For decades heart disease was the number one killer in western society so naturally we should be proud of ourselves that we have managed to wrestle cardiovascular disease from the top spot. Deceptively it’s not medication, a better diet or the introduction of ‘low-fat’ spreads instead of butter that has pushed the dreaded heart attack down the mortality scale. In fact, deaths from cardiovascular events are as prominent as ever but there is a new kid on the block, claiming more lives than CVD and diabetes put together…cancer.
Clearly our strategy to rejuvenate struggling hearts over the past 20 years has not worked very well and claiming a reduction of heart disease hardly deserves applause if, in reality, it has just been superseded by a different silent killer. Considering that the major symptom of cardiovascular disease is sudden death, prevention is more important than ever. We know about the French paradox and we have all heard the stories about an aunt who gorged on a generous helping of lard each day without skipping a heart beat until the tender age of 107.
It is time we change our perception of heart-healthy foods and open our eyes to a new top 10 list of ingredients that will make your heart jump for joy!
1.) Oily fish: To be honest, this is old news…but this magic oil simply has to feature at the top of any list even faintly associated with heart health. Animal based omega-3 oils (from fish or krill) are more effective in lowering cholesterol than common statin drugs, they also lower blood triglyceride levels, blood pressure and improve blood viscosity. And if this is not enough for you, they also play a major role in the protection against diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and chronic and degenerative disease. Need I say more? Actually, to reach your heart friendly omega-3 quota, 4 to 5 portions of oily fish a week is recommended. Alternatively a high quality omega-3 fish oil supplement taken daily can be a lifesaver!
2.) Co-enzyme Q10: This precious fat-soluble vitamin injects energy directly into your heart. It is the main energy source for your cardiac muscle to contract and relax efficiently. Together with Vitamin E and selenium, CoQ10 presents an unrivalled antioxidant, protecting against hardening of the arteries and inflammation. Considering its importance for heart health, you might be surprised to hear that cholesterol-lowering drugs severely deplete CoQ10 in the heart, increasing the risk of complications. Also, the richest sources of CoQ10 are red meat, eggs and fish, not exactly the foods you would find on a ‘heart friendly’ diet chart in your GP practice. On average we consume between 3 and 10mg of CoQ10 a day. For the prevention of heart disease and to counteract depletion through statins, supplementing with a minimum of 100mg a day is essential.
3.) Beetroot: This intensely coloured root vegetable is not just delicious in balsamic vinegar or with goat’s cheese.
Its highly concentrated juice is a fantastic Nitric Oxide (NO) releaser, and that is a good thing. NO is naturally produced in your arteries, causing them to widen and increase oxygen transportation. As a result, we enjoy better circulation, lower blood pressure and better blood viscosity. Indulge in a glass of beetroot juice each morning with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of parsley!
4.) Pomegranate: often labelled as THE anti ageing fruit, it should more accurately be described as containing magical ruby droplets of eternal heart health! Pomegranate contains more antioxidants than blueberries and more flavonoids than red wine. Flavonoids are potent plant antioxidants that protect arteries from damage and inflammation, two of the major contributing factors to heart disease.
5.) Eggs: To set aside any misconceptions, a myth is in need of dispelling. Eggs do not elevate cholesterol and it is absolutely healthy, yes even advisable, to eat up to 12 eggs a week. One of the main measurements used to determine one’s risk of heart disease is to measure homocysteine levels in the blood. Homocysteine is a natural by-product of metabolism but if not efficiently cleared, elevated levels are strongly associated with cardiovascular disease. The easiest and most effective way to lower homocysteine levels is to load up on vitamin B6, B12, betaine and folic acid and, you’ve guessed it, eggs are a fantastic source!
6.) Ginger: this might not be the first herb you think about when it comes to heart health as it is usually found in the joint and digestive section of a health store. Ginger is actually fantastic in lowering LDL cholesterol, reducing inflammation in arteries and it helps in the prevention of atherosclerosis. Add an extra helping to your Saturday curry but stay clear of the stem ginger biscuits because it really has to be raw, freshly grated root!
7.) Cheese: another food whose reputation has been dragged through the mud for decades. Does it clog up arteries? NO. Does it elevate cholesterol? NO. Does it contribute to heart disease because of its levels of saturated fat? NO, quite the opposite. Cheese contains a number of heart essentials such as Vitamin K, vitamin D and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a potent cancer and heart disease-fighting agent. You have every right and reason to consume moderate amounts of cheese, preferably from happy grass fed cows, goats or sheep. Even lactose intolerant individuals are able to enjoy certain types of cheese because lactose sugars are largely ‘digested’ during the fermentation process.
8.) Kefir: This is a much more traditional yoghurt-type drink than sweetened varieties commonly found in the supermarket fridge! Beaming with friendly fermentation bacteria, it is those little bundles of joy that once more rush to our rescue. The main cause of periodontal disease is a bacterium called streptococcus, which causes inflammation of the gums. If this bad boy is allowed to enter the bloodstream, it can leave dangerous deposits in your arteries, dramatically increasing your risk of heart disease. Friendly organisms like those found in kefir and other fermented foods such as miso or sauerkraut help to keep the bacterial balance in your mouth in check, leaving no space for a streptococcus invasion.
9.) Beans: To the great delight of every vegetarian, beans are a fantastic addition to a heart friendly diet. They are brimming with soluble fibre which can bind cholesterol and prevent its absorption. When this specific fibre is fermented in the gut, changes to short-chain fatty acids are initiated which can inhibit cholesterol formation in the first place. Unfortunately this fermentation process has other, more anti-social side effects as well but in the name of heart heath we should add a generous helping to our daily routine.
10.) Apples: An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Yes, it really does! You might be tired of hearing this age-old saying again but it has lost nothing of its relevance. This traditional fruit is associated with a lower risk of both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular heart disease due to its unique combination of flavonoids and soluble fibre. Pectin and quercetin help to protect your arteries, keep your cholesterol in check and can inhibit dangerous inflammation!