Can the contents of your kitchen seriously save your life? A growing body of research suggests that what you eat and drink can protect your body against myriad health woes—and studies have shown that up to 70% of heart disease cases are preventable with the right food choices.
“Try to eat foods that are in their natural form, as they come from the ground,” Ms. Zumpano says, recommending what she calls the “whole-foods diet.”
That diet includes, of course, heart-healthy foods such as fish, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, but don’t be afraid to treat yourself occasionally with a glass of red wine or a piece of dark chocolate, Ms. Zumpano says. She suggests using this list as a guide to create meals and snacks with a healthy focus. Just a few simple swaps could make a big difference for your cardiovascular health.
Wild Salmon (not farmed)
Salmon and other fatty fish such as sardines and mackerel are the superstars of heart-healthy foods. It also has rich levels of selenium, an antioxidant that studies have shown boosts cardiovascular protection. (Of course, not all salmon is created equal: Find out what The Invasion Of The Frankenfish means for your health.) That’s because they contain copious amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, shown in studies to lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and decrease triglycerides. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish and preferably fatty fish at least twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available as dietary supplements.
Research shows yogurt may protect against gum disease. Left unchecked, gum disease may elevate a person’s risk for heart disease.
Researchers from Japan analyzed dietary intakes from nearly 1,000 adults and found those who consumed the highest levels of dairy—specifically yogurt and yogurt-type drinks—had the healthiest gums. Their report, published in the Journal of Periodontology, credits probiotics (a.k.a. “good bacteria”) as one possible champion of gum health. Experts believe that probiotics may help to counter growth of the “unfriendly” bacteria in the mouth. Probiotics are live active cultures used to ferment foods, such as yogurt and kefir (fermented milk), and studies suggest that they may improve digestion and boost immunity too. As for gum health, it’s not yet clear how much yogurt (or other fermented dairy foods) one needs to consume to reap the benefits, says Yoshihiro Shimazaki, D.D.S., Ph.D., of Kyushu University, the study’s lead author.
Grab a handful and help reduce high blood pressure, according to a 2012 study presented to the American College of Cardiology. That’s because raisins are packed with potassium, which helps lower hypertension and increases immune-boosting antioxidants. As a result, choosing certain foods, such as raisins, may help you protect both your gums and your heart.
Several studies have now shown that dark chocolate may benefit your heart, including one in 2012 that found that daily chocolate consumption could reduce nonfatal heart attacks and stroke in people at high risk for these problems. Make sure it doesn’t contain saturated fats from additives such as palm oil. (As if you needed another reason to indulge, we’ve compiled 5 Strange Ways Chocolate Keeps You Healthy.)
Not just blueberries, but strawberries and other berries as well. According to one recent study, women aged 25 through 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less. The authors of the study attributed the benefit to compounds known as anthocyanins, flavonoids (which are antioxidants) that may decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Anthocyanins give plants their red and blue colors.
Like walnuts, these crunchy, meaty nuts are big in omega-3s, and provide an alternative to folks who may not like the bitter bite of fleshy walnuts.
One banana has 422 mg—about 12 percent of your recommended daily dose—of potassium. The potassium in bananas helps maintain normal heart function and the balance of sodium and water in the body. Potassium helps the kidneys excrete excess sodium, thereby contributing to healthy blood pressure. This mineral is especially important for people taking diuretics for heart disease, which combat sodium and water retention but also strip potassium from the body in the process. Other good sources include sweet potatoes (694 mg for one medium), nonfat yogurt (579 mg for 1 cup) and spinach (419 mg for 1/2 cup, cooked).