Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in adult Canadians, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The good news about heart disease is that it is largely preventable.
The heart is a muscle designed to circulate blood throughout our body. Like any muscle it benefits from regular exercise. A healthy and active lifestyle will help keep the heart strong.
We can also have a huge impact on our heart’s health by choosing foods that encourage circulation, are low in unhealthy fats, and reduce the amount of cholesterol circulating in our arteries.
The French factor
Several years ago the popular American television show 60 Minutes ran a segment about the “French Paradox.” How was it, they wondered, that France, a nation whose inhabitants consumed a diet much higher in saturated fats, could have a lower incidence of fatalities from heart disease than North America?
A moderate consumption of alcohol, especially red wine with its healthy flavonoids including resveratrol and quercitin, was singled out. Initial studies on these compounds in the diet have been promising, and there are indications these flavonoids can help reduce blood pressure, increase coronary blood flow, decrease levels of unhealthy LDL, and increase levels of healthy HDL.
It makes more sense, however, to compare overall diet and lifestyle between the French and North Americans than to pin it all on a single factor such as red wine consumption. Important contributing factors in the French diet included lower sugar intake, more portions per week of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, less red meat, and lower incidence of between-meal snacks.
The French diet also incorporated more portions of healthy foods such as legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, eaten at a more leisurely pace at mealtime.
Key foods for heart health
Certain foods are useful for improving blood circulation, hot peppers, for instance. Other circulation boosters include members of the Allium family such as garlic and onions; spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; and the Brassica family, including mustard greens, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and collards.
Soluble fibre is also very important for heart health, as it binds to bile in the intestinal tract so it can be eliminated from the body through normal digestion. In order for the body to make more bile, it must take cholesterol from the bloodstream thus keeping our blood levels lower. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and oat bran are rich in soluble fibre and research has indicated that regular daily consumption could help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Try the following recipes to up your intake of heart-healthy foods.