Keep your heart healthy and strong with this list of more than 25 superfoods for heart health, including antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
Here’s an impressive stat: A healthy heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute (on average)! Keeping your ticker as healthy as possible is obviously crucial for daily life, but it’s especially important for athletes who get their heart pumping on a daily basis.
During intense physical activity, the heart works to carry oxygen and nutrients through the blood to all the working parts of the body. That’s why it’s essential for an athlete to have a healthy cardiovascular system! Exercise is the first step in making that happen, but diet also plays a crucial role in the health of your heart. Luckily, there are tons of heart healthy options on supermarket shelves, so go ahead and add any of the foods below to your weekly shopping list! You’re heart will thank you!
Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
You may hear the word “antioxidant” thrown around and wonder what it really means. Antioxidants are essentially vitamins, minerals and other compounds in foods that fight off free radicals– aka harmful substances that damage the cells in our bodies. Consuming antioxidant-rich food sources will prevent inflammation in our bodies, protect our cells, and prevent cholesterol molecules from turning into plaque in the artery walls. And you probably know that plaque is a bad thing that can lead to heart attacks and strokes, so you want to prevent it at all costs! The fruits and vegetables are just some of the many that are high in antioxidants:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Red Cabbage
[To learn how these fruits can fit into your fueling routine, check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.]
While the word “fat” has a bad connotation, some fats are actually “good” and part of a heart healthy diet. The unsaturated fats, specifically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can actually help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol [Read more about healthy fats and why you should add them to your diet here]. Quality sources of these fats include:
- Oils (ex. avocado and olive)
- Fatty Fish (ex. tuna, salmon, sardines)
- Seeds (ex. flax and chia)
Fiber-Rich Whole Grains
For athletes, whole grains are a “must eat” food group, especially when it comes to heart health. Not only are whole grains a nutrient-rich source of carbs, but they are packed with heart healthy fiber. Research has found that dietary fiber can help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and even type 2 diabetes – total win! Some fiber-rich whole grains include:
- Whole wheat
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Corn (yes, this is whole grain!)
Other Ways to Protect the Heart
While incorporating healthy foods is an amazing way to keep that heart pumping, there are some other precautionary measures to take to keep the heart strong.
Exercise makes your heart stronger! Each heartbeat pumps more blood, which then delivers more oxygen throughout the body and helps it function more efficiently. It also lowers blood pressure, decreases your risk of heart disease, and reduces levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
This may seem like an obvious one, but I’m going to say it anyways. Smoking increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which includes coronary heart disease and stroke. It damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a build up of fatty material and narrowing of the arteries, which causes a heart attack or a stroke. Bottom line, stay away!
Red wine (in moderation!) can actually increase your HDL (“good”) cholesterol and even lower blood pressure.
Eating too much salt can result in negative effects on your heart. It has the ability to raise your blood pressure and cause the body to hold onto fluid. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. While the body does need a bit of salt to function, keep your salt intake to about 2,300 milligram (or one teaspoon) per day.
**Blog post by Michelle Iannacchino. Michelle is a Graduate Student at Pace University receiving her Master’s in Nutrition & Dietetics to soon become a Registered Dietitian. You can keep up with her on Instagram at @Michelle.Iannacchino.