July 14, 2014
Best and Worst Heart Foods (Part 2)
In Part 1 of this series, I listed the three worst foods for our hearts, according to a CNN article on the matter. These worst foods are added sugars, saturated fats, and salt. Now, let’s look at the three best foods for our hearts: nuts, beans, and chocolate.
Nuts are really good for our hearts on several levels. First of all, they are good sources of protein. For a vegetarian like me, nuts are a necessary part of my diet. Several nuts also boast high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are really good for us, particularly for our hearts. On top of this, they have “nourishing unsaturated fats [that] help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and boost HDL (good) cholesterol.” Oh, and if that were not enough, nuts have high levels of arginine, which is an amino acid that makes nitric oxide, the same nitric oxide that helps prevent heart attacks and increase blood circulation. CNN further supports the importance of nuts with this statement: “Devoted nut eaters are 25% less likely to die from heart disease than those who don’t eat nuts.”
And the best part is that we can enjoy nuts in several ways. First, we can just eat the nuts alone. Personally, I find almonds particularly tasty as are pecans, pistachios, and peanuts. Nuts can also be sprinkled on salads, atop yogurt, or even in oatmeal. Finally, nut butters are a great way to incorporate nuts into our diets. I make my own almond butter by simply putting about a pound of almonds in my food processor and letting it do its magic for about 15 minutes. I do not add sugar or anything, and let me tell you that it is delicious stuff.
The next best heart-healthy food is beans. Beans run over with fiber and protein, both of which are good for the heart and help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Plus, beans have other nutrients like folate and vitamins. Again, as a vegetarian, I eat a lot of beans in many ways. I find they fill me up and provide the nutrients I need, especially the protein. My favorite legumes are black beans, garbanzo (chickpeas) beans, and lentils, but I will never turn my nose up at any beans.
Beans can be eaten as the main course, a side dish, added to salads, as a condiment (think hummus), and can even be added to recipes by making flours out of them. Beans are versatile and delicious.
I know! I know! It is so exciting that chocolate is heart healthy. The only caveat is that it is dark chocolate that provides the heart benefits. Specifically, “Cacao contains flavonoids (metabolites that promote healthy blood circulation and supple arteries) and polyphenols (antioxidants that reduce inflammation and risk of atherosclerosis). It’s also a good source of magnesium, a mineral essential for normal heart function.” To take advantage of all these, make sure to eat chocolate that is at least 70 percent cacao.
The two easiest ways to add cacao to our diets is first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In the morning, adding some cacao powder to smoothies or coffee will give the heart benefits as well as tantalize the taste buds. At night, end dinner with one-ounce of dark chocolate for dessert. Tasty and beneficial!
In Part 1, we learned about three foods to limit in order to improve our heart health, and here we have three easy ways to incorporate foods that help support our heart health. By taking all six and working to help our hearts, we just may be able to give our hearts the love and affection they need.
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