Awareness around heart health continues to escalate in the United States as obesity rates climb and Americans become more sedentary. Heart disease remains the number one killer, even though it is one of the most preventable chronic diseases. Other than genetics, the primary risk factors for heart disease are lifestyle related and can be changed. Risk reducers such as smoking cessation, dietary modification, and exercise are all attainable with a commitment to wanting to live a long, healthy life.
A diet rich in antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and omega-3 fatty acids will support a healthy heart by reducing oxidation and inflammation that occurs within heart tissue and vessel walls. Antioxidants and bioflavonoids are found in high levels in brightly colored fruits and vegetables. A minimum of 5 servings a day of fresh fruits and vegetables, for children and adults, will help to provide these beneficial nutrients. When choosing fresh fruits and veggies, the brightly colored varieties, found in berries, have more concentrated natural vitamin sources. New recommendations are suggesting up to 8 servings a day to really boost heart health and reduce the risk of other chronic disease.
While this may be challenging for some to consume so many fruits and vegetables daily, especially when fresh food is not in season, there are other ways to obtain powerful antioxidants through plants. Green tea, black tea, and oolong tea all come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. However, green tea is richest in a group of antioxidants called polyphenols, in particular catechins. In many Asian countries, where green tea is a staple, heart disease rates are significantly lower. For individuals who don’t like the taste of green tea, high-quality supplements are available.
Another plant that provides us with a rich source of antioxidants and bioflavonoids is Hawthorn. Its brightly colored red berries have been used historically, throughout the world, to support the heart and to normalize cardiovascular function. While history has provided us timeless accounts of Hawthorn berries’ uses, recent studies show that Hawthorn leaf and flowers provide integrity to heart tissue as well.
Because of its rich and nourishing properties, Hawthorn is an herb that is perfectly safe for long-term use. In fact, long-term use is suggested as a preventive measure to maintain cardiovascular health. As a solid extract, Hawthorn can easily be mixed with hot or cold water for a tasty, nutrient-rich beverage. Hawthorn is also available in capsules and liquid extracts to allow for multiple easy routes of delivery.
It is impossible to discuss nutrition and heart health without recognizing the importance of healthy fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid, which means that it is essential that we obtain these powerful nutrients in our daily diet. The American Heart Association recommends 1 gram daily of EPA and DHA to prevent heart disease and 2 grams daily if you have heart disease. EPA and DHA are preformed in fish and fish oil supplements, although it is possible to get omega-3’s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid in other places in the diet. Free-range eggs, nuts, flax, and chia seed are all great sources. In fact, ground chia seed is not only a great source of omega-3’s, but is also great source of fiber, which is also crucial for heart health.
And of course we can’t talk about heart health without mentioning everybody’s favorite: CHOCOLATE! What most people don’t realize is that chocolate, much like fruits and vegetables, is plant derived. Dark chocolate bars with high-cocoa content are loaded with something called epicatechin, a type of bioflavonoid. So yes, eating dark chocolate in moderation can be good for you. Speaking of berries and chocolate, for the ultimate heart-healthy idea, try some chocolate-covered strawberries for your loved one. Give the gift of delicious health!