Your heart beats 100,000 times per day and pumps 2000 gallons of blood throughout your body to supply your always moving, training, and growing skeletal muscles with the oxygen and energy needed to perform. If you aren’t taking into account your dietary heart health, you are losing the battle before you step inside the cage. Every little advantage matters, and in the long run, your heart health is what’s important. February is American Heart Month, making it the perfect time to evaluate the foods that you are putting into your body. Take to heart these eight edibles that will help keep your heart pumping strong.
Bursting with omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce blood clotting and inflammation, decrease triglyceride levels, and regulate blood pressure, wild salmon is a great protein source. Always choose wild salmon, as farm-raised salmon may contain up to 10 times more toxins, including PCBs, which are potential cancer causing chemicals banned in the 1970s, yet still present in the environment.
Flax & Chia Seeds
Flax and chia seeds are heavy hitters in the omega-3 department, along with being good sources of fiber. With all of the benefits of the omega-3s, plus fiber’s ability to aid in reducing cholesterol levels, flax and chia seeds are quick,nutrient-dense additions to quinoa dishes, smoothies, salads, or oatmeal (another heart healthy, fiber-rich food).
This plant-based group includes versatile and inexpensive items, such as black beans, kidney beans, and lentils. Along with their cholesterol reducing,high-fiber content, legumes also contain B-complex vitamins, including folate, which may protect against hardening and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), as well as niacin,which may help raise HDL (good cholesterol). Use legumes in soups, rice dishes, and salads.
Almonds & Walnuts
These two nuts give you a whopping dose of plant-based omega-3s, cholesterol-lowering fiber and phytosterols, magnesium for regulating blood pressure, and vitamin E for antioxidant protection from free radicals (molecules that cause damaging oxidative stress to the body). Choose organic almonds and walnuts, and enjoy them raw or lightly salted.
Boost your beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin A,C, and E content with a simple baked or mashed sweet potato. Beta-carotene, also found in other heart-healthy veggies—such as carrots, pumpkin, spinach, and kale—acts as a heart protective antioxidant against free radicals. Choose healthier and vitamin-rich sweet potatoes as a substitute for regular potatoes.
Red Bell Peppers
Loaded with lutein, beta-carotene, folate, potassium,and cholesterol-lowering fiber, red bell peppers pack quite the nutritious punch. With antioxidant power from the carotenoids (betacarotene and lutein), artery protection from folate, and blood pressure regulation from potassium, these bright red beauties add a zing to wraps, salads, veggie blends, and stir-fry dishes.
Brimming with antioxidant superstars, such as beta-carotene, lutein, anthocyanin, ellagic acid, and vitamin C, blueberries are potent heart protectors that can be added to smoothies, salads, or oatmeal. They also may help to lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure with their fiber, calcium, magnesium, and potassium content, while protecting arteries with folate.
Red Wine & Dark Chocolate
Sound too good to be true? Both of these decadent delights need to be consumed in moderation, but red wine and dark chocolate contain resveratrol, an antioxidant shown to protect against free radical damage, regulate blood pressure, decrease inflammation, protect blood vessels, and lower LDL (bad cholesterol). Don’t feel bad this Valentine’s Day when you break out a little wine and candy.