Including heart healthy foods in your diet

To reduce your risk of heart disease, increase your intake of nutrient rich and high fibre foods, as well as healthy fats.PHOTO/NET. 

What you need to know:

  • Protecting your heart goes beyond avoiding unhealthy foods. 

Eating a diet with the right number of calories and amount of fat is an important part of taking care of your heart, and some foods are particularly attractive in this regard because of their nutrient profiles.

Innocent Kwame, a nutritionist, says: “The mantra that we are what we eat also applies to our heart because it is a body organ.

Therefore, as you work those muscles, also ensure the food you eat is good for your heart.” Here are some foods to get you started:
Just like several green leafy vegetables, Irene Namale, a nutritionist, says spinach is rich in lutein, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that helps protect you from heart attacks by preventing plaque buildup in the arteries.

Namale says to get the most out of it, drinking it is the best. “Many of us have heard of juicing for weight loss. The same works well for heart health because blending these leafy vegetables helps to release more lutein that will ultimately be absorbed by the body thus saving our heart,” she says.

Beans are packed with minerals such as manganese, potassium, copper, and iron. That is not forgetting proteins, folate and fibre. Kwame says since they do not have sodium, cholesterol or any heart damaging fats, beans are good for the heart. 

Dark chocolate
Cacao, alongside the minerals found in chocolate, means loads of oxidants that will help in the fight against bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. “However, this should be taken in moderation. This is because dark chocolate is a concentrated source of calories and eating too much of it can lead to eating too many calories in general, which may result in weight gain,” Namale shares.

She adds that in order to get the highest nutrient levels, look for a chocolate whose cacao content is 70 per cent or higher.

Avocado is rich in magnesium, fibre, and potassium (more than bananas) and when added to a meal, it will not only bring a buttery taste but lots of good nutrients. “Containing healthy fats, avocados change the scales, ridding the body of bad cholesterol (LDL) while increasing the amount of HDL (good cholesterol),” Kwame says. The buttery texture also makes them a great substitute for sour cream and mayonnaise which are processed foods.

Whole foods
These are essential in lowering bad cholesterol levels as well as normalising our blood pressure, a very important issue in heart health. 

“Their high level of fibre ensures easy bowel movement,” he says. There is a lot of whole food around us such as whole oats that can make great breakfast, whole grain bread for a sandwich at lunch time, and whole rice for dinner.

These include strawberries, blackberries and blueberries and are full of amazing nutrients. Namale says berries have antioxidants that protect one from inflammation and oxidative stress that cause heart disease.  A study, Effects of Berries Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors, showed that eating berries also helps in reducing LDL cholesterol, body mass index, systolic blood pressure as well as certain markers of inflammation.

According to Kwame, flaxseeds and chia seeds are great sources of fibre and omega-3 fatty acids that are good for a healthy heart.

Green tea
It has been said severally that green tea aids fat burning thus better insulin sensitivity, something that a study; Green Tea Extract Ingestion, Fat Oxidation, and Glucose Tolerance in Healthy Humans, proves. 

Irene Namale, a nutritionist says green tea also has catechins and polyphenols, antioxidants that reduce inflammation, prevent cell damage and protect our heart.