The Richmond Register

August 9, 2013

The best and worst foods to eat for your heart

The best heart-healthy foods

Dr. Jack Rutherford

MADISON COUNTY — Heart disease is still the nation’s leading cause of death. According to the American Heart Association, on average, one person dies every 30 seconds from heart disease.

What you eat has a huge effect on your heart’s health.

Here are the best and worst foods to eat for heart health.

 The best heart-healthy foods

•    Beans – A source of soluble fiber, beans can lower cholesterol by keeping it from being absorbed in the stomach. They also contain flavonoids, compounds found in chocolate, wine and berries that inhibit the adhesion of platelets in the blood, which help lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

•    Whole grains – Whole grains are loaded with fiber and in a Harvard study of health professionals, those who ate a high-fiber diet had a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who ate a low-fiber diet.

Also, those who eat whole grains tend to be leaner than those who don’t. Throw in antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols, and you’ve got a powerful anti-coronary heart disease fighter on your side.

•    Fish, particularly salmon – The “oily” kinds of fish such as salmon and tuna contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which lower triglyceride levels in the blood. They also lower blood pressure slightly and can help prevent irregular heart rhythms. Two servings of fish a week can lower heart disease risk by 30 percent.

•    Yogurt – Research shows yogurt can protect against gum disease, and gum disease may increase the risk of heart disease. The probiotics or “good bacteria” in yogurt helps counter growth of “unfriendly bacteria” in the mouth.

•    Fruits, particularly berries, pomegranates, apples, bananas and tomatoes – Berries lower blood pressure and raise HDL “good” cholesterol levels.

Pomegranates help reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries and lower blood pressure. They are also loaded with antioxidants. Apples contain powerful antioxidant flavonoid compounds that help present “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and causing plaque buildup.

Bananas have more than 400 mg of potassium, roughly 12 percent of your recommended daily intake. Potassium helps the heart maintain normal function by helping the kidneys excrete excess sodium, thereby keeping the right balance of sodium and water in the body and therefore healthy blood pressure.

Tomatoes have lots of good nutrition plus vitamins C and A, potassium, lycopene and fiber. All these vitamins and minerals work together to prevent heart disease.

•    Healthy snacks, particularly nuts, popcorn, chocolate and raisins – Nuts contain monounsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals and low levels of saturated fats. Popcorn has antioxidants and is a whole grain.

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which help produce a blood-thinning effect in the arteries. Raisins have antioxidants that fight the growth of “unfriendly bacteria” that lead to gum disease and possibly heart disease.

•    Green Tea – Strong evidence suggests drinking 12 ounces of green tea daily reduces heart attack risk by 50 percent over non-tea drinkers.

•    Wine/Alcohol – Moderate alcohol and wine consumption raises HDL “good” cholesterol and decreases inflammation and clots that can cause heart attack or stroke.

SUBHEAD: The worst heart-healthy foods

•    Trans Fat – Like saturated fats, trans fats raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol and also lowers your “good” HDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fats to less than one percent of your total calories.

Avoid foods with “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil” in their ingredients. The usual suspects include packaged snacks, bakery goods and some margarines.

Trans fats are also found naturally in animal products such as beef, pork, lamb, butter and milk.

•    Saturated Fat – Anything coming from an animal will contain saturated fat. Beef, pork, lamb, milk, butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, all raise LDL cholesterol and increase the plaque buildup in the arteries.

You can replace many of these foods with monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oils and swap fish, poultry and beans for protein sources.

•    Salt – Americans eat too much sodium, almost 3,500 mg. a day. That’s a third more than the recommended upper limit of 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon).

Too much sodium raises blood pressure as well as the risk of diabetes and chronic kidney disease. Look for “low sodium” foods and other ways to spice up foods.

•    Added Sugar – Americans also eat far too much sugar, on the average 22 teaspoons or 355 more calories than recommended. High sugar intake is associated with increased risks for high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, two risk factors for heart disease.