The 8 Best Foods for Your Heart 

The 8 Best Foods for Your Heart 

Surprise – most foods for heart health come from living things without hearts! That is, only one item on our list of the nine most heart-healthy foods is an animal and the rest are plant sources. Vegetarians, omnivores and paleo-lovers alike can all protect their hearts by including suitable foods from the following list more often.

BLUEBERRIES

These fruit gems contain high levels of polyphenols1,2 and have multiple cardiovascular benefits including anti-inflammation,1 lowering blood pressure,2 regulating cholesterol oxidation2 and accumulation,1 reducing oxidative stress,1,2 and improving vascular function.1 Consumption of blueberries is associated with cardiovascular disease prevention1 and cardiovascular risk factor reduction.2

NUTS

The omega-3 fatty acid present in nuts, alpha-linolenic acid, may reduce cardiovascular disease risk and atherosclerotic plaque formation by changing vascular inflammation and improving endothelial dysfunction3 (the health of the vascular wall). In a nearly 5 year-long study those assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts (or extra-virgin olive oil) had a lower incidence of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet.4

BEANS

Dietary fiber is known to help protect against cardiovascular disease.5 Legumes (including beans, peas, and lentils) are excellent sources of soluble fiber — the kind that can lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol.6 In a multi-country study, cardiometabolic risk (metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and obesity) was inversely associated with dietary fiber intake.5 Benefits are most pronounced with bean intake upwards of 4 times per week.

LEAFY GREEN VEGETABLES 

Intake of leafy green vegetables may confer strong cardiovascular health benefits7. Researchers noted that, “Increasing vegetable intake, with a focus on consuming leafy green and cruciferous vegetables may provide the greatest cardiovascular health benefits.”7 A few studies showed that the greatest cardiovascular benefits were observed at intakes greater than 120 g/day [about 2 cups] for leafy green vegetables.7 Spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and chard are well-known leafy green veggies.

AVOCADOS 

These fatty fruits contain beneficial monounsaturated fats (as well as polyphenols, carotenoids, vitamin E, phytosterols, and squalene) which can lower your LDL cholesterol. 6,8  Avocados seem to help prevent chronic inflammation that makes atherosclerosis, the hardening of artery walls, worse.6  They also inhibit platelet aggregation and help prevent thrombus formation. 8

CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES

Evidence supports the notion that cruciferous vegetables promote strong cardiovascular health7. Researchers noted that, “Increasing vegetable intake, with a focus on consuming leafy green and cruciferous vegetables may provide the greatest cardiovascular health benefits.”7 A few studies showed that the greatest cardiovascular benefits were observed at intakes of greater than 200 g/day [about a cup] for cruciferous vegetables.7 Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy are well known cruciferous veggies.

OLIVE OIL 

Extra-virgin olive oil contains minor antioxidant compounds9 and a lot of monounsaturated fat. Consuming extra virgin olive oil augments the anti-inflammatory effect of HDL, may repress atherosclerotic inflammatory genes, and helps retain anti-atherogenic activity with advancing age.9 In a nearly 5 year-long study those assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil (or nuts) had a lower incidence of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet.4

SALMON

Fatty fish such as salmon are rich in long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn-3PUFA) which have anti-clotting6 and anti-inflammatory effects and help lower triglycerides,6 a fat implicated in heart disease. Though not all studies demonstrate cardio-protective effects of LCn-3PUFA, it may be that omega-3‘s role in cardiovascular disease prevention may be dampened by high intake of omega-6 fats. Within a Mediterranean diet (low saturated fat), high omega-3 fat consumption is cardio-protective.

REFERENCES:

  1. Preventionof Atherosclerosis by Berries: The Case of Blueberries. Wu X, et al. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2018 Sep 5;66(35):9172-9188. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b03201. Epub 2018 Aug 21.
  2. Research Backs Blueberries’ Heart Benefit. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Newsletter, November 2010, Accessed 12/17/2018.
  3. Acute effects of diets rich in almonds and walnuts on endothelial function. Bhardwaj R, et al. Indian Heart Journal 2018 Jul – Aug;70(4):497-501. doi: 10.1016/j.ihj.2018.01.030. Epub 2018 Feb 1.
  4. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. Estruch R et al. New England Journal of Medicine 2018 Jun 21;378(25):e34. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1800389. Epub 2018 Jun 13.
  5. The Association of Dietary Fiber Intake with Cardiometabolic Risk in Four Countries across the Epidemiologic Transition. Lie L, et al. Nutrients. 2018 May 16;10(5). pii: E628. doi: 10.3390/nu10050628.
  6. Top 11 Heart-Healthy Foods. Kerri-Ann Jennings. WebMD.com Accessed 12/17/2017
  7. Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Specific Vegetable Types: A Narrative Review Lauren C. Blekkenhorst et al. Nutrients. 2018 May; 10(5): 595. Published online 2018 May 11. doi:  [10.3390/nu10050595]
  8. Fruits for Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases. Cai-Ning Zhao, et al. Nutrients. 2017 Jun; 9(6): 598. Published online 2017 Jun 13. doi: 10.3390/nu9060598
  9. Olive Oil and the Hallmarks of Aging. L Fernández del Río, et al. Molecules2016, 21 (2), 163.
  10. Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. Lukas Snopek, et al. 2018 Jul; 23(7): 1684. Published online 2018 Jul 11. doi:  [10.3390/molecules23071684]

Recommended Reading

Spices to Help Boost Immunity and Fight Inflammation

Spices to Help Boost Immunity and Fight Inflammation

Spices are known for imparting flavor, but they are also an integral part of maintaining health and preventing disease! The medicinal value of spices has been recognized for thousands of years by the ancient Indian medical system known as Ayurveda.1 Since many diseases are a result of weak immune systems or chronic inflammation, preventing these two states can make a big difference in your health.

The immune response is a built-in defense system, protecting the body from foreign invaders and infection by communicating between cells and their chemical signals. While our skin is the outer shield of our bodies, our gut mucosa serves as the internal barrier. What we eat (especially nutrients, alcohol, coffee, spices, and salted food) affects this barrier, which is the starting point of most immune responses. It’s true that a healthy immune system can ward off infection from cold-causing germs. However, our immune systems are also activated by the longer-term stimuli of physical stress, psychosocial stress or malnutrition.2

Chronic low-grade inflammation is a prolonged and abnormal immune response of altered cell communication that does not resolve itself, leading to ill health and a variety of life-threatening conditions.2,3 This “silent inflammation” is connected to several diseases of advanced age such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and certain cancers.4 Persistent inflammation is also involved in the development of obesity (and associated metabolic complications), inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.2,3,5 Inflammation of the nervous system plays a key part in neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders (including depression and anxiety), and pain.2

Beneficial Spices

Spices come from the roots, bark, and seeds of the plant, while herbs* are the leaves. Essentially, any part of the plant that is not a leaf and can be used for seasoning may be considered a spice. 

Spices and other medicinal plants have many bio-active compounds. Some have antibiotic properties (boosting our innate immunity against infections) and others are anti-inflammatory agents.5,6,7 Nutraceuticals present in several spices have shown potential to inhibit or reverse inflammatory responses and help prevent many chronic diseases related to sustained inflammation:

  • Anise (spice fennel) – Its chief compound, anethole, is anti-inflammatory and acts as an antiviral (against a certain herpes virus) and oral antibacterial agent.7
  • Black pepper – Its active constituent, piperine, fights inflammation by altering inflammatory pathways.5,6
  • Black seed or black cumin – Its immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties come from the compound thymoquinone (TQ). Experimental evidence suggests extracts containing TQ can potentially regulate immune reactions implicated in various infectious and non-infectious conditions.
  • Cinnamon – This global spice has multiple inflammation-reducing compounds (benzyl cinnamide, cinnamic acid, and cinnamaldehyde) and modifies inflammatory pathways.5,6
  • Coriander – It’s the anti-inflammatory gallic acid in coriander which regulates signaling pathways related to inflammation.5,6
  • Cumin – Its compounds cuminaldehyde and oleorestin have anti-inflammatory action.5 Cumin is helpful for immunity.
  • Garlic – This aromatic bulb’s organosulphur compounds (namely allicin) have immunomodulatory bioactivity.6 While it may not kill vampires, garlic is a potent antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial7
  • Ginger – Its major compounds (6-gingerol, 10-gingerol and shogaol) exert important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.5,6,7,8 Some research has proved that gingerdiones and shogaols can act similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).9 Ginger is an effective agent against the inflammation response from immune cells.7
  • Turmeric – This yellow spice’s curcuminoids (namely curcumin) have anti-inflammatory properties.3,6,7,8 Curcumin is able to scavenge free radicals and other inflammatory mediators, thus regulating oxidative stress.3 Since curcumin is so potent, supplemental forms of it have been researched in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases arthritis, obesity, and diabetes mellitus.
  • Did you know? Curcumin gives turmeric its characteristic yellow color, a signature of many curries. Since it has poor bioavailability, consume turmeric with meals containing healthy plant fats to increase its absorption.

Make your own spicy blend without salt! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the combination below for Mexican-style dishes. Just store in a tightly covered jar.

  • ¼ Cup chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon each of ground cumin and onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon each of oregano, garlic powder, and ground red pepper; and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.

Source: Eat Right: Eating Right With Less Salt (tip sheet). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017.

Many other spices are beneficial in alleviating inflammation including allspice, caraway extract, chili pepper, cloves, cocoa and fenugreek.5 *Herbs with anti-inflammatory activity include bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.5

Beneficial Diet

A diet rich in spices that decreases inflammation and oxidative stress can promote healthy immune balance. Around the world, the basic concepts for following an anti-inflammatory diet include adding a variety of spices, especially ginger and curry.So what about the rest of your diet? An overall anti-inflammatory, antioxidant eating plan augments immune function, fights inflammation and hampers disease development.2,10  An anti-inflammatory Mediterranean eating plan includes spices daily.

A Mediterranean diet pattern, in particular, has an anti-inflammatory effect.11 This type of diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, red wine, seafood as well as monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fats.8 These components provide a lot of fiber, magnesium, carotenoids, and flavonoids which help reduce inflammation.8

No matter your taste preference or diet plan, there are immune boosting and anti-inflammatory spices you can include regularly. Use them often and in greater amounts to get the most benefit!

References:

  1. Bioactive phytochemicals in Indian foods and their potential in health promotion and disease prevention. Rao BN. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003; 12(1): 9-22.
  2. An Integrative Approach to Neuroinflammation in Psychiatric disorders and Neuropathic Pain. Lurie DI. Journal of Experimental Neuroscience 2018 Aug 13; 12: 1-11. doi: 10.1177/1179069518793639. eCollection 2018.
  3. Curcumin and Inflammatory Diseases: Learn About Its Potential Role in Prevention and Treatment. Sharon Collison. Today’s Dietitian 2014 Sept; 16(9): 56
  4. What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet? Wendy Marcason. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2010 Nov.; 110 (11): 1780.
  5. Spice up your life: adipose tissue and inflammation. Agarwal AK. Journal of Lipids 2014; article ID 182575: 8 pages. doi: 10.1155/2014/182575. Epub 2014 Feb 20.
  6. Neuroprotection by spice-derived nutraceuticals: you are what you eat! Kannappan R, et al. Molecular Neurobiology 2011; 44: 142–159.
  7. Anti-carcinogenic and Anti-bacterial Properties of Selected Spices: Implications in Oral Health. Ganjre A, et al. Clinical Nutrition Research 2015 Oct; 4(4): 209-215. doi: 10.7762/cnr.2015.4.4.209. Epub 2015 Oct 31.
  8. Diet and Inflammation. L Galland. Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2010 Dec; 25(6): 634-640.
  9. Some phytochemical, pharmacological and toxicological properties of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe): a review of recent research. Ali BH, et al. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2008; 46: 40920.
  10. Diet and Inflammation: A Link to Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases. K Esposito, D Giugliano. European Heart Journal 2006; 27, 15-20.
  11. Microbiome-mediated effects of the Mediterranean diet on inflammation. Bailey MA, Holscher HD. Advances in Nutrition 2018; 9: 193–206.

Recommended Reading

The 8 Best Foods for Your Heart 

The 8 Best Foods for Your Heart 

Vegetarians, omnivores and paleo-lovers alike can all protect their hearts by including suitable heart healthy foods from the following list more often.

Grilled Fish Tacos from Puesto

Grilled Fish Tacos from Puesto

Puesto’s Executive Chef, Katy Smith, shares her recipe for Grilled Fish Tacos with Melon Salsa. Make this light and flavorful recipe at home tonight!

Lose 50 lbs. the Safe Way

Lose 50 lbs. the Safe Way

Question:

What type of foods should I eat, and exercises should I do? I want to lose 50 lbs. safely. I’m 5’7″ and weigh 203 lbs. and I want to reduce my BMI. How can I stay motivated to workout consistently and hard?

– Kristy M.

Answer:

Since your height and weight don’t tell me anything about who you are, it’s difficult to say what foods you should eat. There are several approaches to weight loss. One is to start with what you already eat and reduce portions, say by 25%. Another is to calorie count and track your intake. You could also go vegetarian. But realistically, the plan you choose should match up with how you live and what you believe about food. I mean, telling you to cook steel cut oats if you dash out the door in 10 minutes each morning is a set-up for failure! I can say that nearly everyone could stand to eat more wholesome, unprocessed ‘clean’ plant-based foods and avoid fried food, candy, junk food, and soda.

I’d encourage you to work through our 90 Day Nutrition Plan to a Leaner You, laid out over three parts. #MoveMoreBurnMore

Motivation comes from within, but a repeating few mantras or sayings can help keep you focused:

  • Don’t shoot for perfection, just better or more than current.
  • “The only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen.”
  • Each bout of exercise brings you closer to your goal – sooner.

As far as working out hard, know that it takes a change to create a change – push yourself out of your comfort zone so your body is forced to adapt.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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Recommended Reading - Q+A

Hungry Post Workout Tips

Hungry Post Workout Tips

Question:

I recently started doing the boot camp class at LA Fitness and I noticed that I get very hungry after class. Any recommendations? I need to lose like 30 lbs., please help.

– Adela C.

Answer:

When your body tells you to EAT (now!) post-exercise, it certainly gets your attention! That hunger may be normal, though disruptive to weight loss efforts if you eat the energy equivalent of what you just burned. A small recovery snack such as a two-inch apple and tablespoon of peanut butter may do the trick. Base it on carbohydrates to replace spent fuel. A cup of dry cereal to munch on travels well. A single ounce granola bar is another convenient option. But if you’re planning on a meal in an hour or so, try to fill up on light fare such as air-popped popcorn, celery, rice cakes, and melon to stave off hunger until then.

Other tips include:

  • Depending on when you work out, consider boosting up your previous meal to give you the fuel you need for vigorous exercise.
  • If you’re exercising over an hour, switch from water to a simple sports drink during your exercise to keep blood sugar up.
  • Include some protein and healthy fat at the previous meal to promote satiety and help keep energy levels stable.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

6 + 11 =


Recommended Reading - Q+A

Our 12 Month Guide to Keeping Your Resolutions This Year! 

Our 12 Month Guide to Keeping Your Resolutions This Year! 

JANUARY 

Make a plan – You’re more likely to get things done if you know how, when, and where you’ll do them. Just saying you’ll do something isn’t enough. Identify the days, times and location of the activity. Make a contingency plan for when you’re short on time or money. 

FEBRUARY 

Go back to basics – Rely on the tried-and-true changes that make for success. Use what’s worked in the past rather than reinventing the wheel. Ask experts and professionals for their advice and read up on how most people accomplished the same goal. 

MARCH 

Make a list – Write out all the benefits to accomplishing your goal. Focus on the “pros” instead of the “cons.” Use these to push you when you don’t feel up to the taskKnowing what you’ll get out of it helps draw you to action. 

APRIL 

Track your progress – Log, chart or graph to keep the quantitative (intake, reps, weight, etc.) measures of your journey visual. Reference it daily as motivation and a reminder of your achievements. Remember that most advancements aren’t linear, so look at overall progress. 

MAY 

Get happy – Focus on the positive by identifying a small accomplishment each day. Believing in yourself may be the most important factor to success.* Recognizing small feats can give you the drive to accomplish larger ones. 

JUNE 

Recommit yourself – Pick yourself back up after a fall. Not everything goes according to plan (sigh). Having the resilience to get back to routine after a misstep is more important than not making any mistakes to begin with. 

JULY 

Avoid temptations  Be sure you’re not in a situation that could lead you astray. Ahem, not next to the buffet or on a comfy sofa. Choose environments in line with your goals so you can avoid the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” internal battle.  

AUGUST 

Reward yourself – When you hit a milestone, celebrate! (But not with something that will lead you to go in reverse 😊) Give yourself a pat on the back and something tangible, too. Perhaps make smaller weekly goals for a small pay-out, such as a magazine or video game. 

SEPTEMBER 

Reflect on your journey – How great did it feel to overcome the last challenge? Look at how far you’ve improved since starting. Like autumn, you are in a season of change that doesn’t happen all at once. Enjoy each step along your path. 

OCTOBER 

Call on friends for support – There is truly strength in numbers! Enlist a workout buddy or lunch pal to keep you on track. Even the verbal support of those close to you who aren’t physically nearby can lift you up and spur you to continue onward. 

NOVEMBER 

Try something new – Now is the time to break up your routine and keep things interesting. Let your curiosity get the better of you. Attempt a new class, sample a different product, taste a new cuisine or give an innovative method a shot, providing it’s in line with your goals. 

DECEMBER 

Remember why you started – Bring those reasons to the forefront of your priorities. Think of this month as the last sprint to the finish line! If you’re behind don’t throw in the towel but double-down on your efforts to surge ahead. 

Resource: 

  1. “How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions: Research explains what works best.” The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Learning. Psychology Today. Dec. 26, 2017. Accessed Dec. 10, 2018. 

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