February is the time to celebrate love and enjoy delectable foods, but it’s also Heart Month. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S.
Want to hear some good news? Heart disease may be prevented through consistent lifestyle changes. Physical activity, regular consumption of fruits and vegetables, and finding ways to effectively cope with stress can do wonders for the body and the heart.
To help keep your heart happy and healthy, consider regularly incorporating the following heart-healthy foods into your daily meals.
Good news for chocolate loves! Scientists believe that eating chocolate may lead to a lower risk of heart disease. A large study in England found that middle-aged and older adults who eat up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate per day seem to have lower rates of heart disease than those who spurn chocolate., As a general rule, your best bet is to stick with dark chocolate since it contains more cocoa and therefore more flavonoids (a type of antioxidant), less sugar and less saturated fat. Flavonoids have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart, and prevent blood clots. One tip: When you shop for chocolate, look for varieties that contain at least 70% cocoa.
Researchers have discovered that people who eat more nuts have improved heart health and a lower risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that eating walnuts may be a particularly good choice. Naturally high in “good” fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory effect of walnuts keeps blood vessels healthy, in addition to having favorable effects on blood lipids. Walnuts are rich sources of fiber, minerals (potassium, calcium, and magnesium), vitamins (folate and vitamin E), and phytosterols (a heart-healthy plant-based cholesterol), all of which help keep your heart functioning at its best.
Rich in potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin K, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients, dates have become quite popular in recent years due to their amazing health benefits. They are also an excellent source of dietary fiber. According to Israeli researchers, eating a handful of dates per day improves blood lipids while lowering blood sugar levels, thus reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. However, as one of the sweetest fruits, dates are high in sugar and calories, so enjoying dates in moderation is recommended.
Why are avocados all the rage? First, Haas avocados grow year-round in California. But, they are rich in monounsaturated fat, a healthy fat. Eating avocados as part of a healthy diet helps lower undesirable “bad” cholesterol and reduces risk for having a heart attack and stroke. In addition to containing healthy fats, avocados provide a powerful combination of nearly 20 different nutrients such as fiber, vitamin K, vitamin E, and potassium.
Chock full of vitamins and minerals, berries are also loaded with polyphenols – antioxidants that mop up damage-inducing free radicals in the body. They are also excellent sources of fiber, all of which are linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, researchers from Harvard Medical School recommend eating berries such as blueberries and strawberries three times a week as a tasty way to protect your heart.