Shannon Center Weekly Nutrition Tip – Heart-Healthy Foods

Support your cardiovascular health by adding these five foods to your diet this February and all year round. Your heart will love you for it!

Beets: Looks like a heart, works for your heart. Beets pack tons of nitrates that help expand veins and arteries when converted to nitric oxide in the body, letting blood and oxygen flow more easily. In one study, middle-agers with hypertension saw an 8 – 11% drop in blood pressure from drinking one cup beet juice compared to others drinking water. Beets also contain betalains, phytochemicals that may help tame LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Tomatoes: You say tomato; we say “let’s eat!” Tomatoes are a wonderful source of lycopene, potassium, flavonoids, and vitamin C – all nutrients that may help keep your ticker ticking. A study from Tufts University found people who got the most lycopene in their diets, primarily from tomato sauce and fresh or canned tomatoes, saw a 26% reduction in coronary heart disease risk and 17% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Try Shakshuka, a spicy tomato sauce with poached egg whites, which uses tomato paste, possibly the most bioavailable source of lycopene in the diet.

Apples: Could an apple a day really keep the doctor away? British researchers say maybe. According to their study, prescribing an apple a day to everyone over age 50 is likely to reduce the annual number of heart-related deaths just as well as if everyone were prescribed statins, medication that can lower cholesterol (and apples are much tastier). Apples contain health-promoting nutrients such as quercetin, which has been shown in studies to help lower blood pressure, and other phytochemicals linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cocoa: No wonder Valentine’s Day and chocolate go hand in hand. Cocoa is packed with heart-healthy antioxidants like catechin and epicatechin and also contains a little fiber. According to research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in 2014, the real chocolate power comes from good bacteria in the gut: friendly microbes such as lactic acid bacteria also snack on cocoa and ferment it, producing anti-inflammatory compounds that may lessen inflammation and reduce risk of stroke. Choose dark chocolate varieties with at least 70% cocoa to treat your heart decadently right.

Strawberries: In a study from the University of Toronto, patients at risk for heart disease saw a 13% drop in LDL (bad) cholesterol after adding three cups of strawberries to their diets. Strawberries are loaded with vitamin C and manganese, both nutrients that can help fight free radicals, which can be damaging to the heart. Dark chocolate covered strawberries, anyone? – See more at Dole.com.