Did you know that every 7 minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke? According to Statistics Canada, that translates into 206 people dying from cardiovascular disease and stroke every single day in this country! These are grim statistics.
We know that genetics play an important role in the risk of many diseases, including heart disease. But, what we also know is that genetics are not the whole story. There is, in fact, a very complex relationship between our genes, nutrition and lifestyle that is still not quite understood. What we do know for sure is that other than our environment, the way we eat, the way we think, the way we move, the way we live, all have a big impact on how our genes are expressed and on whether disease will strike.
Based on this, it's fair to assume that if you have a family history of heart disease, it does not necessarily mean that you are destined to get it. It simply means that you need to be more proactive when it comes to adopting positive lifestyle and nutritional habits. Lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, not taking life too seriously and abiding to a non-processed diet, full of anti-inflammatory goodness, can make a world of difference.
To get you started, here's a great list of foods to help reduce risk factors associated with heart disease:
Broccoli & Brussel Sprouts - Your mom told you to eat them and since moms are always right, it would be natural for these green goodies to be included on this list! They are low in cholesterol, very high in fibre, antioxidants and they help reduce inflammation in the cardiovascular system, while improving blood vessel health. So, there's no argument that they are good for your heart.
Avocados - We all love these. This fruit is loaded with monounsaturated fats which can help minimize blood cholesterol and blood clots.
Lentils - Other than reducing inflammation, this legume is very high in fibre, magnesium and folate, which can all help boost heart health while lowering blood pressure.
Dark chocolate - Not just any chocolate, but pure dark chocolate. Make sure that it's at least 70% cacao! Its flavonoids, which play a huge role in relaxing our arteries and increasing blood flow, will help with lowering our blood pressure.
Garlic - Garlic is that magical vegetable that is good for EVERYTHING! As far as heart health goes, it will reduce bad cholesterol and blood pressure while improving blood flow. Although raw garlic will reap the most benefits, you can still add it to all your soups, stews, veggie dishes, just make sure to add it towards the end of the cooking process so it retains its nutritional power.
Oranges - Orange you glad this fruit is on the list? We all know that its Vitamin C content is awesome for our colds during this cold season, but did you know that this fruit is also great for your heart? This is because of their pectin and potassium content. Pectin is a soluble fibre which blocks cholesterol absorption, and the potassium can help keep your blood pressure in check.
Olive Oil - The pure, extra-virgin type contains huge levels of good fats and antioxidants to help unclog your arteries. So, stir away from the 'vegetable' or canola oils and stick to this Mediterranean wonder instead!
Almonds & Walnuts - You know what they say: let's go nuts for nuts! Especially these ones. They are chock-full of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, Vitamin E, and folate, all of which promote a healthy heart. Preferably, enjoy them raw and unsalted.
Pumpkin seeds - Pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants, magnesium, zinc and fatty acids, all of which may help keep your heart happy. Some studies have even shown that pumpkin seed oil can help reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
Flax/Chia seeds - Can't say enough about these tiny, but oh-so-mighty seeds. Just one spoonful of this plant-based omega-3 powerhouse a day can help reduce bad cholesterol and plaque build-up. Add them to your smoothies, yogurt and salads.
Wild Salmon & Sardines - These are full of omega-3 fatty acids which help improve the metabolic markers for heart disease, while increasing "good" cholesterol. Sardines are also an excellent source of selenium, an antioxidant which boosts cardiovascular protection.
Berries - Berries, especially dark ones such as blueberries and blackberries, are packed with resveratrol (a polyphenol thought to reduce inflammation and lower LDL cholesterol) and flavonoids, which together help prevent coronary disease. Add them to your smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt and salads.
So, go ahead, eat to your heart's content!