Superfoods Part 3: Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Superfoods Part 3: Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Superfoods Part 3: Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Heart health becomes increasingly important as we get older. Our daily habits, including the foods we eat, can have a big effect on whether or not we develop heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes. If you often eat food that you know is less healthy, it’s not too late to make changes now that can have an impact on your health later. Adding more superfoods to your meals can help your heart and blood vessels function at their best.

Why Is Heart Health Important?

Heart disease can be very serious. It causes one out of every four deaths in the United States, making it the number one cause of death. Additionally, every 40 seconds an American has a heart attack. Keeping your heart healthy can help you avoid sickness, disability, or an early death.

Heart Disease

The term “heart disease” doesn’t just refer to one illness. Rather, it’s a general term for several related conditions:

  • Coronary heart disease, in which plaque builds up in the blood vessels, blocking blood flow to the heart
  • Heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked and the heart muscle dies or becomes damaged
  • Heart failure occurs when the heart becomes too weak to keep pumping blood
  • Other conditions can also lead to changes in the heart’s valves, muscle, or rhythm

Who Gets Heart Disease?

Heart disease affects men and women at equal rates, although women tend to get heart disease at a slightly older age than do men. Additionally, a person’s risk of heart disease changes based on their race and ethnicity. People who are Black tend to have a higher chance of developing heart disease, while people who are Hispanic, Asian, or Pacific Islander tend to be at lower risk.

A person’s genetics also play a role. Genes are passed down through families, so if you have a relative who was diagnosed with heart disease, your risk is higher.

Finally, the older you get, the more your risk increases. Men who are older than 45 and women who are older than 55 have a higher chance of developing heart disease.

Lifestyle Factors Related to Heart Disease

While a person cannot change certain things, such as his or her genetics or age, each of us can still do other things to boost our heart health. The three main risk factors for getting heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoking. Nearly half of Americans have at least one of these factors, but in most cases, they can all be prevented.

People with certain conditions or lifestyle factors are also more likely to develop heart disease:

Eating for Heart Health

To boost your heart health, start by focusing on the things that are within your control. Changing the things that you eat is a great place to start. Goals of a heart-healthy diet include:

  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Reducing levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and increasing levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol)
  • Lowering your blood sugar levels

Many superfoods can help you reach these goals. Eating a variety of different nutritious foods on a regular basis can make a big difference in how well your heart functions.

Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Heart-Healthy Protein Options

Protein that comes from animals, including red or fatty meats, contains a lot of saturated fat. This type of fat leads to more cholesterol in your blood vessels, which in turn raises your risk of heart disease.

It’s okay to eat meat occasionally – it provides you with several different kinds of nutrients. Certain strategies can help you reduce the amount of saturated fat you are getting from meat:

  • Eat meat less often
  • Eat smaller portions of meat
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat
  • Take the skin off of foods like chicken

Ultimately, replacing meat with other protein-packed superfood options gives you the best shot at heart health.

Eat More Seafood

Replacing fattier meats with superfood protein sources is a great way to help your heart. Fatty fish is one such food that can boost your health. Research has shown that people who rarely eat fish are more likely to die from heart disease than those who eat fish once per week or more. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be responsible for this effect – people who get more of this nutrient have lower levels of fat in their blood and have a reduced risk of heart attack and heart disease.

Superfood seafood sources of omega-3’s include:

  • Salmon (fresh, wild caught is best)
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Oysters
  • Sea bass

Omega-3’s are available in supplement form but it is always best to obtain them from food if you can because the studies to date seem to be inconclusive about the effectiveness of the supplement form.

Plant-Based Sources of Protein

You can also use plant protein in place of fatty meats. Soybeans, beans, and lentils can all be used as a main dish, and are all considered superfoods.

Like seafood, soybeans also contain a lot of omega-3’s. Try stir-frying or sautéing tofu in an omega-3-containing oil such as canola oil, topping with your favorite sauce, and serving over brown rice or a healthy pasta. Alternately, roast tofu in the oven along with some vegetables or mash up a block of tofu to make a scramble.

Eating beans, lentils, and other legumes has also been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. These foods contain many of the same nutrients as meat, but lack saturated fats. Legumes are also packed with fiber, and people who eat the highest levels of fiber have a lower chance of developing heart disease. Ideas for adding beans and other legumes to your diet include:

  • Throwing them in soups, stews, and chilies
  • Topping salads with beans or chickpeas
  • Dipping veggies in hummus or a black bean dip
  • Preparing beans or lentils as a side
  • Wrapping them up in a burrito or taco
  • Mixing beans or lentils with vegetables, herbs, and cheese for a light salad

Superfood Vegetables for Heart Health

Green vegetables – think spinach, kale, chard, collard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts – have a lot of healthy nutrients that can protect your heart. Some of these health-boosting compounds are:

These veggies make for great side dishes. Eat them raw, as a salad, or sauté in a healthy fat. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts taste great roasted with your favorite herbs and spices.

Whole Grains for Whole Health

Whole grains are less processed than their refined counterparts. Examples of whole grain foods include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, rolled oats, barley, grits, whole-wheat pasta, and even popcorn.

Whole grains are considered a superfood because of their many nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins, and iron. They also take longer to be broken down by the body, meaning that your blood sugar levels will stay more stable as you digest them.

Many clinical trials have found that eating whole grains is good for the heart. People who eat more of this superfood have a 25% reduced risk of stroke and 22% reduced risk of heart disease.

Prepare Meals With Superfood Fats

When you cook food, you generally use some type of fat, like butter or oil. Because butter is an animal-based product, it contains a lot of saturated fat, and it’s better to eat it in moderation. Additionally, coconut, palm, palm kernel, and hydrogenated oils contain saturated fat and shouldn’t be used often.

Olive oil, on the other hand, is considered by many to be a superfood. It contains a lot of healthy monounsaturated fats and damage-fighting antioxidants. Olive oil also has compounds called polyphenols that help prevent heart disease. Cooking with olive oil can help people reduce their blood pressurelower someone’s chances of heart disease or heart attack, and may even help people lose weight.

Flaxseed oil is another excellent superfood option. Flaxseeds have more omega-3 fatty acids than any other food! They also contain B vitamins, phosphorus, and magnesium. Flaxseeds can fight all the different types of heart disease, so cooking with flaxseed oil is a good move for heart health.

Other options for cooking oils that contain healthier fats include canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, or peanut oils.

Superfoods for the heart

Heart-Boosting Spices

Many of us get too much salt in our diets, and can improve our heart health by cutting out some of the sodium. In particular, people with high blood pressure should try to follow a low-salt diet. Salt is a big source of flavor. You may not miss it as much if you switch to flavoring your foods with superfood spices:

  • Black pepper protects the heart from unhealthy fats.
  • Cinnamon can help reduce blood pressure levels and helps keep the blood from clotting.
  • Chili peppers contain a spicy molecule called capsaicin, which can soothe inflammation and protect the heart.
  • Garlic may improve cholesterol levels.
  • Ginger helps prevent fat and cholesterol from building up in the arteries.

Can You Eat Sugar on a Heart-Healthy Diet?

Not all sugary foods are created equal. Some foods contain natural sugars, while others have sugar added to them while being processed. For example, fruits naturally contain sugar, but extra sugar may be added to items like canned fruit or fruit juice. When you’re eating for heart health, it’s better to limit the amount of added sugars you eat. This means cutting out sweetened drinks like soda, alcohol, and energy drinks. It also means limiting the amount of desserts or sugary snacks you eat. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, try looking to superfoods with higher levels of natural sugar to replace sweeter processed foods. Here are some heart-healthy options:

  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries are loaded with nutrients, fiber, and polyphenols. People who eat them regularly have better fat and sugar metabolism, improved cholesterol levels, and boosted heart health.
  • Grapes: Red grapes contain a molecule called resveratrol, which protects against heart disease and aging.
  • Dark chocolate: Eating this superfood – in moderation, of course – may lower a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Healthy Heart Diets

Some people may find it hard to add individual superfoods to their daily meals, and prefer a more comprehensive eating plan that tells them what and when to eat. Doctors have developed a couple of different diets that boost heart health, and many of these emphasize eating more superfoods.

The DASH Diet

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, is an eating plan that helps people lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As an example, someone who is following DASH and needs 2000 calories per day would eat:

  • 6-8 servings of grains per day, preferably whole grains
  • 4-5 servings of vegetables per day
  • 4-5 servings of fruits per day
  • 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products per day
  • Less than 6 ounces of lean meat per day
  • 4-5 servings of nuts or seeds per week
  • 2-3 servings of healthy oils per day

Clinical trials that have studied the DASH diet have also found that people who make the following changes are more likely to see a benefit:

  • Reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less per day
  • Replace 10% of carbohydrates with either protein or unsaturated fat
  • Get more physical activity

The Mediterranean Diet

This eating plan is based on the ways that people in Italy, Spain, and other regions near the Mediterranean traditionally prepare and eat their food. Like the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet advocates eating whole grains, fresh produce, and other high-fiber foods. The eating plan is centered primarily around plant-based foods – lean meat or chicken is more of an accent than the main focus of the meal. Scientific research has found that people who follow the Mediterranean diet have better blood sugar and cholesterol levels. They are less likely to have heart disease and other chronic health conditions.


Other Strategies for Heart Health

Changing your diet is a great first step towards better heart health. Other lifestyle changes that your doctor may recommend include:

  • Losing extra weight
  • Reducing stress
  • Exercising and moving more throughout the day
  • Getting better sleep
  • Quitting smoking
  • Drinking alcohol less often

Your doctor can help you understand your risk of heart disease by measuring your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and assessing other risk factors. If you are concerned about your heart, get annual physical exams and ask your doctor for recommendations related to lifestyle changes you can make. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, your doctor may also prescribe you medication in order to help manage these factors.

Putting It All Together

Changing up your diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Swap in superfoods for high-sugar, fatty, processed foods whenever possible. Eating a variety of different types of superfoods is a great way to start living a more heart-healthy lifestyle!

If you would like to learn more, schedule a consultation with Dr. Connor.

How to Use Technology to Maintain and Improve Cardiovascular Health

How to Use Technology to Maintain and Improve Cardiovascular Health

Across the globe, more people die from heart disease than from any other cause. Taking care of your heart can help keep you healthy and may prevent you from dying too soon. The good news is that there are many things you can do lower your risk of heart disease.

In recent years, people have been figuring out more ways to use technology to address health issues. These new tools can help people more easily make changes to their lifestyle, find information and tips related to health, and connect with healthcare providers. Finding the right apps, websites, and programs can help you become a better version of yourself!

Cardiovascular Disease

The term “cardiovascular disease” actually refers to a large group of related disorders or events that affect the heart and blood vessels. Some of these conditions are:

  • Coronary artery disease: the hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels that bring blood to the heart, leading to less blood flow
  • Peripheral arterial disease: a circulatory condition where fatty deposits and calcium build up in blood vessels and prevent enough blood from reaching organs, arms, legs, or brain
  • Heart attack: an event where the heart muscle dies as blood flow is blocked by a clot or by a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels
  • Stroke: an event where brain cells begin to die, caused by either a blockage of blood flow to the brain or bleeding in the brain

Who Gets Heart Disease?

People of any gender, race, and ethnicity can experience heart disease. Risk factors that make people more likely to get heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • History of smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Drinking too much

How Can I Keep My Heart Healthy?

Lowering your risk of heart and blood vessel diseases, reducing your chance of having a heart attack or stroke, and addressing risk factors such as high cholesterol all involve simple lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, drinking less, eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and exercising on a regular basis.

While these changes sound fairly simple on the surface, anyone who has tried to break an old habit or adopt a new one knows how hard it can be! Luckily, there are more tools than ever before to help people make these changes.

In the past couple of decades, doctors and researchers have developed many new programs to help patients receive health information virtually, rather than meeting with a healthcare provider in-person. Called telehealth or telemedicine, these programs may include having formal doctor’s appointments over the phone or a video chat. Other telehealth tools may include using wearable devices, smartphone apps, or online portals or programs. Additionally, people are increasingly using more informal tools such as websites or apps that can help them build habits surrounding diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. Here, we’ll dive into some of these tools.

Get More Exercise

Exercise has many beneficial effects related to heart health, including:

  • Better metabolism
  • Less inflammation
  • Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Raised levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL)
  • Lower risk of heart failure and heart disease
  • Lower chance of developing diabetes

How Much Exercise Should We Be Getting?

Experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. This is equal to 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. However, even if you’re not able to meet these goals, some exercise is always better than none. People who have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease tend to be less active, but even low-intensity walking may help people boost heart health.

There are many ways get more exercise, some of which involve making use of new technology. These may include:

  • Wear a pedometer to track your steps. Try to increase the distance you walk each day!
  • Use social media to find a local running or walking group in your city.
  • Get a GPS-enabled watch. These can help track how long you walk, run, or bike. Some can also track your heart rate, or share your workout to social media! Alternately, there are many free apps that can use your smartphone’s GPS to track the time and distance of your workouts.
  • Take your dog on a long walk rather than letting her run around the back yard or a dog park.
  • Don’t have a dog? Borrow one! There are several dog-walking apps that you can join relatively easily. This can be a good excuse to take some walks around your neighborhood with a new furry friend!
  • Participate in a physical activity you love, such as gardening or woodworking. To help with motivation, find a forum or Facebook group full of other enthusiasts who can provide advice and inspiration.
  • Join a gym, in person or virtually! Several gyms and personal trainers now offer online classes.

Before you start a new exercise program or significantly raise your activity level, make sure to talk to your doctor. In some cases, it may be better for you to ease your way into a new routine or slowly work up to your goals.

Why You Shouldn’t Sit Down All Day

Unfortunately, it’s not only exercise that we should be worrying about. Sedentary behavior, which includes anytime you’re sitting or lying down, also leads to heart disease. This means that in addition to regularly exercising, you should be thinking about getting more activity throughout the day.

Here are some ways to improve your daily activity level:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation rather than driving.
  • Do more chores around the house.
  • At work, have a walking meeting.
  • Work from a standing desk, rather than sitting down.
  • Get an activity tracker. These devices are often worn around the wrist as watches or bracelets. In addition to tracking exercise, some can track how long you’re sedentary and will remind you to get up and move around at regular intervals throughout the day. Research shows that activity trackers can help people be less sedentary.

Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

The things we eat can affect our heart and blood vessel health. In particular, eating too much red meat and salt has been linked to a greater likelihood of cardiovascular disease. Drinking large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis has also been tied to heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Obesity has also been linked to poor heart health. People who are overweight may also be more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In addition to exercise, eating more heart-healthy foods may help people shed some extra pounds and lower their disease risk.

Meal Plans for Better Cardiovascular Health

A couple of different diets have been shown to bring heart health. The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This program involves eating less salt and more healthy nutrients such as calcium and potassium. Another diet, the Mediterranean diet, has also been shown to have health-boosting properties. Both of these diets emphasize eating more fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and healthy oils. Ask your physician about whether one of these diets may be a good fit for you.

Eating healthfully can be challenging, but many strategies can help:

  • Make time to cook more meals at home. Many meals you get in restaurants are full of salt.
  • To learn new cooking skills, watch YouTube tutorials.
  • Use social media to get healthy recipe ideas. Follow food bloggers, or find inspiration on Pinterest.
  • Use calorie-tracking websites or apps. These help record not only your total calorie intake, but also the amount of sodium or other nutrients.
  • Cook with meal kits. These services ship ready-to-make recipes with pre-measured ingredients to your door each week. Some companies offer heart-healthy options with less sodium.

Stop Smoking for Heart Health

Smoking cigarettes increases a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke. Researchers have found a dose-response relationship between smoking and disease, which means that the more years a person smokes, the higher their risk of disease gets. Fortunately, it’s never too late to try to quit – your risk of cardiovascular disease drops as soon as you give up cigarettes.

How to Break the Habit

If you’re struggling to quit smoking, you’re not alone! Studies show that the majority of smokers want to quit, but only 7.5% of people succeed each year. One of the reasons for this is that many people experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, and cravings when they try to quit.

Some of the most effective methods for quitting smoking include going to individual or group counseling and using nicotine replacement products or other medications. Additionally, while quitting altogether is the best option, reducing the amount of cigarettes you smoke may also decrease your risk of heart disease.

There are several smartphone apps that are designed to help people quit smoking. Some of these may be more effective than others. When choosing an app, look for one that has been tested in a clinical trial. Also, when searching for apps in your app store, use the term “smoking cessation.” Searching with this phrase is more likely to provide apps that are backed by science, as opposed to searching “quit smoking” or “stop smoking.”

Get a Good Nights’ Sleep

Sleep allows your body to repair and recharge. When you sleep around 6-8 hours each night, your risk of cardiovascular disease and even death goes down. Getting enough shut-eye will also promote a healthy weight and blood pressure levels.

To get better sleep, try some of these tips:

  • Stick to a schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Use an app to help get good rest. Some apps will remind you when it’s time to go to bed, or wake you up at the right point in your sleep cycle.
  • Get a fitness tracking device or smartwatch that can monitor and provide feedback about your sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Cover windows with heavy curtains, and try to make sure doors and windows have tight seals.
  • Use a white noise machine to listen to calming sounds as you fall asleep. Or, use a music streaming service to play white noise albums.
  • If you consistently have sleep problems, see a doctor. Some people have disorders such as sleep apnea that should be treated to bring better health.

Learn How to Better Manage Stress

Stress can directly lead to health issues, but may also lead someone to adopt unhealthy ways of managing stress, such as drinking, smoking, or overeating, that can lead to further problems.

The American Heart Association has said that meditation may help lower people’s risk of cardiovascular disease when combined with other treatments. Meditation and yoga may also help people quit smoking, which lowers heart disease risk. There are several meditation apps available that teach beginners the basics and guide people through a meditation session. Additionally, there are many channels on YouTube dedicated to meditation and yoga. These may help someone learn better stress-coping techniques.

The Future of Technology and Cardiovascular Health

One change that we may see in the near future is more widespread use of telehealth and telemedicine programs. While some of these programs have existed for decades, and many studies have shown that they can be useful in improving health, not many doctors’ offices or hospitals had previously adopted these programs. However, much of this has changed in the wake of COVID-19. Regulations surrounding telehealth have recently changed, making it easier for doctors to provide virtual services.

Telehealth may make it easier for patients worried about heart disease to receive quality care. People can potentially use these programs to talk to their doctor about heart health or receive mental health counseling. Additionally, several recent studies have shown that telehealth programs can help people quit smoking, and recently, the Ontario Ministry of Health adopted a telehealth program to help people stop using cigarettes. People may have access to a wider range of virtual health services in the near future.

If you’re worried about heart disease, work with your doctor to figure out a good plan for reducing your risk. Get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels checked regularly during physical exams. If you’ve had trouble adopting healthy habits in the past, know that there are many new tools that you can use that might better fit your lifestyle and lead to improved cardiovascular health.

Schedule a consultation

If you like, you can learn more and schedule a consultation with Dr. Brynna Connor.

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