Heart Healthy Everyday

Valentine’s Day always gets me thinking a lot about hearts. On paper, hearts are such a ubiquitous symbol of love and compassion but the hardcore fact is that our real hearts, the ones beating inside our chests, are mostly hurting. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women, globally. 1 in 4 people in the US will die from Heart Disease. Heart disease doesn’t care where you live, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re highly educated or not. Our genes certainly play a small role, however, if you have a family history of heart disease it’s far more likely that you share environmental, social and/or lifestyle risk factors than you do a bad heart.

According to pretty much every resource out there, smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet are the three major contributors to heart disease but let’s step back further... how do we actually get heart disease in the first place and more importantly, how do we prevent it?

It doesn’t just happen overnight. It happens very slowly over the course of your life. If you can, for a moment, think of your heart as if it were your teeth. Your teeth do amazingly important work each and every day, multiple times a day. Now imagine never brushing them.  When we eat the Standard American Diet (yes, it’s acronym is SAD, it’s quite telling really...) we’re consuming far more cholesterol than our bodies can handle. Over time that cholesterol builds up (one crappy meal at a time) within our blood vessels and slowly, over years and often decades begins to cause a plaque buildup within our arteries making it challenging for blood to flow properly to and from the heart. Now imagine that we get the majority of our food out of boxes, cans, and jars, perhaps we’re a little overweight and maybe we don’t get quite as much exercise as we should.

Some people catch their heart issues and are put on meds for the rest of their lives and still eventually die from complications of heart disease. Some people show very few symptoms and drop dead from sudden cardiac arrest. Most go in for invasive surgeries, then go about their lives much as they did before. A small, but growing, group discover the issue and actually do something proactive about it. We’re all going to die eventually but you can actually prevent yourself from dying of heart disease by making some long-term lifestyle changes. What’s more amazing, is that you can actually reverse it too!

 

The single most effective change a person can make to prevent and stop heart disease in its tracks is to switch to a plant-based diet.

 

Plant-based diet? Nah, give me the pills, the stents, and surgeries. Going plant-based is way too drastic!!!

A plant-based diet is centered around eating whole plant foods and grains which are naturally loaded with fiber, phytochemicals, nutrients, and vitamins. This is, as nature intended.

But, don’t be fooled - whilst many tout a vegan or vegetarian diet as being healthier than that of a carnivore - as far as disease is concerned, they’d be wrong. If you don’t eat meat and dairy but live on a diet of veggie burgers, fries, soy replacements, processed vegetable meals, refined grains, vegan cupcakes and almond milk ice cream smoothies, you’re still fighting the same health demons as your animal eating friend. Sorry. You may be more ethically advanced in the animal kingdom but your blood work, organ quality, and overall health will show very little difference, in fact, you may even be eating more processed food, which is worse for your overall health.

A true whole food plant-based diet is loaded with beans, berries, cruciferous veggies, greens, seeds and nuts, whole grains and as many other fresh fruits and vegetables as you can fit in. Flaxseeds and turmeric are considered daily requirements as are a couple supplements not found in plants, namely B12, D3 and Algae-Based DHA - plus herbal teas, water, and daily movement.

Top 10 Heart Healthy Plant-Based Foods

  1. Flaxseeds - Loaded with heart-healthy Omega-3 (good) fatty-acids and packed with phytonutrients. Everyone should be eating 1-2 tablespoons a day. Buy whole, grind as you need and throw it in your smoothie, top your avocado toast, sprinkle it into your oatmeal!

  2. Berries - a half a cup of fresh or frozen berries each day will set you up for life! They boost your immune system and keep your brain sharp too.

  3. Raw Nuts & Seeds - good, healthy fats actually reduce cholesterol levels and provide protein and energy all day. Chia, Pumpkin, Hemp, Almond, Walnuts, Brazil, Sunflower etc. Make a ¼ cup part of your daily habit. (Caveat: honey roasted peanuts don’t count nor do salty pistachios or candied pecans….)

  4. Veggies loaded with Carotenoids - carrots, sweet potatoes, red pepper, squash, tomatoes etc. Carotenoids empower our individual cells to fight off disease. * it's best to eat these foods with a little bit of healthy fat so they’re properly absorbed. Tahini, hemp seeds, avocado. Many of these fall under the "carbs" banner. Don't be afraid of good carbs. Sure, skip the fries, donuts, and bagels but don't leave out the good, beneficial carbs. They provide energy and keep us fuller for longer!

  5. Cruciferous Vegetables - a cup a day (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower) keeps heart disease at bay! Loaded with fiber they help the body rid itself of toxins before they enter the bloodstream and thus reduce inflammation which if you read my blog post about inflammation, you’ll know is the main source of all illness and disease in the body.

  6. Herbs & Spices - Turmeric (with black pepper), Cardamom, Ginger, Garlic, Thyme, Cumin, Cinnamon, in fact, most herbs and spices have healing qualities and should be used full force in cooking. Boost immunity, reduce inflammation and oxidation, inhibit abnormal cell growth, ease digestion etc. We could all (unless you have extraordinarily low blood pressure) use less salt, try using more herbs and spices!

  7. Whole Grains - An excellent source of dietary fiber which helps lower cholesterol levels and lowers the risk for heart disease. Whole Grains make us feel fuller longer and are loaded with other essential nutrients. The ingredient list should consist of one item. Oat, Brown Rice, Popcorn, Barley, Amaranth, Sorghum, Teff Whole Wheat Bulgur, Buckwheat etc. Grains have gotten a pretty bad rep these days with the popularity of diets like the paleo movement but small amounts of whole grains are very good for us and shouldn't be skipped.

  8. Beans & Legumes -  black beans, kidney beans, lentils etc. These fiber-filled, mineral-rich, protein-packed morsels of goodness are an essential key to a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat. They lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and oxidation, they help maintain healthy insulin levels and provide essential vitamins and minerals for the heart. A great way to reduce the gas effect is to eat beans with herbs like ginger, cumin & fennel or to soak dry beans overnight before cooking (try adding kombu to the pot too). The transition to eating more beans and legumes can be a challenge for some but after a few weeks, the sounds do lessen. 

  9. Dark Leafy Greens - Kale, Spinach & Collards. There’s a reason we’ve all been told to “eat your greens”. They really do work wonders for the body and provide so many essential vitamins and minerals along with fiber.

  10. Fresh Fruit - apples, melons, stone fruits, mango, papaya, kiwi etc. I speak to so many people who are afraid of eating too much fruit due to the sugar content. I say, bullshit! Fruit is so good for you. Eat it whole (not juiced - as you miss all of the healthy fiber) and eat it often. We should all aim for about 3 servings (about 3 cups) of whole fruit a day (in addition to the ½ cup of berries) for lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and overall weight maintenance.

Plants are loaded with phytochemicals. In layman's terms, phytochemicals are the essence of a plant, that which gives the plant its inner foundation and allows it to thrive, defend itself, withstand changes in temperature and various weather conditions. Phytochemicals come in various guises - polyphenols, carotenoids, lignans, anthocyanins, and flavonoids, to name but a few, all of which are transferred to us during consumption resulting in various health benefits.

ProTips:

  • When buying packaged goods, try to keep the mg’s of sodium lower than the calories per serving number on packaged foods. Ex. a 100 calorie snack pack with 140mg of sodium is too much salt, find a replacement with fewer than 100mg of sodium. 
  • When buying packaged goods, with "Whole Grain" claims - do your homework, look at the ingredient list. Is that whole grain the first ingredient? If not, skip it. Ingredient lists should be small, pronounceable and sugar should be as far down the list as possible, if there at all. Whole Grain Coco Puffs are not good for you!!
  • Not all foods agree with all people. If you feel uncomfortable after eating something, note it down. Keep track of what brings on that feeling and when. Listening to your body is such a major part of living a healthy life. 

What I love most about a plant-based diet is that its benefits come from all the foods you do eat versus most other diets that claim benefits by virtue of what you avoid.

But this isn’t a diet. It's not a quick fix. It’s a lifestyle choice. I choose to eat all of these incredible foods found in nature because they fuel me, keep me healthy and are part of our truly sustainable, natural ecosystem..

Stop stressing about what you shouldn’t eat and start loading up on all of the incredible foods that do your body good. Focus on the positive and bask in the goodness of it all. Perhaps instead of following our hearts, we can lead our hearts in the direction that we know serve us best.

Looking for a little Heart Healthy meal inspiration for the ones you love?

Try pairing my Avocado Kale Hemp Pesto with your favorite Whole Grain staple (pasta, quinoa, rice, millet, barley etc) and serve with a simple side salad. For dessert how about some Black Bean Brownies with Cashew Cream (it's Valentine’s Day after all…)

Will you be my heart healthy Valentine? Ready to bring more plants into your life? Schedule a free 30 minute consultation with me today!