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February is American Heart Month. It is a time when the nation focuses its attention on cardiovascular disease – the No. 1 cause of death in the United States and across the globe. Heart Month provides us with an opportunity to consider the steps we are taking (or not taking) to support our heart health. Whether you are currently living with heart disease or simply want to take precautions, there are ways that you can protect your heart against blockages and other harmful heart-related events by adding more heart-healthy foods to your diet.
The easiest way to improve and/or support the health of your heart is through diet. In my book Eat to Beat Disease, I discuss numerous foods that play a positive role in heart health. Here are a few of them:
Soy contains antiangiogenic bioactives known as isoflavones. Significant research indicates that people who eat more soyfoods have lowered risk for a number of angiogenesis-dependent diseases such as coronary heart disease (CHD), the most common type of heart disease. Soyfoods describe any foods that are made from soybeans such as tofu, edamame, soymilk, soy nuts, miso, tempeh, and more.
Often referred to as cavolo nero (black cabbage), dinosaur kale is another heart-healthy food. It is a dark-leafed greenish blue-black varietal that is a key component in many Italian dishes such as minestrone. Dinosaur kale contains at least six antiangiogenic bioactives including brassinin, lutein, and sulforaphane.
While many people are more accustomed to eating chicken breast meat, I highly recommend choosing the thigh meat instead. Not only is it more flavorful, but it also contains vitamin K2, or menaquinone, a naturally occurring fat-soluble vitamin. In one scientific study, people who ate more vitamin K2-containing foods had more than a 57 percent reduction in the chance of dying from heart disease, and a 52 percent reduced risk of severe hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup.
Flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds all contain several beneficial bioactives called lignans. One of the most impressive lignans, secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG), has been associated with angiogenesis stimulation in the heart after a heart attack. SDG-containing seeds are also high in dietary fiber, which can lower cholesterol and further protect your heart. So, if you have ever had heart issues, you may want to talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about adding more seeds to your diet.
Fish is a notable source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), fish oil can do wonders for heart health. Many kinds of fish are rich in PUFAs have been shown to help reduce the damage caused by vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis. Fish like hake, tuna, and amberjack (yellowtail) contain some of the highest levels of marine omega-3s. If you’re new to seafood, see this story on 4 Tips Learn How to Cook Seafood.
If you have read Eat to Beat Disease, you know that my food philosophy is based on addition rather than subtraction. I always prefer to focus on the nutrient-dense foods that people can add to their diets rather than spending so much energy on what should be removed. I have found that the latter typically follows the former and focusing on eating more delicious foods is much more enjoyable.
So, for the month of February and beyond, I encourage you to eat more of the heart-healthy foods that I mentioned above. The next time you make a salad for lunch, top it with some isoflavone-packed edamame. When you are grocery shopping next weekend, opt for chicken thighs rather than breast meat. And get creative with the ways in which you add all sorts of lignan-rich seeds to your meals.
Heart disease is no joke – it affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Share this information with your loved ones so that they can benefit from these heart-healing foods too. And if you are interested in learning more about different foods that can help protect you against other diseases, check out Eat to Beat Disease!
– Dr. William Li
William W. Li, MD, is a world-renowned physician, scientist, speaker, and author of EAT TO BEAT DISEASE – The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself. He is known for leading the Angiogenesis Foundation. His TED Talk, “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” has garnered more than 11 million views. Visit his story Dr. Li’s Favorite Immune-Boosting Foods.
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