These 9 foods, and drinks could keep your heart going strong

Heart disease is a killer. It’s the leading cause of death for men and women, killing 610,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Heart disease kills more people in the United States than cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidents combined,” said Dr. Elizabeth Ziemann, an Aurora Health Care family medicine physician. “Some of the biggest risk factors for heart disease are things you have some control over – high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.”

The American Heart Association says almost half of all Americans have at least one of the key risk factors for heart disease. Here’s the good news: There is a lot you can do to give yourself better odds to avoid heart disease – or improve your health if you’ve already developed it.

The list should sound familiar: stop smoking, lose weight, get more active and control cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes.

Much of that can be accomplished with food. That’s right, you can eat your way to better heart health.

“Lifestyle changes, like adjusting your diet, can influence whether you develop heart disease, even if you have some genetic factors,” Ziemann said. “Certain foods can help control cholesterol or help reduce blood pressure. Adding these foods to your diet are an easy step that can maximize your heart health.”

Here are nine food or types of foods that can actively reduce heart disease risks:
  • Unsaturated fats – Omega 3 fatty acids are the best unsaturated fats. They can be found in salmon and sardines, as well as ground flax seed and oil, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans.
  • Real purple grape juice or red wine – Antioxidants in the grape skin provide the benefit. Consult with your doctor before adding these to your diet.
  • Potassium – This mineral helps lower blood pressure. Some of the best sources are avocado, spinach, sweet potato, coconut water, banana, acorn squash and mushrooms.
  • Garlic – Crushed garlic leads to reduced production of cholesterol. The recommended dose is 1-3 cloves daily.
  • Cocoa – Unprocessed cocoa, found in dark chocolate, helps reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow. Recommended dose is 1 to 4 tablespoons of cocoa daily.
  • Plant Stanol and Sterol Esters – Phytosterols are proven to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Soy milk and cereals contain small amounts, but food alone is generally not enough. Look for spreads like Benecol.
  • Soy – This legume can reduce LDL cholesterol by about 3 percent. Supplements are not helpful. Food sources like tofu, edamame, soy milk and soy cheese are best.
  • Nuts – Small amounts of nuts can be part of a weight loss diet. They are high calorie, so be careful with portion size – just a small handful daily.
  • Soluble fiber – Roughage absorbs cholesterol and reduces blood sugar. Sources are fruits and vegetables, oatmeal and oat cereal and supplements like Metamucil.

Be sure to discuss dietary changes with your doctor before starting a new diet or adding supplements. Want to know your risk for heart disease? 

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