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.

Superfoods-for-heart

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.

Superfoods Part 2: Supercharge Your Diet with Superfoods for Weight Loss

Superfoods Part 2: Supercharge Your Diet with Superfoods for Weight Loss

Superfoods Help With Weight Loss

For a refresher on what superfoods are, have a read of Part 1 of my series on superfoods.

Many different factors affect how much you weigh, but your diet is one of the most important when it comes to healthy weight loss strategies. Eating a balance of superfoods can not only help you get to a healthy weight and keep the extra pounds off, but also help your body ward off many chronic health conditions. Superfoods are full of fiber, proteins, healthy fats, and antioxidants that can keep you full, boost metabolism, and help your body function at its best. Superfoods for weight loss can be combined with other healthy weight loss strategies, like intermittent fasting, to supercharge your diet and help you lose weight.

Which Foods Are Good for Losing Weight?

When you’re trying to plan your diet around certain weight or health goals, it can be hard to know which foods are most helpful. It may be beneficial to better understand the building blocks that make up food.

 

Macronutrients

All food is made of nutrients. The three main macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. In recent years, high-protein, low-carb eating plans such as the Paleo and keto diets have become extremely popular, and it wasn’t that long ago that low-fat diets were all the rage. This may lead some people to think that all protein is good, and all carbs and fats are bad. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The truth is that your body needs all three of these macronutrients in the right balance. Getting too much or too little of any nutrient can lead to health problems and even weight gain.

That being said, not all proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are created equal. For example:

  • Proteins are made up of smaller compounds called amino acids. There are about 20 different kinds of amino acids that the body needs in order to function properly. If you get too much or too little of a certain amino acid, you may be left with an imbalance that affects your health.
  • Carbohydrates come in two basic varieties: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates consist of one or two sugar molecules, while complex carbs are long strings of sugars attached together. The body can use both of these for energy, but complex carbs take longer to break down. This means they won’t cause big spikes or drops in blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates also tend to contain more nutrients. Simple or refined carbs can easily lead to weight gain, while complex carbs can help support a healthy weight.
  • Fats also come in different forms. Unsaturated fats are found in plants and seafood and can be great for health. Saturated fats, which come from animal products, and trans fats, which are found in processed oils, can lead to health problems when they’re eaten in high amounts.

How Do Superfoods Play a Role?

While there isn’t an official or scientific definition of what can be classified as a “superfood,” in general these foods are items that contain a lot of beneficial nutrients. Some of these foods can help you reach a healthy weight, and stay there.

Superfoods tend to have higher levels of healthier carbohydrates and fats. They also usually contain a lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which protect cells from damage. Many of these compounds have been linked to having a healthy metabolism.

Superfoods for Weight Loss

If you’re trying to rev up your metabolism, shed fat, or stay full longer, superfoods can help. However, you can’t just eat one superfood occasionally, in between meals full of less healthy foods, and expect it to have a strong effect. Eating for weight loss means eating a balance of many different types of foods. If you can fit in a variety of different types of superfoods into your diet on a regular basis, you can help your body reach a healthy weight.

 

What might a superfood-filled day look like? There are many different options, but here I will show how to fit more superfoods into your diet, meal by meal.

Breakfast Superfoods: Get Your Metabolism Going

Should You Eat Breakfast Every Morning?

Many early studies found that people who ate breakfast every day tended to weigh less, while those who skipped this meal often had a higher BMI, higher cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of diabetes. However, more studies have shown conflicting results. For some people, skipping breakfast is the better weight loss strategy.

One possible reason for this is genetics. People with certain genes may respond better to skipping the first meal of the day, while people with a different genetic makeup may reach their goal weight after making breakfast a part of their normal routine.

Another reason why some studies have found different outcomes is that not all breakfasts are created equal. If you’re digging into sugary cereal or other forms of refined carbs every morning, you’re not adding much nutrition to your body. Switching these meals out for a superfood breakfast, on the other hand, will give you more health benefits. Plus, it may help you ward off hunger for longer.

A Superfood Breakfast

Some of the best superfood breakfast options include whole grains and fruit. Whole grains are more likely to make you feel full compared to refined grains. They also tend to have more fiber and nutrients, and can help increase the healthy bacteria in your gut.

A simple bowl of oatmeal counts as a whole grain. Oatmeal contains different types of fiber, such as beta-glucan, which makes you feel full and helps you manage your weight. Steel-cut or rolled oatmeal, as well as other whole-grain options such as buckwheat or quinoa, fills you up without making your blood sugar spike. Top oatmeal with nuts, nut butter, granola, or fruit. One good option is blueberries, which contain compounds called anthocyanins that reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and diabetes and help the body lose weight.

Eggs are another great superfood option. They are loaded with protein and provide a lot of healthy unsaturated fats. Eggs also contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals, and eating just two eggs provides you with 10-30% of your needed vitamins for the day. In one study where people tried to use a low-calorie diet to lose weight, those who had eggs for breakfast lost more weight than those who had a high-carb bagel breakfast.

While you’re at it, go ahead and pour yourself a cup of coffee for breakfast. Tea is well-known for its health benefits, but coffee is a superfood as well, leading to a lower risk of heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and several different types of cancers. Coffee may even help you live longer! It also makes people feel more full, so it may be a good way to keep away the hunger in the morning.

Superfoods for Lunch: Grab Something Filling

Your lunch should give you the energy and power you need to help you get through the rest of the day. Your best bet is to look for superfoods that pack a punch of fiber, fat, and protein.

High-Fiber Foods

Eating an extra 14 grams of fiber per day causes people to eat 10% fewer calories and lose weight. Try including some of the following high-fiber superfoods in your lunches:

  • Sandwich on whole-grain bread
  • Salad packed with fresh veggies, nuts, and seeds
  • Meat and veggies over brown rice, quinoa, or whole-wheat pasta
  • Lentil or bean salad full of spices and fresh vegetables
  • Wrap with beans and veggies
  • Nuts or a low-sugar trail mix
  • Nut butters served with fruits, vegetables, or whole-grain crackers
  • Hummus and veggies
  • Fresh or dried fruits, including the skin if it’s edible

Include the Right Fats

Eating a meal high in saturated fat can limit your attention span and impair your ability to focus. However, eating healthier fats may help combat the post-lunch slump that so many of us get.

For example, prepare your next lunch with an avocado, which is loaded with monounsaturated fats. In one study, overweight people who ate an avocado every day and cut calories lost weight and had fewer signs of inflammation. Another study found that people who ate half an avocado along with their lunch had a 40% decreased desire to eat for three hours after the meal.

Other superfood sources of unsaturated fats include seafood, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil, and oil-based salad dressings.

Protein-Packed Lunches

Some scientific research has found that high-protein diets tend to make people feel more full and eat less later on. Getting more of your calories from protein, as opposed to carbohydrates or fats, also helps people lose more weight and keep it off.

Meat and poultry contains a lot of protein, but these foods generally don’t offer as much nutritional value as plant-based, protein-packed superfoods. Several different studies have found that eating beans, chickpeas, and lentils can make people feel a third more full.

Superfood Snacks for an Energy Boost

What should you reach for when you start to feel hungry in the afternoon? Fruits, vegetables, popcorn, nuts, and low-fat yogurt or cheese make great, nutritious options.

For a slightly different snack, try flaxseed. Eating fiber from flaxseeds led to lower levels of fat in the bloodstream and increased feelings of fullness in one study. These seeds are also full of omega-3s, a healthy type of fat. Omega-3 foods make people feel more full, helping them shed weight. They also lower your risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

To use flaxseed, grind up a tablespoon or two and throw it on top of popcorn or mix into nut butter. You can also make your own healthy flax baked goods such as muffins or cookies by substituting flaxseed for other ingredients:

  • To use flax in place of oil, use in a 3:1 ratio (use three tablespoons ground flaxseed instead of one tablespoon oil).
  • To substitute flaxseed for eggs, mix a tablespoon of flax with three tablespoons of water and let stand for 15 minutes. Use the mixture in place of one egg.

Dinner Superfoods: Choose a Well-Rounded Meal

Main Courses

When cooking dinner, it may be helpful to get inspiration from the Mediterranean diet, which can help people lose weight in addition to reducing risk of heart disease and diabetes. The Mediterranean diet encourages people to eat many different superfoods, emphasizing whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seafood, high-fiber foods, and olive oil. People who follow the Mediterranean diet don’t eat much red meat, eggs, butter, or sugary foods.

To follow this diet, try to eat more seafood in place of beef and pork, and increase your intake of plant-based foods. Beans and lentils can provide a lot of protein and fiber when you’re eating less animal-based meats.

For extra flavor, cook with superfood spices that may also help you control your weight:

  • Spicy chili peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, and sweet peppers contain capsiate. Both of these molecules boost metabolism and increase the amount of fat that the body burns.
  • Ginger can help people lose pounds and improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
  • Turmeric intake helps people lose weight and improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

Superfood Sides

Most superfoods are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. All of these can be easily turned into side dishes! Making more nutritious, seasonal sides for your meals is a great way to get more superfoods. For a better shot at weight loss, try changing your approach to dinnertime – downsize your portion of meat, and make large, flavorful superfood side dishes the main focus of the meal.

Some of the most nutrient-dense foods that offer the best protection against chronic diseases are easily used as side dishes. These include leafy green vegetables like spinach and chard, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. These superfood veggies may also help with your weight goals. For example, spinach can help control genes involved in metabolism and signal the body to release hormones that make you feel more full, thus encouraging you to eat less.

Can You Have Superfoods for Dessert?

It’s perfectly okay to enjoy some of your favorite heavier, higher-fat, sugar-laden foods, as long as you balance them with other foods that provide more nutrients. If you want to indulge, try eating these foods in smaller amounts, less often. When people occasionally treat themselves to a less-healthy food item that they love, they can actually lose more weight than people who always feel guilty when they indulge.

If you are going to have a dessert, try eating something containing whole berries or other fruit that can give you fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Dark chocolate is also considered a superfood – it has many antioxidants and other helpful nutrients. Eating dark chocolate can help decrease appetite and, in one study, men who ate dark chocolate ate 17% less during their next meal.

Conclusions

A wide variety of superfoods can be added to every meal of your day. The more different kinds of superfoods you can fit in your diet, the more nutrients you will take in, leading to better health and a lower risk of disease. Most superfoods have been linked to helping people reach and stay at a healthy weight. If you can figure out how to add extra superfoods into some of your favorite recipes in place of foods that are higher in sugar and saturated fat, you can help your metabolism function at its best.

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