There are many daily lifestyle choices that offer tremendous protection, including regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight and – very importantly – consuming a balanced diet rich in heart-protective nutrients. The actions you take every day are especially important if you have a family history of heart disease or diabetes.
According to the American Heart Association, the best foods for boosting cardiovascular health are fresh, whole, unprocessed options like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and cold-water fish such as salmon. Since no one eats perfectly, increasing your intake of key vitamins and minerals through high-quality nutritional supplements – along with healthy meals whenever possible – is a clever, effective strategy. Here are some of the most important heart-friendly nutrients:
• Folic acid (along with vitamins B6 and B12) helps reduce dangerous levels of homosysteine, an amino acid produced when you digest animal protein found in meat, fish and dairy. Although some homocysteine is normal, nearly 25 percent of Americans have excessively high levels. The healthiest food sources are dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale; and parsley; whole grains, soy products like tofu and soy milk, and eggs.
• Niacin helps increase HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. In fact, niacin – a simple B vitamin – appears to be the most effective drug available for raising HDL cholesterol, though it comes with a temporary warm flush at moderately high doses. The healthiest food sources are fish, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, beans and green leafy vegetables.
• Vitamin E has been shown to improve the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol, lowering triglyceride levels and reducing the accumulation of fatty arterial plaques. The healthiest food sources are sunflower seeds, almonds and olives. Be sure you purchase the natural form – d-alpha-tocopherol – not the synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol.
• Selenium offers powerful antioxidant protection that works in conjunction with vitamin E to support and promote a healthy heart. The healthiest food sources are Brazil nuts, fish, whole grains and soy foods.
• Magnesium helps to lower total cholesterol plus bad cholesterol and triglycerides while raising artery-clearing good cholesterol. The healthiest food sources are 100 percent bran cereal, halibut, spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds, split peas, beans and soy foods.
• Chromium has been shown to raise good cholesterol and lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The healthiest food sources are romaine lettuce, broccoli and raw onions.
Practicing a diet of whole foods and regularly incorporating the right nutrients can offer powerful – and natural – heart protection. Here’s to your health!