Good heart health depends on what you feed your body on a regular basis. While a major contributor to heart health is exercise, fuel – in the form of your regular diet – matters, too. You might know that the American Heart Association recommends lowfat dairy products and a diet rich in low-sodium, natural whole foods to keep your heart pumping as it should. But keeping up with the “what to eat, what not to eat” list can be daunting in today’s world of fad diets. Looking to change up your weekly menu? Here are four heart-healthy foods you might not think about.
One amazing and tasty fish for your heart is salmon. Relatively inexpensive, salmon is a fish that can be used in tons of great dishes, and its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids give it a huge health bonus. These fatty acids have been shown across multiple studies to decrease total cholesterol levels and decrease blood pressure significantly. Other studies have linked eating salmon regularly with lower blood sugar levels as well. All of these links point to omega-3 fatty acids as having an important role in bolstering heart health. This also applies to other fatty fish like tuna and sardines.
If you don’t like the taste of fish in general but you want to get your daily dose of fish-associated health, then you could always spring for some supplement or oil that contains omega-3 fatty acids. Though fish oil has a negative stigma attached to it, studies suggest that on its own, fish oil can decrease blood pressure. Just make sure to check with your doctor before starting any supplements.
You probably know by now to load up your plate with fruits and veggies for good health, but you may be surprised to find that tomatoes in particular are great for your heart. That’s because they contain a bright red pigment called lycopene. In addition to giving tomatoes their color, lycopene is also an antioxidant. That means that it protects against harmful free radicals, which are molecules that can cause cell damage and even cell death. The lycopene in tomatoes has been linked to a decrease in risks of heart attacks and strokes in men, and higher intake of foods with high lycopene concentrations has been shown to reduce the chance of getting acute heart disease.
The perfect drink for a cold day is a simmering green tea, warming up your hands and your body as you drink it. Green tea has also been shown to have quite a few health benefits, ranging from better brain function to lower chances of getting cancer. Unsurprisingly, green tea intake has also been associated with heart health. Catechins, one of the compounds found in high abundance in green tea, decrease blood pressure. And a nice cup of green tea can increase fat burning when exercising. By utilizing the molecules in green tea, you can potentially convert fat stored in fat tissue to energy at a faster rate than you would otherwise, which could boost your fitness and weight loss efforts.
Non-meat eaters rejoice: Tofu is a heart-healthy food that can be incorporated into a broad range of dishes. Made from pressed soybeans, tofu has been a staple protein of vegetarian diets for years, but even carnivores can reap the benefits of this nutrition-packed food. While there aren’t tons of studies on tofu specifically, there are quite a few on the effects of soy isoflavones on heart health. In particular, it’s been shown that increased consumption of soy isoflavones (found in high concentrations in tofu) lowers the risk of heart disease by more than ten percent and increases your good cholesterol levels.
Nervous about too much soy in your diet? You don’t have to be when it comes to whole versions of soy products, like edamame and tofu. Research actually suggests that incorporating foods like tofu into your diet could help reduce the risks of some cancers, even hormone-based ones like breast cancer. Check in with your doctor just to make sure, but soy products can form a healthy part of your overall diet.
The foods mentioned here are just a few of the amazing foods and food groups available that are good for your heart and your overall health. In general, fresh foods are far better for your health than processed and sugary foods. Load up your grocery cart and your weekly meal plan with heart-healthy staples to reap the benefits of better nutrition.