February is American Heart Month and sadly, heart disease is the #1 killer of women & men. To help mitigate the Though making smart food decisions doesn’t just have to be limited to February.
The foods you eat on the regular certainly matter, as do many of your other lifestyle habits. How much sleep you get, your relationships, your stress levels, and so much more all impact the health of your heart. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that exercise does impact your heart as well, so of course making sure you’re regularly active is important.
For me, I ground my days with exercise, which is of course not just for my heart, but also mental health. To do this I start my day off with movement daily. All exercise is amazing; I’m partial to our Hydrow rower which offers virtual, athlete-led classes and was actually one of TIME’s best inventions of 2020. I jump on every single morning for some full body movement – get the blood flowing to start my day right. But literally any movement counts so move frequently doing whatever it is you love.
Couple that with the several days a week I move some iron because, well, I’m a meathead at heart and have been lifting for 30 years now and plan to continue.
Then when it comes to food, your overall diet of course matters just the same. What we eat directly impacts our overall health, the health of your heart, and is literally as powerful as prescription drugs with only an upside.
Fiber, Fiber, Fiber
Fiber’s role in preventing heart disease seems to stem from its ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. In addition, research supports fiber’s ability to help fill you up, meaning the potential for reducing body fat, which can also improve heart health.
Fiber isn’t the only beneficial nutrient, but it’s certainly one to start with.
Let’s talk how to get more.
Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
Love me some oats, particularly during these colder months. But aside from simply warming you up each morning, oats are loaded with benefits that will make your heart happy. Oats offer a particular type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. The name isn’t as important as the function; studies show at least 3 grams of this type of fiber, the amount in a single serving of oats, may reduce total and LDL cholesterol by about 5-10%, which can certainly improve the health of the ‘ol ticker.
They’re our go to most mornings – eaten hot, as overnight oats and sometimes even mixed into our protein shakes.
It’s hard to talk about heart health without giving lentils some love, particularly when it comes to the magic of fiber. From a cost to benefit perspective, lentils top the list.
Adding a simple ½ cup of lentils to your day provides approximately 8 grams of fiber. Considering the fiber recommendation is about 25-35 grams of fiber daily, 8 grams is nearly 1/3 of that recommendation, but sadly almost as much as most people currently eat in an entire day. Your biceps may not care about fiber, but your heart and the rest of your body does.
Here’s a simple way to incorporate them into your daily routine: Add ½ cup cooked lentils on top of a daily salad or a bowl of your favorite soup. Or if you want a unique snack, consider sprinkling some feta cheese on ½ cup of lentils, drizzling with about 1 tsp of olive oil and you’re all set.
This one shouldn’t be a surprise but considering eating seafood two times per week has proven to reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 36%, it bears repeating.
“Hearts love omega-3 fats,” says Doug Bibus, PhD, of Lipid Technologies. “Providing daily amounts of long-chain omega-3 like EPA and DHA (fish, fish oil), provide the critical components of cardiac membranes that support the proper function of these highly functional membranes that perform tirelessly to keep us strong.”
Dr. Bibus continues, “One of the most critical things you can do to support your heart (after exercise) is to make sure your heart omega 3 status is in check. Assuring proper dietary intake of omega 3 from marine sources maintains heart membrane health and function, keeping you running your best!”
It’s a win-win for all.
Here’s something else I recommend: if you want to find out your omega-3 levels to see how yours measure up, check out this site for an at home test kit.
There are two prominent themes you may notice throughout: fiber is great for heart health as are the right fats. And pistachios offer both (with plant protein to boot). About 90% of the fats found in pistachios are unsaturated. Plus, they provide a good source of plant protein and fiber, for a trio of nutrients that may help keep you fuller longer and are one of the lowest calorie snack nuts.
What I’m trying to say is pistachios are a heart-healthy food. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease with the bonus pistachios’ green and red-purple colors coming from antioxidants.
Wait, what? Whole eggs? YES – yolk and all!
Gone are the days of avoiding those yolks for the dietary cholesterol content. Both the yolks and the whites offer up protein and other vital nutrients including Vitamins D and B12, plus zinc and potassium. Eggs are a quick and easy recovery food, providing a full panel of essential amino acids for post workout muscle needs.
Eggs are a naturally nutrient-rich choice that pairs well with whole grains and produce. They are also a quick-cooking and affordable protein source, making them a star in the kitchen for any meal or snack.
At the Team Mohr HQ (our house), we always have hardboiled eggs on hand for a quick snack or morning breakfast option on the go. Of course cooking some eggs in the AM (or for a fun, “breakfast for dinner!”) can be a great use as well.
Picking the best fruit is like picking your favorite kid. We love them all equally, but – yes, that’s a but – each has their own, extra lovable features. Like pears.
Pears provide a whopping 5g fiber per serving making them a perfectly portable pick for heart health. And…here I go again on the fiber train. With the power to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, high fiber foods may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Enjoy pears as an easy snack, paired with the pistachios above or – bonus – chop up pear on your oats, then sprinkle pistachios on top for a fiber forward, protein rich, plant protein-based breakfast.
Olive oil not only adds an incredible flavor to foods, but it’s long been associated with lowering cardiovascular risk, namely in the Mediterranean populations where it’s an abundant part of the diet.
A recent study presented at the 2020 American Heart Association Meeting, found that higher olive oil (greater than ½ tbsp per day) intake was associated with a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease and 15% lower total cardiovascular disease in both men and women.
Of note, while olive oil adds an incredible flavor to foods, this advice doesn’t mean liberally drizzling olive oil on every food that crosses your lips, but rather considering where olive oil can be substituted for other fats like butter, mayonnaise, margarine or dairy fat.
Swap out your normal fat – yes, even your coconut oil, which isn’t quite as magical as is promised online – that you might add when cooking with an equal amount of olive oil.
There you have it. Seven foods that can all independently, or better yet, synergistically, reduce your risk of heart disease. The best results come when the above foods, along with an overall balanced intake, are combined with other positive lifestyle habits, like consistent exercise, quality sleep and so many more. At the same time, understand every single step helps so never get overwhelmed with “so much to do.”