Diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption, are the main factors that contribute to heart health (or ill health, as the case may be). They also happen to be the most easily controlled.
Unlike genetics, what you eat and how much you exercise are entirely within your control.
There is no good reason why heart disease —heart attack, stroke, hypertension, angina, etc.— should be the leading cause of death given the fact that simple changes to the way we live our lives could drastically reduce casualties.
Today, let’s start with diet.
Compared to finding extra time in your already busy week, you’re already eating three meals a day, so adjusting what it is you’re eating is a much easier change than making use of a new gym membership.
Below is a list of foods that support healthy blood pressure levels based on the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the “Americanized” version of the Mediterranean diet.
Originally developed in the mid-90s, the DASH diet research studies showed how a diet based largely on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats “could lower blood pressure as well as the first line blood pressure medications…. Numerous studies have shown that the DASH diet reduces the risk of many diseases, including… stroke, heart disease, heart failure, kidney stones, and diabetes. It has [also] been proven to be an effective way to lose weight.”
So which foods made the cut?
Everyone knows that foods low in sodium and rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium protect and nourish the cardiovascular system and help you maintain healthy blood pressure, but let’s take a look at the specific foods you should be including on your weekly grocery shopping list.
Eating flaxseed was linked to maintaining healthy blood pressure already in normal levels , according to a 2013 study published in the journal Hypertension. Flaxseed delivers alpha linolenic acid, lignans, peptides and fiber, all of which may contribute to heart health benefits.
This should be an easy addition to your diet! Even if you aren’t a fan of the semi-bitter taste of dark chocolate, over time your taste buds will adapt to your reduced sugar intake if you model your diet after the DASH diet recommendations. Dark chocolate and natural cocoa deliver polyphenols (specifically flavanols), which studies show help meet your heart's abundant energy needs.
The fact that olive oil made the list shouldn’t be surprising, considering this healthy fat play a prominent role in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is also rich in polyphenols, which support heart health, especially for women.
It’s not a very common staple in American kitchens, but beet juice packs a heart-healthy punch according to at least one study from 2013. Australian researchers studied the effects of beet juice on blood pressure among healthy men and women and observed positive results, especially among the men.
Versatile, protein-packed, nutritious… white beans should be stocked in your pantry at all times. Just one cup provides 13% of the calcium, 30% of the magnesium, and 24% of the potassium you need every day, making these little guys perhaps the most heart friendly, beneficial to your blood pressure item on this list.
Just when you thought this heart-healthy grocery list was just a vegetarian menu in disguise, voila… meat! Three ounces of savory pork tenderloin provide 6% of the magnesium and 15% of the potassium your body needs in one day. Note: this is not permission to eat pork every day.
7Tree Nuts (Not Peanuts)
Nuts like almonds, cashews and pistachios are loaded with magnesium, making them an ideal addition to any heart-healthy diet plan. Nearly 70% of Americans may be magnesium deficient.
Just one serving of blueberries alone each week (once a week is all!) can help maintain heart health. Berries, nature’s candy, feature natural compounds called anthocyanins that protect the cardiovascular system, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach are jam packed with magnesium calcium and potassium, the three key minerals when you’re talking about blood pressure. Kale has especially high levels of calcium and potassium.
Any fatty fish like salmon comes loaded with omega-3 fats, healthy fats that have been shown to help support heart health. Like the pork, don’t go overboard; limit your intake to about three times a week.
How many of these foods already make it into your grocery bag? Any?
There are many more healthy options out there, but this list is a great place to start. You’ll be able to find nearly everything here in your local supermarket or natural grocers.