Bijal Dave, M.D., is a family physician specializing in diet-oriented treatment of chronic diseases and a medical staff member at Atlantic Health System’s Hackettstown Medical Center and Newton Medical Center
Q. What foods are good for my heart?
A. A heart-healthy diet is not only good for our heart but also for our waistline and our pockets in the long term. Eating certain foods on a regular basis can certainly reduce the risk of heart disease.
1. Turmeric — The yellow spice that gives Indian curries its distinct color has been known for its medicinal properties in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years. Science is now backing up that curcumin, turmeric’s active compound, has plethora of health benefits.
a. It can benefit the heart in multiple ways. It has heavy duty antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet activity, which means it not only lowers inflammatory changes that are the root cause of heart disease, but it also acts as a blood thinner, which prevents clot formation in heart disease. It also helps in repair of cardiac muscle after a cardiac event occurs. Patients who have irregularity of cardiac muscle, known as cardiac arrhythmia, will benefit by regular intake of curcumin, as curcumin helps with regulation of calcium homeostasis in heart muscle which causes cardiac arrhythmias.
b. It is also helpful in patients who have already gone through heart surgery. Curcumin supplementation at certain amounts will reduce ischemia (i.e. reduced blood supply), injury or inflammation to the already-affected heart muscle.
c. Curcumin has super antioxidant activity is comparable to vitamin C and vitamin E and it also helps with improving blood flow through vessels. It is especially helpful in diabetics to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular complications such as heart failure. Curcumin extracts that contain black pepper have also been shown to reduce the LDL or bad cholesterol. Add turmeric to your foods or take a good quality curcumin extract daily to improve your heart health.
2. Fish – high in omega-3s such as Atlantic mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, trout and cod liver oil should be consumed at least thrice weekly for optimum heart benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure slightly, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk and reduce irregular heartbeats.
3. Nuts – Walnuts, almonds, pistachios … munch on a handful of them, a couple of times a week and you will be doing the old ticker a big favor. In addition to packing a protein punch, nuts are great sources of PUFAs and MUFAs, which help lower the bad cholesterol. They are also rich in fiber and plant sterols, which reduces cholesterol; vitamin E, which helps reduce the development of plaque in arteries; and L-argininie, which improves the flexibility of arterial walls, thereby reducing incidence of narrowing and less prone to blood clots.
4. Berries – Berries are chock full of heart healthy phytonutrients such as polyphenols and fiber, which are very helpful in preventing heart disease. They have a heavy dose of antioxidants, which makes them a sweet medicine indeed for prevention of cardiac disease.
5. Chia seeds – ground flax seeds and hemps seeds in that order are omega-3 powerhouses and should be consumed on a daily basis. Just add them to your salad, smoothie or cereal to ensure optimal heart health.