Five Important Nutrients for Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and it affects over 12% of adults. However, it’s possible to prevent heart disease by following a heart-healthy diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is the term for a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s function. The main risk factors for developing heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking. About half of Americans have at least one of these risk factors.
How Can I Prevent Heart Disease?
Focus on including heart-healthy nutrients in your diet to reduce your risk. Consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and limit saturated fat to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. A few of the most protective nutrients that may improve heart health include omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, monounsaturated fats, folic acid, and potassium.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Omega 3s are essential fats that our body can’t make, so we must obtain them from food sources. They aid in producing hormones that control blood clotting, the constriction and relaxation of the smooth muscles in artery walls, and inflammation. Therefore, they can help to prevent heart disease, reduce the risk of blood clots, and decrease inflammation, blood triglycerides, and blood pressure.
- Fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and lake trout are the best sources.
- Non-fish sources include nuts (especially walnuts), vegetable oils, flaxseed, and green leafy vegetables.
- Fiber: A diet high in fiber is correlated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease because it may help to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and control blood sugar levels. Fiber also helps to fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied.
- Fiber is only found in plant foods. Good sources of fiber are whole grains, fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Monounsaturated Fat: These fats are beneficial to heart health when they replace saturated fats. Generally, monounsaturated fats are liquid oils at room temperature (olive oil) and saturated fats are solid (butter). Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol, maintain cell health, and are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant.
- Found in avocados, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, and plant-based oils such as olive oil and canola oil.
- Folate: Studies on folate have shown that people who consumed more folate in their diet had fewer heart attacks. Folate aids in the breakdown of homocysteine, an amino acid related to heart disease, and peripheral artery and vascular disease.
- Instead of supplements, consume foods rich in folate such as citrus fruit, dark leafy green vegetables, grains, and beans.
- Potassium: Potassium is an important mineral in managing high blood pressure because it can reduce the effects of sodium on blood pressure. Potassium helps to relax the blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure.
- Eat more bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, and prunes.