Eating for Heart Health

February 18, 2021

Eating for Heart Health

In this article:

  • What are the main risk factors in heart disease?
  • What is heart-healthy nutrition?
  • Supplements for a healthy heart

Nowadays we’ve become more aware of the impact nutrition has not only on our physique, but on our long-term health and aging too. We now know that in order to truly nourish our bodies, we must feed them right, since both health and beauty start from within. While we’re able to tailor our nutrition in order to achieve glowing skin, a slimmer waist, shinier hair, or a better digestive system, let’s not forget about the focal point of our cardiovascular health: the heart.

Just like the love we feel in our hearts gives us purpose, strength, and courage, the heart is the organ that also keeps us alive. One staple of good heart health is stress management. Creating a loving environment is certainly one way to treat our hearts right. Feelings aside, there are also more measurable ways to optimize and maintain heart health as we age, including proper nutrition. But, what should we eat for heart health? Let’s find out!

Heart disease: What are the main factors?

Age

It is safe to say that with age we become more vulnerable and prone to numerous health issues - cardiovascular conditions included. According to a study conducted by J. I. Gupta and colleagues, the heart structure undergoes a series of changes, including enlargement, larger chambers, and thicker walls as we age. [1]

These age-related changes, especially the progressive stiffness of the artery walls, are the main prerequisites for numerous heart conditions. As the walls of the arteries and arterioles become thicker and lose elasticity, they cannot be relaxed as easily during the rhythmic pumping. Consequently, there is a significant increase in blood pressure when the heart contracts, as opposed to younger people. [1] Luckily, healthy lifestyle choices such as balanced nutrition and exercise (both cardiovascular and muscular fitness) may inhibit many symptoms of heart aging. [1]

Gender

According to a study focused on gender differences in coronary heart disease, the risk of heart issues in women is often overlooked and under-recognized as compared to men. [2] Even though we may be led to believe that men are more prone to coronary problems than women, facts speak for themselves, as heart issues are still one of the main causes of fatal outcomes in women over 65 in America. [2] What may be a bit misleading when it comes to gender as a factor is that heart issues usually develop 7-10 years later in women than men. Nevertheless, studies suggest that some coronary conditions may require different treatments and management plans for men than for women. [2]

Family history

Should you pay even more attention to your heart health if heart issues run in the family? Of course. A study conducted by C. Scrimshaw recognizes the family history of cardiovascular disease as an important risk factor, which is determined by the number and age of first-degree relatives. [3] What this means is that siblings of a person with a cardiovascular condition run about a 40% higher risk of developing the condition themselves, while the children of patients with a premature cardiovascular condition have a 60-75% risk increase. [3] Understanding your family history of cardiovascular health is important in managing your personal risk factors.

Smoking

Smoking is undoubtedly one of the leading risk factors for a ton of health conditions - heart conditions included. According to the Texas Heart Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ~480,000 deaths in the United States occur due to smoking every year! [4] That being said, the number of deaths caused by smoking exceeds the total number of fatal outcomes associated with HIV, drug and alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents, and firearm-related accidents combined. [4] We don’t like to preach but, don’t smoke! If you do, attempt to quit.

How does smoking affect the heart in particular? It impacts all of its primary functions, including your heart rate and its rhythm. In addition, it tightens major heart arteries, while also causing high blood pressure and promoting the risk of stroke. [4] What’s more, the chemicals and compounds found in cigarettes, including nicotine (the main active ingredient), carbon monoxide, and tar lead to a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, compromising the health of the vessel walls. Moreover, smoking has also been linked to an increased risk of a blood clot. [4]

You should also be aware of the fact that any amount of frequency of smoking puts you at risk, and even “occasional” smokers may experience serious heart issues. [4]

Poor diet

An imbalanced diet filled with an excess of sugar, processed sugars and trans fats affects so much more than bodyweight. Poor diet choices associated with potential heart issues include high intake of salt, processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages, while neglecting nutritious foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. [5]

Trans-fat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular conditions due to high cholesterol levels, since these fatty acids promote the so-called “bad” (HDL) cholesterol. [6] What’s more, excessive sugar consumption, including sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks, may increase the risk of heart conditions even in non-obese individuals. [7] Eating whole foods and nutrient dense foods makes a positive difference when it comes to heart health. Furthermore, developing a mentality where food is perceived as fuel and medicine for the body is also a healthy attitude to get you there.

Obesity

The issue of obesity in America has been spotlighted in the past couple of decades more than ever and it is an epidemic unto itself. Poor heart health is at the core of obesity. There are multiple ways in which obesity impacts heart health, one of them being cholesterol levels. Obesity has been shown to increase both “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while also impacting blood pressure. [8] Obesity requires the body to work harder when it comes to distributing the blood throughout the body and supplying cells with oxygen and nutrients, resulting in high blood pressure. Moreover, obese individuals are more likely to develop diabetes, and vice versa. [8]

Heart-healthy diets: What to eat for your heart

The best way towards a healthy heart is through balanced nutrition. Regardless of your activity level and genetics, if your nutrition isn’t aligned with your goals, the lack of nutritious foods will take a toll on your health. Not only is healthy eating the main prerequisite for our overall well being, but it also plays a significant role in lowering the risk of heart conditions. [9] Here’s what a healthy heart diet should entail and what foods you should always prioritize on your plate.

Fruits & vegetables

Eat your veggies and fruits! And not just to please your mom, but your heart, too. These foods represent an all-natural source of valuable potassium, fiber, and important micronutrients such as antioxidants. What’s more, veggies and fruits also offer folate, which is a crucial factor in lowering the blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine, considered to be a trigger when it comes to heart conditions. [9]

Also, you should never neglect leafy greens, whether it be in your salad or smoothies. Leafy greens, including kale, collard greens, and spinach are an excellent source of vitamin K which promotes proper blood clotting and protects the arteries. [10] Furthermore, the dietary nitrates found in leafy green vegetables may aid in reducing blood pressure and arterial stiffness, while promoting the function of cell lining in the blood vessels. [10]

Whole grains

While many of us won’t protest adding a serving of fries to our plates, it is important to prioritize nutritious, quality carb options rather than empty calories. When it comes to carbs, whole grains are one of the most wholesome sources, as they contain all three parts of the grain: germ, endosperm, and bran. [10] Best examples of whole-grain foods include quinoa, oats, rye, buckwheat, barley, brown rice, and whole wheat. Read the nutritional facts label when shopping for whole grains to make sure you’re getting quality carbs.

But why is it important to choose whole grains over refined ones, aside from the structural differences? Whole grains are rich in fiber, which is important when trying to reduce the “bad” LDL cholesterol. In addition, an analysis of 45 studies conducted by D. Aune et al. suggests that a high daily intake of whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease development by 22%. [11]

Low-fat dairy products

Healthy nutrition is all about balance and portion control. In the beginning, it may seem difficult to do, especially if you’ve been dieting your whole life. In reality, it’s all about making healthier choices while still enjoying your favorite foods in moderation. The recent promotion of intuitive eating as a way to optimize your satiety & nutrients might be a good place to start. If you can’t imagine your daily nutrition without dairy products, try prioritizing low-fat dairy products without saturated and ruminant trans fats that have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol levels. Low-fat, heart-friendly dairy products include unflavored yogurt, ricotta, and cottage cheese. [12]

Olive oil

One of the biggest mistakes we make when counting calories or simply trying to make healthier choices in the kitchen is that we disregard the amount and source of oils we’re consuming. Olive oil, being rich in monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, as well as both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, is an excellent choice for a heart-healthy diet. Moreover, olive oil has been associated with reduced blood pressure and decreased inflammation. [10]

Legumes

Eating a diet rich in legumes such as lentils, beans, and peas can do wonders for the state of your heart. Legumes have been associated with a lower risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. [13] A high intake of legumes, in addition to other macro and micronutrients, is essential to improve cardiometabolic health. If you don’t love eating greens ( we know you exist) we suggest you try juicing them or adding them into a smoothie to make sure your daily requirements are met (~3-4 servings a week for a 1,600-calorie diet or ~4-5 servings a week for a 2,000-calorie diet [16]). [13]

Nuts

Who doesn’t love trail mix? Adding nuts to your daily nutrition may impact your heart health in many ways, by lowering the “bad” cholesterol, improving the lining of the arteries, lowering heart-related inflammation, and reducing the risk of blood clots. [14] Heart-friendly nuts include walnuts (also high in omega-3 fatty acids), almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, and hazelnuts. Even though nuts represent one of the healthiest fat sources, they’re quite high in calories, so portion control is highly advised.

Dark chocolate

Chocolate: Amen. No balanced diet should deprive you of chocolate. You heard it here first! However, even with chocolate, we’re presented with an array of choices, varying from high-quality dark chocolate with lots of cacao to sugary alternatives that might turn us into chocoholics. If you want to enjoy your favorite dessert while still being mindful of your heart health, make sure to pick a dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Sorry Snickers.

Dark chocolate, aside from satisfying our sweet tooth, has been found to decrease the risk of calcified plaque in the arteries by whoopin’ 75% if you eat it 5 times a week [10]  (not too much of a challenge, huh?).

Surprise your special someone with our paleo-friendly collagen-infused chocolate hearts!

Omega-3-rich fatty fish

One of the reasons why the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest diets in the world is the constant consumption of fatty fish rich in omega-3. Fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are some of the best low-carb sources of protein, which makes them a staple in balanced nutrition. When it comes to heart health, fish consumption has been linked to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and systolic blood pressure. [10]

Supplements for a healthy heart

We’ve already established the fact that a healthy heart stems from a balanced, nutritious diet filled with heart-healthy foods. However, it is enough to implement all the above-mentioned foods in order to obtain all the necessary nutrients? Even though the foods we’ve talked about are abundant sources of necessary nutrients, all-natural, highly bioavailable supplementation is recommended to get the maximum out of your nutrition.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The heart-friendly trio of omega-3 fatty acids includes α-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). [14] Even though these fatty acids are present in foods such as fatty fish we’ve mentioned, the amount in dietary sources usually doesn’t meet our daily needs. Vegan omega-3 supplementation allows you to stay on top of your omega-3 intake, and optimize the ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in your diet. Plant-based omega-3s are sourced from marine algae, which is where fish obtain their omega-3s from when they feed. In this sense a vegan formula allows you to go straight to the source. It’s also a healthy source of DHA and EPA for vegan and plant-based diets or people who generally do not enjoy fish and seafood in their meals.

Omega-3s have been found to promote overall cardiovascular health by lowering triglycerides level and increasing high-density lipoprotein, also known as the “good” cholesterol. [14] Furthermore, supplementing with omega-3s has been associated with improved heart rhythm, reduced inflammatory markers, and increased compliance of the arteries. [14]

Coenzyme Q10 (Co Q10)

Coenzyme Q10 is found in every single cell in the body, and it is very similar to a vitamin. It is naturally produced in the body, but due to its irreplaceable role in skeletal muscles and heart health, it is important to obtain a sufficient amount. While this coenzyme is present in animal organs such as the liver and kidneys, and plant options such as soy oil and peanuts, its concentration in dietary sources is quite low, calling for quality supplementation. [15]

Coenzyme Q10 is an active antioxidant protecting the body, including the heart, from damaging molecules. In addition, it has been associated with optimal heart functions and reduced risk of heart failure. [15]

Magnesium

Low magnesium levels can often result in numerous heart issues, including arterial plaque build-up, calcification of soft tissues, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries. Magnesium, being an essential mineral, is a key factor in numerous bodily functions and processes, including blood clotting, cell production, and the formation of fatty acids. [15] Supplementing with magnesium has been found to aid in reducing the number of arrhythmic episodes and promote the overall heart state. [15]

Summary

We often spend too much time thinking about the clothes we put on or the hairstyle that would suit the shape of our face, in order to feel our best. While this is normal, it is also necessary to pay more attention to what goes into our bodies even when the inner effects might be invisible.. Balanced nutrition, filled with quality ingredients ( having occasional off-days and “cheat” meals is completely fine!), paired with quality supplements where needed, is the foundation of our health - and not just when it comes to the cardiovascular system. Looking for more fat-free, non-GMO supplements? Head over to our online store.

Summary Points

  • There are numerous risks when it comes to the development of a heart condition, including gender, family history, smoking, obesity, and poor diet
  • A heart-healthy diet consists of quality ingredients fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, natural omega-3 sources such as olive oil and fatty fish, legumes, nuts, and dark chocolate
  • Supplements such as all-natural omega-3 fatty acids, coenzyme Q10 and magnesium aid in managing a healthy cardiovascular system and promote better functioning

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Article References:

  1. Effects of Aging on the Heart and Blood Vessels - Heart and Blood Vessel Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2021, from MSD Manual Consumer Version website: https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/biology-of-the-heart-and-blood-vessels/effects-of-aging-on-the-heart-and-blood-vessels#:~:text=As%20people%20age%2C%20the%20heart
  2. Maas, A. H., & Appelman, Y. E. (2010). Gender differences in coronary heart disease. Netherlands heart journal : monthly journal of the Netherlands Society of Cardiology and the Netherlands Heart Foundation, 18(12), 598–602. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12471-010-0841-y
  3. Kolber, M. R., & Scrimshaw, C. (2014). Family history of cardiovascular disease. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 60(11), 1016.
  4. Smoking and Your Heart. (n.d.). Retrieved from Texas Heart Institute website: https://www.texasheart.org/heart-health/heart-information-center/topics/smoking-and-your-heart/#:~:text=Research%20has%20shown%20that%20smoking
  5. Heart and Vascular Team. (2017, March 28). Poor Diet Linked to Half of Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes Deaths. Retrieved from Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic website: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/poor-diet-linked-to-half-of-heart-disease-stroke-diabetes-deaths/
  6. Iqbal M. P. (2014). Trans fatty acids - A risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Pakistan journal of medical sciences, 30(1), 194–197. https://doi.org/10.12669/pjms.301.4525
  7. Corliss, J. (2016, November 30). Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease - Harvard Health Blog. Retrieved from Harvard Health Blog website: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021
  8. Three Ways Obesity Contributes to Heart Disease – Penn Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.pennmedicine.org website: https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/metabolic-and-bariatric-surgery-blog/2019/march/obesity-and-heart-disease#:~:text=Obese%20individuals%20require%20more%20blood
  9. Heart disease and food. (2012). Retrieved from Vic.gov.au website: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/heart-disease-and-food
  10. 15 Incredibly Heart-Healthy Foods. (2018). Retrieved from Healthline website: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/heart-healthy-foods
  11. Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L. T., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D. C., Tonstad, S., Vatten, L. J., Riboli, E., & Norat, T. (2016). Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 353, i2716. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i2716
  12. Dairy and heart health | The Heart Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from heartfoundation-prod.azurewebsites.net website: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/Heart-health-education/Dairy-and-heart-health
  13. Legumes Improve Heart Health. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2021, from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website: https://www.pcrm.org/news/health-nutrition/legumes-improve-heart-health
  14. How do nuts help your heart health? (2019). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635
  15. 8 heart health supplements to take – and one to avoid. (2018, January 30). Retrieved from PeaceHealth website: https://www.peacehealth.org/healthy-you/8-heart-health-supplements-take-and-one-avoid 
  16. DASH diet: Guide to recommended servings. (2019). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20050989 




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