The Top Foods That Prevent Heart Disease
Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are the leading cause of death worldwide. The majority of these deaths are the result of a heart attacks or strokes and many of them are premature deaths in persons under 70 years of age. This is particularly concerning because heart attacks and strokes are largely preventable through healthy lifestyle choices, like eating foods that prevent heart disease.
What Is Heart Disease?
The term heart disease refers to any condition that affects the heart. Broadly this can be divided into conditions:
- Heart structure problems: an example is a leaking valve, where blood leaks back through the valve
- Heart failure: where the heart muscle is unable to pump blood effectively through the body
- Arrhythmias: disorders of the electrical impulses responsible for heart beats
- Coronary artery disease: where the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle become blocked
This article focuses on coronary artery disease which is the most common type of heart disease and is the underlying cause of heart attacks. We will provide a brief overview of what it is and the symptoms. Then we will discuss the risk factors for coronary artery disease and the foods that prevent heart disease.
Coronary Artery Disease and Heart Attacks
Coronary artery disease develops gradually over time with a build-up of plaque inside the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. This causes the blood vessels to narrow, which reduces the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart muscle.
Over time the reduced blood supply can lead to stretching of the heart muscle leading to heart failure. The plaque can also rupture and cause a heart attack when a blood clot completely blocks the blood flow to a portion of the heart.
Once blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced, a person can experience tiredness, shortness of breath and eventually angina. Angina is chest pain which occurs while exercising or in highly stressful situation and which usually recedes within 10 minutes or less.
The chest pain from a heart attack can occur while at rest. It is usually more severe than pain from angina and often becomes progressively worse. The pain can also travel to other parts of the body, such as down into the arm, in the jaw or even the back. Sometimes it can even be confused with severe indigestion or heartburn. Other possible symptoms include sweating, palpitation, nausea and vomiting.
Risk Factors for Coronary Artery Disease
You are probably aware that high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking increase your risk of heart disease. Studies are however increasingly showing strong links between the risk of heart disease and other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, being overweight and obesity.
At the same time, all the above mentioned chronic conditions (high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes) are being linked to our modern sedentary lifestyles, lack of exercise, high levels of stress and unhealthy diets of processed foods with high sugar and saturated fat content.
Therefore, it becomes clear that aside from getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can take to avoid coronary artery disease. At the same time it will also help to prevent all the other chronic conditions that plague the older generation.
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What Is a Healthy Diet?
The Mediterranean diet has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease considerably more than the low-fat diet that was widely recommended until fairly recently. The Mediterranean diet is not a diet in the sense of a list of foods that one may eat but describes the general eating pattern of persons living around the Mediterranean Sea where the incidence of coronary artery disease is very low.
The foods these populations eat are high in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids. They eat plenty of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains and olive oil. Consumption of refined grains, dairy, red meat and sweet foods is limited. They also regularly enjoy a glass of red wine with their meals.
These days, most diets recommended for healthy eating and weight loss contain elements similar to the Mediterranean diet. It’s all about limiting highly refined and processed foods, saturated fat, starches and sugar, and eating more low fat meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, and healthy vegetable oils.
Following a healthy diet, with a variety of natural fresh foods, will supply your body with the great range of nutrients it needs to perform the millions of chemical processes that take place every minute. There are, however, certain foods that have been shown to be particularly good for heart health.
Try to eat fatty fish at least twice a week to get the benefit of the omega 3 fatty acids. Cell damage caused by inflammation contributes to the plaque build-up in blood vessels. Omega 3 fatty acids help to minimize this damage and also contribute to reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
High quality olive oil contains antioxidants that help repair damaged cells, including those lining your arteries. The monounsaturated fatty acid it contains improves heart health and can help to lower cholesterol. Heating changes some of the beneficial compounds, so it is best to drizzle it over your salads.
Nuts are nutrient dense, containing proteins, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats. Studies have shown that they contribute to heart health. Have a handful of mixed nuts as a healthy snack every day, but just remember that they are high in calories, so do not overdo it.
Studies have shown that the high fiber content of whole grains lowers the risk of heart disease by helping to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check. So, choose whole grain breads rather than white bread baked with refined flour.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Add some leafy greens to your plate every day. They are high in vitamin K and nitrites, which help to counteract the effects of inflammation on the cells lining the coronary arteries. Nitrates also help to improve blood flow and reduce high blood pressure.
Garlic has been used as a medicine for centuries. It contains a number of different compounds which have been shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Allicin, which is released when garlic is crushed and chopped, has a blood thinning effect which might help to prevent blood clots.
Cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate is very nutritious, containing fiber and a number of minerals. It is also very rich in organic antioxidants which are associated with a lower risk of developing arterial plaques. So, this is one tasty treat you can add to your heart-healthy diet, but make sure that it is dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa and a low amount of sugar.
Be Good to Your Heart
Your heart is one of the most important organs in the body and the sooner you start looking after it, the better your chances are of a long and healthy life in the future.
Try to be active for at least 30 minutes a day and replace foods with empty calories with more natural and nutritious foods. Even small changes in your daily habits can have long-term health benefits.