There are plenty of things you can do all day to keep your heart healthy. One of the most important is to choose the right foods. Every time you sit down to eat, you can do something good for your heart. No boring or bland allowed. Really! Your heart-healthy regimen can be yummy, nutritious, and extraordinarily satisfying.
Here are some suggestions for a heart-healthy day.
Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries
Oatmeal contains a special type of fiber, called beta-glucans, glucose polymers (extended chains of glucose) found in the cell walls of whole grains and other plant-based foods. Whole oats, including oatmeal, oat bran or whole oat flour are especially rich in beta-glucans.
Oat beta-glucans deliver some impressive heart health benefits when consumed in amounts of 3 grams or more on a regular basis. In one review, researchers found that regularly eating whole oats as part of a heart healthy diet reduced total and LDL-cholesterol by 3 percent to 10 percent and, more importantly, reduced heart disease risk by 6 to 18 percent. 1
As soluble fibers, oat beta-glucans travel through your digestive tract largely undigested. Their ability to absorb water, swell and become viscous allows them to help reduce the absorption cholesterol from foods as well as the reabsorption of cholesterol eliminated from the body.
Beta-glucans also help slow down food moving through the gut, so the body doesn’t absorb sugar as quickly, which helps you’re your blood sugar level steady.
One and a half cups of cooked oatmeal, three packets of instant oatmeal, or 1 cup cooked oat bran provides about 3 grams of beta-glucans.
Throw some berries in the bowl for an antioxidant boost. Berries contain high levels polyphenols, which research has found may help increase HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce blood pressure.2
Berries are also a rich source of anthocyanins, a particular type of polyphenol with antioxidant properties. Researchers have found an association between the consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods and protection against heart disease in both women3 and men.4
Lunch: Vegetarian chili
Cutting down on your meat intake has some serious body benefits. Results from two large population studies followed for up to 28 years indicate that reducing red meat intake to less than one-half serving per day (about 1-1/2 ounces a day) can reduce premature death by about 9 percent for men and by 8 percent for women.5
Vegetarian chili is a great lunch choice because it contains lots of heart-healthy beans. The American Heart Association says that eating beans as part of a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle may improve your blood cholesterol. One reason is because they’re a great source of soluble fiber, which helps speed waste through the digestive tract, taking cholesterol and other dangers with it.
The fiber in beans can also help you feel full for longer, making you eat less overall which can keep your weight down — another heart-healthy habit.
Dinner: Steamed broccoli with almonds
Whatever your favorite entrée, a heart-healthy side dish is one topped with nuts.
Think almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and other tree nuts. Why? In one meta-analysis, researchers found that a one-ounce serving of tree nuts per day is associated with a 29% reduction in coronary heart disease risk.6 Toss a few walnuts into a dinner salad, garnish steamed vegetables with chopped almonds, or add a few cashews to your favorite chicken dish.
Nuts blend well with just about any vegetables, but serving up cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts adds an extra phytochemical boost to your daily plate. These vegetables are rich in sulforaphane. This tongue-twister is a potent antioxidant that can help protect the health of your cells, leading to less inflammation and decreased oxidative stress within the blood vessels.
You see? Food IS good medicine!
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1. Ho HV, Sievenpiper JL, Zurbau A, et al. The effect of oat β-glucan on LDL-cholesterol, non-HDL-cholesterol and apoB for CVD risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials. Br J Nutr. 2016;116(8):1369-1382. PMID: 27724985.
2. Erlund I, Koli R, Alfthan G, et al. Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(2):323-31. PMID: 18258621.
3. Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, et al. Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective study in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(3):895-909. PMID: 17344514.
4. Cassidy A, Bertoia M, Chiuve S, Flint A, Forman J, Rimm EB. Habitual intake of anthocyanins and flavanones and risk of cardiovascular disease in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104(3):587-94. PMID: 27488237.
5. Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, et al. Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(7):555-563. PMID: 22412075.
6. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med. 2016;14(1):207. PMID: 27916000.