Did you know that you could actually reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating certain foods every day? Dietitians call them ‘power foods’ and they are packed with high levels of heart disease-fighting nutrients.
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Dietitians in the Section of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic tell us that fresh produce is the foundation of a heart-healthy diet. Produce contains thousands of phytonutrients (or phytochemicals), which prevent and repair damage to our cells by cleaning out free radicals in our blood stream.
About fruits & veggies
Power vegetables include everything from bell peppers and leafy greens, to sweet potatoes and acorn squash. Think color! The darker the green and the more vibrant the reds, oranges, yellows and purples, the better they are for you.
“A great way to benefit from these power nutrients is to be sure you include a vegetable with lunch and dinner every day,” says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation. “For a slimmer waistline, make half your plate full of non-starchy vegetables. These foods have as little as 25 calories per serving, contain no fat or sodium and provide a good source of fiber.”
Power fruits include apricots, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, kiwi, papaya and peaches. Zumpano recommends eating three servings of fruit per day, ideally choosing fresh or frozen. “You can do this easily by including fruit in your breakfast meal and making it your snack of choice throughout the day,” she says.
She adds: Eat canned fruit in its natural juice and limit to a half-cup serving. Eat dried fruit with no added sugar and limit to a quarter of a cup per day.
Zumpano says “power protein” sources with a variety of complex heart-protective phytonutrients include tuna, salmon, nuts (and nut butters) and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and seeds can help lower triglycerides, limit blood clots and arrhythmias and reduce the risk of heart attack.
When it comes to fish, she says the best choices are wild or fresh salmon and wild, fresh or light-canned tuna as well as herring and mackerel. The recommendation is to eat at least two 3- to 6-ounce servings of fish per week.
While nuts and seeds are naturally high in fat and calories, they still provide a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat and protein. Choose dry roasted, unsalted nuts or seeds such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and sunflower, chia or pumpkin seeds.
“For a delicious snack, natural nut butters, including almond butter and sunflower seed butter, can be added to whole grain toast, crackers, an apple or banana,” Zumpano says. She recommends eating no more than two tablespoons of nut butters a day and one ounce of nuts or seeds—or one small handful.
Soy and grains
Vegetarians will be happy to know that a variety of heart-healthy soy foods also provide protein. Zumpano says dietitians recommend eating soy proteins such as tofu and edamame at least two times a week. And there are a variety of natural soy milks, cheeses and veggie “burgers” from which to choose.
As for power grains, Zumpano recommends eating quinoa, barley and brown rice in place of white rice and other processed grains. For your heart health, she suggests including four cups of cooked oatmeal in your diet each week (and not the instant kind). And consider adding two tablespoons of wheat germ or ground flax seed to your oatmeal – or yogurt – a few times a week. They add texture and taste as well as phytonutrients!
“The ‘power’ is in you to make the right food choices every day,” says Zumpano. “If you do, it will go a long way toward having a healthy heart and living a longer, more vigorous life.”
So, have some fun with your food choices and start eating power foods, today!