A healthy heart has a lot to do with a healthy diet, and summer is the perfect time to load up on fresh fruits and vegetables that not only taste delicious but also provide oodles of benefits for this important organ. Here are six fruits that might surprise you with their heart-healthy benefits, plus one remarkable veggie you may want to get to know a little better—for your heart’s sake!
- Blueberries (and Strawberries)
Nutrient-rich blueberries contain a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol that has been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels and protect against artery damage. And their heart health benefits are even greater when paired with strawberries, according to a recent Harvard Medical School Study. The study found that eating more blueberries and strawberries was associated with a 34% lower risk of heart attack.
Loaded with fiber, potassium and beneficial vitamins, the papaya is a powerful ally when it comes to promoting healthy cardiovascular function. The good stuff in papayas supports healthy blood cholesterol levels and may help reduce the buildup of fat in your arteries which can ultimately lead to a heart attack. In addition, papayas contain a nutrient called choline that helps reduce chronic inflammation, which has been shown to contribute to heart disease and poor health.
The tomato is one of few foods that contain lycopene—an antioxidant belonging to the carotenoid family. According to the National Institutes of Health and other sources, lycopene supports the blood vessels surrounding the heart and has been associated with heart disease prevention and a lower risk of stroke. Tomatoes are also rich in beta-carotene, folate, potassium, flavonoids, vitamin C and vitamin E, which together promote healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Did you know that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just one cup of watermelon has 1.5 times the amount of lycopene as a single large tomato? It has to do with its red color, and experts say watermelon plays an important role in the fight against heart disease. Experts recommend storing it at room temperature before slicing to get the most antioxidant benefits.
When it comes to nutrients that are good for the heart, the banana has quite a few—including fiber, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6. In studies, bananas have been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels and improve cardiovascular health, as well as significantly lower risk of death from heart disease and stroke. Bananas are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, which supports healthy cholesterol levels.
They may require a little extra work when it comes to cooking and preparation, but artichokes are well worth it for their heart health benefits. This unique veggie is chock full of potassium, which studies have shown helps maintain normal heart rhythm as well as promote healthy blood pressure. In addition, the natural plant nutrients in artichokes promote healthy cholesterol and help reduce the risk of stroke, studies have shown.
So as you wrap up your shopping list in anticipation of your next trip to the market, plan on adding at least two or three of these fruits and veggies to your weekly menu. Look for recipes and snacking ideas online, and enjoy a heart-healthy summer!
Eating right is one of the most important things you can do for the health of your body, but sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good for you and what’s not—especially when it comes to a little thing called fats. The most important thing to know here is that not all fats are bad, as many of us have been led to believe. There are, in fact, healthy fats like the Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (along with some nuts, seeds and veggies), but on the same note there are also some not-so-healthy fats—the most notorious of which are trans fats.
Why are Trans Fats so Bad?
Trans fats are essentially unsaturated oils that have been treated with hydrogen so that the oil becomes solid and more stable at room temperature. Many margarines, shortenings, fried foods and processed foods (think baked goods, pizza dough, cookies, crackers and snack foods) are high in trans fats, and studies have shown that these unhealthy fats can wreak havoc on the body. According to the American Heart Association,
“Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.” i
Don’t Trust the Label
Did you know that foods labeled “no trans fat” can legally contain a certain amount of trans fats? It’s true. Manufacturers are allowed to round down anything less than 0.5 g of trans fat—something to keep in mind when you think you’re eating a trans fat-free food. (You could actually be consuming more of these unhealthy fats than you think.) Though new label changes may be on the horizon, to be on the safe side always check your food labels and avoid anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils.
3 Quick Tips for Eating Fats
- Eat more monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil) and Omega-3 fats. These unsaturated fats contribute to the fluidity of cell membranes, as well as to the regulation of inflammatory response—all health-promoting actions.
- Be sure to eat saturated fats in moderation. Even better, obtain your saturated fats from coconut oil, a medium-chain saturated fat considered a healthy saturated fat due to its shorter chain length and rapid metabolism.
- Eat fats along with veggies. A recent study found that the carotenoid nutrients (beta carotene is a carotenoid) found in salads were best absorbed when eaten in combination with monounsaturated fats as opposed to saturated or even polyunsaturated fats. If you’ve been passing on the salad dressing because you want to cut down on fat, you’re better off adding fat—opt for a vinaigrette made with olive oil.
And always remember that fat is a nutrient—not the enemy! Just be sure to choose the right fats.