Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in this country. You would think a lifestyle that could dramatically reduce these deaths would be big news. Yet the most effective remedy is so simple that most people can't seem to believe it works. What is that lifestyle… it is actually very simple… proper diet and exercise. The last part of that puzzle is not smoking.
Statins, the most effective single medications for reducing heart disease, only cut risk by 25 to 30 percent. In fact, you would need a cabinet full of prescription drugs to bestow all the benefits of a serious heart-healthy meal plan. There's nothing a drug can do for your heart health that foods can't do, too.
Hippocrates understood the concept more than 2,000 years ago: "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food." In that spirit, here are the top foods for the heart. But this list is only a beginning. A truly healthy diet features a broad range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, not just a select few.
Oranges contain a pharmacy's worth of salves for the heart. The soluble fiber pectin acts like a giant sponge, sopping up cholesterol in food and blocking its absorption--just like a class of drugs known as bile acid sequestrants. And the potassium in oranges helps counterbalance salt, keeping blood pressure under control.
But new research shows something even more startling: Citrus pectin helps neutralize a protein called galectin-3 that causes scarring of heart tissue, leading to congestive heart failure, a condition that is often difficult to treat with drugs.
Pectin is contained in the pulp and pith. You'll get more of it in juice with pulp. Or better yet, eat your oranges.
You need to consume dark leafy greens. Kale has everything you would want in a superfood. For starters, kale boasts a bumper crop of heart-healthy antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin E. It's also rich in lutein, which correlated in the Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study with protection against early atherosclerosis.
Research suggests that, much like the ACE inhibitor drugs that fight high blood pressure, garlic ratchets down an enzyme called angiotensin, which constricts blood vessels. Though the effect is modest compared with medications, garlic seems to have a significant impact on the buildup of plaque.
The Kuna Indians off the coast of Panama have enviably low blood pressure, and unlike the rest of us, they don't develop hypertension as they age. When Harvard cardiologist Dr. Norman Hollenberg set out to unravel their secret, he assumed they carried some rare genetic trait. Instead he found they drink enormous quantities of minimally processed cocoa. They are rich in compounds called flavanols, which improve blood vessel flexibility. We can all get them from chocolate, a few squares a day. Dark chocolate is likely to have more, because it starts with a higher cocoa content, but that's no guarantee, since different processing methods can destroy them.
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