What did you have for breakfast this morning? I hope it was a bowl full of colorful berries. You see, eating is not just about satiating hunger. Rather, it’s primarily about supporting our body’s nutritional requirements, and our current Coronavirus era has demonstrated that having a healthy-functioning immune system is crucial to survival.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman in his article, “How to Protect Yourself from the Coronavirus: Supporting Your Immune System When You May Need It Most,” COVID-19 death rates are highest in those with chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, and smokers – time to stop the vape pens!) and the elderly (about 15% over 80 years old). And, citing Dr. Ocean Robbins in his “Heart Food: 15 Superfoods Your Heart Will Love” Food Revolution Network PDF supplement, heart disease kills more people than any other disease on Earth. This is a sobering reality and the very reason why taking care of your heart and body is so crucial, especially during a pandemic.
Dr. Robbins defines heart disease as “a dysfunction of the blood vessels in various parts of the body that lead to organ dysfunction. The most common are: atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol; arrhythmia, abnormal heart rhythm; heart attack, when a clot blocks blood flow to the heart; heart valve problems, such as stenosis or prolapse; and heart failure, when the heart isn’t pumping as much blood as it should.” Factors that can increase your risk of heart disease include smoking, type 2 diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor diet.
Dr. Robbins promotes a plant-based diet, which this article is neither endorsing nor denying, and he points out that “a growing and, frankly, overwhelming body of evidence now tells us that diet can be absolutely critical to preventing and even to reversing heart disease.” And, “it turns out this same diet is also generally best for preventing cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and many of the other major health ailments of our times.”
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Right? Logic would tell us that making healthy adjustments in our diet certainly cannot hurt. Additional data, paraphrased below, from Dr. Robbins’ research and his www.foodrevolution.org website tells us these 15 super foods promote heart health.
Berries, especially the red and blue varieties, are remarkably potent, heart-healthy warriors. Simply consuming 1 to 2 daily portions of either strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Leafy greens, such as spinach, collards, kale, beet greens, and dandelion greens contain an abundance of vitamin K, which helps decalcify blood vessels and protects the arteries. For best results, enjoy a combination of raw and cooked leafy greens for maximum nutritional benefits.
Avocados have even more potassium than bananas. A single Hass avocado contains 33% of the daily recommended potassium intake. Potassium increases nitric oxide release, lowering blood pressure and improving the function of your arteries. Avocados also contain healthy monounsaturated fats, which can reduce LDL cholesterol and overall cardiovascular disease risk.
Nuts & Seeds
Nut and peanut butter consumption can protect your heart in a number of ways. (Note: peanuts aren’t, botanically-speaking, nuts. They’re legumes. But, they’re used like nuts.) They’ve been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of inflammation, decrease body weight and insulin resistance, and improve endothelial function.
Walnuts, in particular, have been extensively studied for their positive effect on LDL cholesterol. Part of the reason may have to do with their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Flax and chia seeds are also rich in healthy fats and two of the best sources of plant-based omega-3’s, namely ALA, an essential fatty acid we can only get from food.
One daily serving of nuts can reduce your risk of cardiovascular death by 39%. But, a little goes a long way with nuts and seeds due to their calorie density. Recommended portion is 1-2 ounces of nuts and seeds per day (or more if you’re fit).
The antioxidants derived from the cacao tree, found in cocoa powder and dark chocolate, are more powerful even than “superfruits” like blueberries, acai, cranberry, and pomegranate. One study even showed that high levels of dark chocolate consumption reduced cardiovascular disease by 37%, type 2 diabetes by 31%, and stroke by 29%. Those are pretty significant numbers!
How to choose the best chocolate: Even for all its benefits, keep in mind that most chocolate contains large amounts of sugar and dairy, which can mitigate its benefits. When it comes to your health, darker is better, so look for varieties that contain at least 72% cocoa. And as with many tropical foods, sourcing matters, too. To avoid supporting farmer exploitation and child labor, look for fair-trade-certified cocoa.
Beans are high in a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them a top heart-healthy food. They also contain phytochemicals that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress caused by a buildup of plaque and clogging of the arteries. Darker colored beans, such as adzuki beans and black beans, have the highest levels of phytochemicals. But all kinds of beans are highly nutritious and are excellent foods for heart health.
Add them to soups and salads or prepare them as a main course with steamed veggies. Just one serving of beans per day can reduce your risk of heart attack by 38%, according to a 2005 study.
Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant and carotenoid that gives them their red color. As an antioxidant, lycopene can lower inflammation in your body and prevent oxidative stress that contributes to heart disease.
Eating raw tomatoes was shown to increase HDL (the good cholesterol) in overweight women. Cooking tomatoes actually increases their nutritional benefits, releasing even more lycopene than what’s available in their raw state. Try including cooked tomatoes in stews, chilis, and stir-fries or as a topping on zucchini or butternut squash noodles.
Apples contain pectin, a soluble fiber that blocks cholesterol absorption in your gut. Like beans, they also have polyphenols and other antioxidants that fight heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. One study concluded that apples could be almost as effective at preventing heart disease deaths as statins, or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Apples are a beneficial addition to any heart-healthy diet. They’re best eaten with the skin on because the skin provides most of the fiber and many of the other beneficial nutrients, too.
Low in calories and relatively inexpensive, spices are used around the world in every culture for their flavors and medicinal benefits. Indian spices, in particular, have been shown to protect against inflammation and damage caused by high cholesterol and blood sugar and to be protective against heart disease.
A major ingredient in Indian curries, the health benefits of turmeric are far-reaching due to a powerful polyphenol called curcumin. Curcumin is what gives turmeric its yellow color. And it also has a protective role against cardiovascular disease. The antioxidant effects of curcumin can prevent heart-related complications due to diabetes, lower LDL cholesterol levels, protect against atherosclerosis, and prevent heart failure and arrhythmias.
Part of the allium family of vegetables, garlic has been used for centuries in cooking and medicine. Charaka, the father of Ayurvedic medicine, claimed that garlic maintains blood flow and strengthens the heart. Evidence exists from the National Health and Medical Research Council that half to a whole clove of garlic daily could lower blood cholesterol levels by up to 9%.
Ginger’s active component, gingerol, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. In one study, mice who consumed a high dose of ginger extract for 10 weeks experienced a 76% reduction in cellular cholesterol. Another study with humans who took a 10 gram, one-time dose of dried ginger, saw a reduction in the formation of blood clots.
Considered the “king of spices,” black pepper is rich in minerals including potassium, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure, and zinc, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, which helps keep blood flow and blood vessels in tip-top shape. One study found that supplementation of black pepper in a high-fat diet increased HDL (good) and reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and reduced triglyceride levels.
Cinnamon is documented in both Indian Materia Medica and Indian Medicinal Plants – A Compendium of 500 species books, classifying the spice as an herbal drug with cardiovascular benefits. In recent studies, cinnamon has been shown to help manage obesity-related high cholesterol while also increasing nitric-oxide levels.
Coriander has a long and well-documented history as a treatment for cholesterol. The seeds of coriander are especially good at lowering cholesterol, which has been documented in a few different studies. One study on rats showed a significant decrease in total cholesterol and triglycerides while HDL (good) cholesterol levels increased. Another study using coriander and curry leaves found they help prevent blood clots caused by heart disease.
These are 15 superfoods you might consider adding to or increasing in your diet. Any positive change to your lifestyle such as healthier food, daily exercise, and a mindfulness program (gratitude journal, meditation, prayer group) will go a long way in supporting your overall immune health. Keep in mind, this article’s mission is purely to introduce you to information for consideration. Of course, seek your physician’s recommendation before implementing changes in your life.
If you would like further exposure from the source in which this information was pulled, please feel free to visit www.foodrevolutionsummit.org and click the “Sign Up Now!” button for access to this free online event, lasting from April 25 – May 3. As the article’s author, I am not benefiting in any way other than to hopefully inspire you to make some positive dietary changes in your life. So, if you missed that bowl of berries for breakfast, you can still incorporate them into lunch or dinner. May you and your heart be healthy and happy. Bon appetit!
Laura loves her role as mom to two teen-age sons who inspire her daily. She parents by teaching her boys to follow their joy and, most recently, she launched her eldest from the nest to pursue his musical theatre passion. Within nine months, he was cast as a principal role on a Broadway tour. With a bachelor’s degree in Family Studies and certifications in hypnotherapy, personal training, and Reiki energy, Laura offers parent and teen coaching as well as other nurturing modalities through her business www.lovetolisten.net. You can find her on these social media apps: IG @loveto.listen, FB Love to Listen, Twitter @2laura_snyder.