins and arteries pliable. Don't let the haters keep you from this breakfast staple — you're eating it for your health.
Berries are high in anthocyanins, a class of compounds with antioxidant effects. In addition to fighting disease-causing free radicals, anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory and antiviral benefits. They may also prevent high blood pressure.
If you don't drink already, you can get the heart-healthy benefits of wine by imbibing grape juice or eating the fruit. However, if you enjoy a glass of merlot with your evening meal, you could boost your health. In excess, alcohol can increase your blood pressure, but in moderation, it has a beneficial effect. Strive for no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.
Tea contains catechins, a type of antioxidant. These compounds can repair damage from oxidative stress due to exposure to smoke or other environmental toxins. Some research suggests that tea may also help you control your blood sugar levels. When your glucose levels spiral out of control, you could develop Type 2 diabetes. That condition increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
If you want to enhance your heart health, start by improving your diet. Your recipe for a fully functioning ticker could be right in your kitchen.