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The heart is considered, by some, to be not only the most important organ in the human body but the very seat of the soul. From a strictly analytical point of view, the heart is merely a pump composed of muscle. BUT it’s a pump that affects every inch of our anatomy.
The heart is responsible for delivering vital nutrients and materials – such as oxygen and glucose, calcium and more – to where they are needed while removing waste products that the body does not. So, whether the heart is truly the abode of the soul or merely a pump, we owe it to ourselves to do whatever is necessary to protect and improve the state of this vital organ. And one of the most effective ways to improve heart function is through diet.
Foods that Improve Heart Health
Not surprisingly, the best foods for heart health are whole foods. These foods not only keep LDL cholesterol in the normal range while boosting HDL cholesterol. Such foods also improve blood flow and prevent the kind of overzealous blood clotting that leads to heart attacks and strokes.
Foods that lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL)
- Oats and oat sprouts
- Bean sprouts
- Apples (and all pectin-rich foods)
- Nuts (all)
- Sunflower seeds
- Citrus fruits
These are just some of the foods that can help decrease LDL cholesterol levels. All foods rich in Stanols and Sterols will help to lower LDL cholesterol to normal levels. And all plant foods – fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds, and grains – contain these nutrients. Some more than others.
There are processed foods fortified with stanols and sterols, but not everyone believes these are a good option. The American Heart Association only suggests these types of fortified foods for those who have had a heart attack or need to lower their LDL cholesterol levels. Many experts agree that it is best to get stanols and sterols from their natural source.
“Whole foods offer a complex combination of nutrients that work together in ways we don’t fully understand.”1
Sterols and stanols block the body’s ability to absorb cholesterol from foods, which decreases the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Multiple studies have established the ability of plant sterols and stanols to decrease blood cholesterol levels by more than 10% when combined with a generally healthy diet and physical fitness. One study, published in 2003, demonstrated that consuming sterols and stanols rich foods, in addition to taking statin drugs, increased the effectiveness of the drugs.
“Effects are additive with diet or drug interventions: eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in stanols or sterols can reduce LDL by 20%; adding sterols or stanols to statin medication is more effective than doubling the statin dose.”2
Foods that improve blood flow and prevent blood clots
There are many foods that can improve circulation, blood viscosity, and prevent clots. Some of these foods contain relatively large amounts of a specific nutrient that has proven useful, while others are considered natural medicines due to their unique chemical makeup.
We will start our list with the only food that is a natural source of bromelain, followed by three of nature’s tastiest herbs.
Vitamin E rich foods
- Sunflower seeds
- Butternut Squash
Omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brussels sprouts
Pineapples are great for heart health because they contain bromelain, and bromelain breaks down fibrin – a blood-clotting protein that acts as a vascular spackling paste to cover wounds and prevent hemorrhaging but can impede good circulation and prevent tissues from draining properly. Excessive fibrin production (coagulation cascade) is the main cause of thrombosis, heart attack, and stroke.
Foods like ginger, garlic, and turmeric are also great for controlling this dangerous condition because they act as anti-coagulants. In the case of garlic, studies have shown that the anticoagulant effect can last for days after the last time one consumes it. For this reason, these foods are not recommended for those taking prescription blood thinners.
You should also keep in mind that only non-irradiated garlic has health benefits. Some stores sell irradiated garlic so that it will last longer, without sprouting, on the shelves. It’s easy to tell if garlic has been irradiated or not: Remove any clove from its bulb and cut it open. If there is a little sprout in the deep inner core then you have non-irradiated garlic. If there’s no sprout, only an empty sheath or mush, then the garlic has been irradiated and has no health benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E are both natural blood thinners. They improve circulation as well as prevent excess clotting. And by consuming these nutrients through food, instead of taking supplements, one needn’t worry about getting too much and over thinning the blood, which could cause the opposite problem – hemorrhaging, due to a lack of blood-clotting factors and/or too thinned blood.
There are other factors that affect heart health, of course. Genetics, weight, and lifestyle figure prominently in whether or not one’s heart will beat longer and well. And while there is nothing any of us can do about our genetic inheritance, maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing stress, exercising and even drinking more water are useful tools for improving one’s heart function and longevity. That said, there is simply no substitute for a balanced whole food diet.
If you have any questions or comments on this topic, comment below or tweet me on Twitter.
1Griffin, R. Morgan. “The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Plant Sterols and Stanols”. WebMD, n.d. Web. April 2018
2MB Katan, Ph.D., SM Grundy, MD, Ph.D., et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Plant Stanols and Sterols in the Management of Blood Cholesterol Levels”. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, August 2003. Web. April 2018
“Lower Your Cholesterol with Plant Sterols and Stanols”. Joslin Diabetes Center, n.d. Web. April 2018
MB Katan, Ph.D., SM Grundy, MD, Ph.D., et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Plant Stanols and Sterols in the Management of Blood Cholesterol Levels”. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, August 2003. Web. April 2018
Griffin, R. Morgan. “The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Plant Sterols and Stanols”. WebMD, n.d. Web. April 2018
R Pavan, S Jain, et al. “Properties and Therapeutic Application of Bromelain: A Review”. Biotechnology Research International, 2012. Web. April 2018
Tworek, Danielle C. “Turmeric to Dissolve Blood Clots”. Livestrong, August 14, 2017. Web. April 2018
Carson, Tara. “Herbs for Dissolving Blood Clot”. Livestrong, August 14, 2017. Web. April 2018
Tremblay, Sylvie, MSC. “List of Blood-Thinning Foods”. Livestrong, August 14, 2017. Web. April 2018