Experts say maintaining a strong heart does not boil down to a single food or habit. “How you eat, how you deal with stress and how much you exercise all contribute to heart health,” says Pooja Vig, co-founder of The Nutrition Clinic.
The following foods have been said to be beneficial for the heart in terms of lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and fighting inflammation.
These are high in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower your total blood cholesterol levels, says Pooja. Flax seeds are best absorbed when they are ground – you can use a coffee or spice grinder. Add a tablespoon or two to soups and smoothies.
Menka Gupta, founder of Nutra Nourish (www.nutranourish.com), adds that flax seeds can play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension too.
Salmon, sardines and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Menka says these fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, and help maintain the function of mitochondria – the energy powerhouse in our cells.
“If you are not eating two to three portions of oily fish a week, you may want to try a high quality EPA/DHA supplement,” says Pooja.
“It is anti-inflammatory and improves the capacity of the blood vessels to expand,” says Menka. She recommends organic and unrefined olive oil as it contains more polyphenols and antioxidants that may help with lowering blood pressure and fighting heart disease.
Use it as a salad dressing or for very low-heat cooking, recommends Pooja. “When you heat olive oil to its smoke point, the beneficial compounds begin to degrade and carcinogenic compounds start to form,” she says.
These contain vitamin E which helps lower bad cholesterol, says Pooja. She adds that walnuts are a particularly good choice as they are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. However, as it is easy to over-indulge in them, have just a small handful. Go for the natural variety and avoid those with added salt or sugar.
Menka says green tea is rich in polyphenols, and studies have shown they decrease blood sugar along with triglycerides and LDL. “Go for the loose, whole leaf and organic options to get its best medicinal properties,” says Menka.
Pooja adds that green tea contains the antioxidant catechin and epigallocatechin gallate, and has been shown to protect cells from oxidation.
Start your day with a steaming bowl of oat porridge and replenish your body with phytochemicals, fibre, and beta-glucan compounds that improve your cholesterol and blood sugar levels – both of which can be risk factors for heart disease, says Menka. “Oats are also a good source of magnesium, which is an important mineral for glucose and insulin balance,” she says.
“It is perfect for the heart as it contains beneficial nutrients like monounsaturated fats, fibre and potassium,” says Menka. Studies have shown that avocado reduces inflammation and helps lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels while raising HDL (good cholesterol) levels, thus reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
Generally, 1/8 an avocado is a good serving size, and tt can easily be added to salads, sandwiches or dips.
“They’re not only yummy but also very nutritious,” says Menka, adding that they neutralise free radicals and are rich in phytonutrients, especially anthocyanin, which supports heart and blood vessel health.
Blueberries also have a low glycaemic index and can help diabetics in maintaining blood sugar balance.
“You can have them fresh, frozen or dried, added in bakes, breakfast cereal or porridge. It’s important to choose the organic variety as they can be heavily laden with pesticides and herbicides. Organic blueberries are also higher in phytonutrients and more nutritious,” says Menka.