This Valentine's Day, incorporate these top heart-healthy foods and enjoy a breakfast, lunch and dinner that really do the heart good!
The best foods for your heart, and for your health in general, are those mentioned throughout the Bible: fresh, whole foods in their natural form, as God created them. These foods deliver powerful doses of heart-protective phytonutrients that prevent and repair damage to cells and wipe out free radicals in the bloodstream. In fact, you can actually reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating these foods every day.
But some top-performers stand out even above the others in protecting your heart and blood vessels. These heart super-foods are the basis of our Valentine's Day menu.
Oatmeal with Blueberries and Flaxseed
• Start your day with a warm bowl of fiber-rich oatmeal, which is also full of omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin, calcium and whole grains. The soluble fiber in oats can lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and help keep arteries clear. (The FDA even allows oat products manufacturers to make health claims about the grain on their products, suggesting that a diet high in oats can reduce the risk for heart disease.)
• Use steel-cut rather than instant oats for even greater benefit, and try substituting oats for up to one-third of the flour in pancakes, muffins, breads and other baked goods.
• Blueberries top the list as one of the most powerful disease-fighting foods and are full of anti-inflammatories, which reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.
Blueberries are also packed with anthocyanins, beta-carotene, lutein, ellagic acid vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber.
• Full of fiber, phytoestrogens and omega-3 and fatty acids, a little sprinkling of flaxseed can go a long way for your heart. Flaxseed may lower the risk of blood clots, stroke, and cardiac arrhythmias and may also help lower total and LDL "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides, and even blood pressure.
• Soy milk is great over your oatmeal, in a smoothie, in your coffee, or straight from the glass.
• Soy contains isoflavones, B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phytoestrogens. It may lower cholesterol and triglycerides and since it is low in saturated fat, it's still a great source of lean protein in a heart-healthy diet.
Spinach Salad with Nuts, Avocado and Beans
• Spinach is the powerhouse of the vegetable kingdom, and is especially good for the heart with its stores of phytochemicals, lutein, folate and potassium. It can also spark the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps relax blood vessels. In addition, spinach is a good plant source of iron.
• Avocado adds heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, can help lower LDL levels while raising the amount of HDL cholesterol in your body. They also increase the absorption of other carotenoids, which are essential for heart health.
• Almonds and walnuts contain plant omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats and phytosterols.
• Lentils, chickpeas, and black or kidney beans are loaded with soluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and B-complex vitamins.
Green Tea or Hibiscus Tea
• Hibiscus tea has been found to significantly lower blood pressure, and green tea naturally contains compounds commonly used in synthetic form in blood pressure drugs, including diuretics and ACE inhibitors.
Salmon and Vegetables with Olive Oil and Garlic
• Salmon is an excellent source of protein and super-rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can effectively reduce blood pressure and blood clots, and protect against heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids also increase good HDL levels, lower triglyceride levels, protect arteries from plaque buildup, are anti-inflammatories, and lower blood pressure.
• Salmon also contains the very powerful antioxidant carotenoid astaxanthin. Choose wild over farmed salmon when possible. (Other oily fish like mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines will give your heart the same boost.)
• Many colorful fruits and veggies, such as carrots, broccoli, red bell peppers, asparagus, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, are high in the heart-protective antioxidants carotenoids.
• Increasing your servings of any veggies can help your heart. A study of 15,000 men found that those who ate at least two-and-a-half servings of vegetables each day cut their risk of heart disease by about 25%, compared with those who didn't eat the veggies. Each additional serving reduced risk by another 17%.
• Full of monounsaturated fats, extra-virgin olive oil lowers bad LDL cholesterol and reduces your risk of developing heart disease.
• Garlic is wonderful herb for the cardiovascular system, particularly for those with hypertension.
Red Wine or Concord Grape Juice
• The catechins and reservatrol (flavonoids) in these dark grape-based beverages can help improve your "good" cholesterol.
• It may seem too good to be true, but this delightful treat really is good for your heart, with its resveratrol and cocoa phenol flavonoids. Be sure to choose varieties of chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content.
Show your heart some love by treating it to these delicious foods on Valentine's Day, and all throughout the year!