By Udo Kim, Senior Manager, Expatriate Market Segment at Bumrungrad International Hospital
Heart-healthier eating means focusing on foods that are rich in nutrients and are prepared in healthier ways — choose grilled or broiled fish instead of deep-fried. It also means swapping so-called “bad” fats with “good” fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good, trans fats are bad, and saturated fats are in between.
Consider including these six foods as part of your heart-healthier nutrition and exercise regimen.
Oatmeal for breakfast: There is nothing fancy about oatmeal, but it’s still one of the heart-healthiest foods there is. The healthiest types of oatmeal are steel-cut oats (also known as Irish or Scotch oats; serving size 1/4 cup) and rolled oats (a.k.a. old-fashioned oats; serving size 1/2 cup). They are less processed and more nutritious compared to quick oats or instant oatmeal, which are slightly easier to prepare but often come loaded with added sugars and artificial flavors.
Along with their heart-healthy properties, steel-cut and rolled oats both score low on the glycemic index, which means they are particularly good choices for people with diabetes as they help maintain steady blood sugar levels without causing a spike like high-GI foods. Oatmeal’s high soluble fiber content will keep you feeling fuller for longer, keeps energy levels up, and helps promote healthy body weight.
Make spinach your new lettuce: Your salads will be heart-healthier and more nutritious if you replace the usual lettuce with spinach. Spinach has numerous antioxidants — vitamins A, C, and E, plus manganese, selenium, and zinc — that protect blood vessels and can lower your risk for high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Along with other dark green leafy vegetables, spinach is a good source of calcium, folate, iron, and potassium, has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and promotes healthier eyes and vision, too.
Salmon and fatty fish: Make your diet heart-healthier by including salmon and other “fatty” or “oily” fish — a reference to their higher fat-based nutrient content compared to other types of fish — including large fish like mackerel, trout, and tuna, as well as smaller fish like anchovies, herring, and sardines. Fatty fish are a good source of several types of vitamin B, vitamin D, protein, and selenium — a mineral that, in small amounts, helps fight inflammation and boost immunity.
Blueberries, fresh or frozen: Blueberries are one of the best-tasting foods and one of the heart-healthiest things you can eat. They have the highest concentration of antioxidants of any fruit, are fiber-rich, and have plenty of vitamin C. A one-cup daily serving of fresh or frozen blueberries has fewer than 100 calories and can help reduce inflammation of the artery walls, a major risk factor for heart attacks.
Broccoli enjoyed raw: Broccoli is full of heart-healthy nutrients, especially if you eat it raw rather than cooked. Along with vitamins A, B1, B6, C, E, and K, broccoli is an excellent source of dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, folate, iron, potassium, and protein. Studies of broccoli show that it aids the heart’s blood-pumping ability and may help reduce damage to heart during oxygen deprivation. It is also a good source of selenium and sulforaphane, both of which have anti-cancer properties.
Heart-healthy walnuts: Instead of snacking on potato chips or candy bars, go for the heart-healthiest of all nuts: the walnut. Almonds have been shown to lower the amount of LDL cholesterol — the so-called “bad” cholesterol that contributes to the build-up of plaque inside coronary arteries. Studies of pistachios have shown they offer potential benefits to your heart and may help moderate blood pressure under stress.
But walnuts appear to contribute the most toward heart health. First, they have been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Eating walnuts helps lower the amount of a compound called apolipoprotein B, a known risk factor for heart disease. Walnuts are protein-rich and high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — also called heart-healthy fats. A recent weight-loss study showed that including walnuts in one’s diet can help promote fat loss. If you aren’t eating them now, consider adding six to nine walnuts a day to your current nutrition regimen.
Udo Kim, Senior Manager, Expatriate Market Segment at International Bumrungrad International Hospital