February is a time for all thing's related to the heart. Whether it's celebrating Valentine's day with loved ones or taking time out to prioritize self-care, we all need to take the time to take care of our own heart.
February is also national Heart Month and is associated with the color red. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world. According to the CDC Foundation, "Heart Disease and Stroke Cost America Nearly $1 Billion a Day in Medical Costs, Lost Productivity. ATLANTA–Nearly 800,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, accounting for one in every three deaths." (1)
Heart disease is a financial drain in our communities. We all pay for ill health whether we experience it personally, or indirectly through family, friends, and strangers. The good news about heart disease is that it is preventable as well as reversible. One of the biggest keys to turning heart disease around is purposefully determining what you eat.
As always with any diet, it must be highly individualized and getting these nutrients and its forms are highly dependent on an individuals' microbiome, metabolism abilities, current medication use, food sensitivities, intestinal permeability, and combinations with other chronic diseases. For personalized nutrient needs you can get help by utilizing my private health coaching. However, in general, these are what I find to be the most important nutrients in creating great heart health:
1.) Soluble Fiber
When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries, causing a process called atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease. The arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart muscle is slowed down or blocked. Soluble fiber acts like a sponge that binds to excess cholesterol in the body and sends it out through the digestive tract.
Foods high in fiber are things like beans, peas, lentils, apples, and citrus fruits.
Foods that are bright in color are high in antioxidants. Heart friendly red produce get their bright red color from antioxidants like lycopene and anthocyanins, which can protect heart health and decrease inflammation.
Foods high in red antioxidants are tomatoes, red peppers, beets, berries such as strawberries.
Potassium is an important mineral that acts as an electrolyte. It regulates fluid balance in the body and circulatory system along with governing muscle contractions for the various heart cells.
However, higher than normal potassium levels in the blood can result in a condition known as Hyperkalemia. Although mild cases may not produce symptoms and may be easy to treat, severe cases of hyperkalemia that are left untreated can lead to fatal cardiac arrhythmias, which are abnormal heart rhythms. Therefore those with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, congestive heart failure, or people who take medications that disrupt potassium balance, such as certain blood pressure lowering drugs should only increase potassium intake with you doctor.
To increase potassium intake, foods high in potassium beans, peas, sweet potatoes, cooked spinach, potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, and bananas (2) just to name a few.
4.) Omega 3's
Omega 3's are unsaturated fatty acids, which, when substituted for saturated fatty acids such as those in meat, have been shown to lower cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that may reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in the body can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease and strokes. Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure slightly, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk and reduce irregular heartbeats (3).
Foods high in omega 3's are:
*Nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia
*Seeds, such as ground flax, chia seeds, pumpkin, and sesame seeds
* Oils such as coconut, or organic extra-virgin olive oil
* Wild fish and other seafoods such as halibut herring, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna (fresh)
*Grass-fed or sustainably raised animal products
More than 50% of the American population, and 70 to 80 percent of those older than 70, are not meeting their daily magnesium needs. Magnesium is a mineral that only comes from the soil. If magnesium isn't growing in our food it isn't getting into our system. Between nutrient loss in soils and microbial loss, magnesium in much lower in our foods than our predecessors. It is responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions throughout the body and found in all tissues, but mainly your bones, muscles, and brain. Hospitals use magnesium for life-threatening and emergency situations such as heart failure.
Magnesium is lost from excess alcohol, salt, coffee, processed sugars, phosphoric acid in colas, heavy sweating, and being under chronic stress. Magnesium absorption is further complicated by the fact that it is poorly absorbed and is easily lost from our bodies.
To increase your magnesium absorption eat while RELAXED and you can obtain this mineral in nuts, leafy greens, sea vegetables, beans, and grass-fed/sustainably raised animal products (4).
6. Vitamin D
Recent evidence has demonstrated that individuals deficient in vitamin D are more likely to have cardiovascular disease or are at risk of developing an incident of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The mechanism for how vitamin D may protect individuals from CVD has not been fully elucidated. However, several mechanisms have been proposed, including negatively regulating renin to lower blood pressure, improving vascular compliance, decreasing parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels, and improving glycemic control (5).
Sources of Vitamin D come with standing outside in the sun baring skin for a limited time, although UV radiation is too low in north America in order to synthesize our Vitamin D needs. Food sources are, eating fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, grass-fed/sustainably sourced beef liver, egg yolks. However, many people will need supplementation in the form of Vitamin D3, however quality is important and is often not found in stores.
7. Folic Acid
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin. It is found naturally in foods and this vitamin cannot be stored in your body. You should eat folate-rich foods every day. Folate is important for everyone as It helps make red blood cells. If you do not have enough folate, you can get a type of anemia. If you have anemia you may feel tired, weak and unable to concentrate (6). Researchers say a daily dose of folic acid could reduce a person's risk of heart disease and stroke by about 20%.
Folic acid has been shown to effectively lower levels of an amino acid in the blood called homocysteine. In recent years, a growing body of evidence has suggested that higher than normal levels of homocysteine levels are an independent risk factor for heart disease and can lead to dangerous blood clots and hardening of the arteries.
By increasing folic acid intake and thus decreasing homocysteine, the researchers say the risk of heart disease would drop by 16%, blood clots in the legs by 25%, and stroke by 24%. (7).
Food sources good in folic acid are leafy greens, such as cooked spinach, asparagus, lettuce, beets, avocado, lentils, peas, beans, sunflower seeds, and grass-fed/ sustainably raised animal livers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ariel Zimmerlein is a Holistic Health Coach and Farmer. She uses her B.S. in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, a functional medicine approach, and her lifetime experience with chronic illness and childhood trauma to empower others to live life fully regardless of the circumstances they have been given. She runs her therapeutic farm and health coaching business, AZ Farm and Wellness, and loves to grow food for its inner and outer healing benefits.
Ariel focuses her practice on nutrition, stress, environmental toxins with a special interest in mental/emotional health. She serves those with chronic health conditions who are challenged by pain, isolation, depression, and anxiety.