While it is important to take care of our whole body and support the health of all our various organs, I think we can all agree that the health of our heart is particularly important to tend to. Unlike a kidney, we do not have one to spare. Whether your heart is in good working order right now, you have some room for improvement or you are recovering from cardiac surgery, adopting a heart-healthy diet is a powerful way to keep your ticker in tip top shape.
Fat has always had a bad reputation when it comes to eating a healthy diet but not all fats are created equal, not by far. There are many different types of fats, and certain ones, such as omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, offer numerous health benefits, especially for the heart. A typical healthy diet will consist of 25 to 35 percent of your calories from fat and most of them should be these healthy fats. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish such as salmon and tuna. If you do not or cannot eat fish, good plant sources incude flax seed, hemp seed and walnuts Rich sources of monounsatured fats include olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and olives.
While on the subject of fats, you want to limit your consumption of omega-6 fatty acids—they offer health benefits, but in the quantities consumed in the typical Western diet, they promote inflammation–a major contributor to heart problems. Limit intake of soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil. Read food labels carefully since these are the types of oils used in many packaged foods.
Key Nutrients for Keeping Blood Pressure in Check
Maintaining normal blood pressure is one of the most important things you can do for your cardiovascular health and the good news is, making sure to include certain foods regularly into your eating plan has been shown to reduce hypertension as well as medications according to major government studies. The key players appear to be magnesium, potassium and calcium. The good news is, getting these nutrients into your diet on a regular basis is not that difficult since they are abundant in a variety of healhty foods so you should have no trouble finding foods you like.
Good sources of magnesium include wheat bran, almonds, spinach, cashews, soybeans, oatmeal, peanuts, baked potato, black-eyed peas, brown rice, lentils, kidney beans, avocado and raisins. Foods high in potassium include apricots, avocados, bananas, dates, figs, kiwi, melon, orange raisins, almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts, artichokes, kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, chick peas, lentils, soybeans, spinach, tomatoe, potatos and sweet potatos. Calium-rich foods include dairy (stick to low-fat for heart health benefits), sesame seeds, spinach, collard greens, black strap molasses, kelp, tahini, broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, Brazil nuts, celery, almonds, papaya, flax seed and oranges.
A high-fiber diet is a heart-healthy diet. Fiber helps promote steady insulin levels, which is important for not only your heart but for overall health. Fiber is also good for keeping cholesterol levels in check. It is found in all plant foods but some sources are particularly rich. Beans are a great source, with most kinds providing anywhere from 11 to 18 g of fiber per one cup serving. Choose whole grains over refined grains—they are higher in fiber and research suggests they help reduce abdominal fat and lower inflammation in the body—two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
All fruits and vegetables are great sources but the richest ones include berries of all kinds, pears, oranges, bananas, leafy greens, squash, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Nuts and seeds are also a great source of fiber.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who specializes in health content; she has contributed work to many blogs and websites on a range of topics from nutrition to alternative medicine. Visit Cardiac Vascular & Thoracic Surgery Associates for more information on cardiac surgery and general heart health.