Heal Your Heart with Food
By Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RD
8 Foods that help prevent a second heart attack

If you’re one of the 13 million Americans who have survived a heart attack or have been diagnosed with heart disease, take heart. You can take control of your heart health with the knowledge that certain foods have been shown to quell inflammation, which is the root cause of plaque buildup in the arteries. What’s the food prescription? Science has proven that the Mediterranean diet is the gold standard of heart-healthy eating and can reduce the risk of a second heart attack by up to 70 percent. The secret is simply to add in eight key anti-inflammatory food groups, a couple of supplements, and a short walk to your daily routine. That’s it! Together, they can significantly prevent—even reverse—heart disease. Here’s a list of the top artery-healing foods:

Greens and Other Vegetables. Red, ripe, and juicy; dark green and leafy; bright orange and crunchy. This exquisite rainbow of colors is Mother Nature’s medicine chest—truly the class of foods that keeps our arteries healthy and clean. When you think salads, go for the “greens.” Spinach, for example, is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth—so nix the iceberg and make this veggie your salad green of choice. Red-purple vegetables such as radicchio, red beets, and eggplant contain powerful pigments that protect the heart by bumping up its production of a natural antioxidant called glutathione. Eat like an artist and try to consume at least five colorful veggies every day.

Oatmeal and other Whole Grains. Oats are a highly nutritious whole grain filled with beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that soaks up cholesterol and pushes it through the digestive system so that it’s not absorbed. Oats also contain a unique antioxidant that counteracts the destructive and atherosclerosis-inducing damage of unstable free radicals. Aim for getting in at least three servings of whole grains every day.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Extracted from olives by crushing and pressing the whole fruit, olive oil is a golden elixir brimming with potent inflammation-suppressing antioxidants called polyphenols, as well as a nice dose of monounsaturated fat—the heart-healing kind of fat that reduces “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Make this your main fat (use in marinades and sauces, dress salads and flavor vegetables with it), and be sure you purchase olive oil with the words “extra virgin” on the label. This ensures that the oil has not been subjected to nutrient-robbing heat and chemicals.

Figs and Other Fruits. An apple a day may keep the doctor away but a fig a day keeps the cardiologist away. Figs and other fruits are rich in fiber, vitamins, and potassium and contain an extraordinary array of plaque-fighting polyphenols. Substitute fruit for fat in baking, sprinkle dried fruit on salads, add fresh fruit to smoothies, and try hot baked fruit for a delicious desert. Aim for at least three servings of fruit every day.

Walking. Walking is one of the simplest, safest, and least expensive health-promoting strategies. Walking each day protects the heart by increasing the size of “bad” cholesterol particles (bigger is better), increasing the amount of “good” cholesterol, decreasing inflammation, and targeting dangerous belly fat. Walking longer distances frequently is the best exercise prescription.

Salmon and Other Seafood. Fatty fish that swim in the deep cold waters of the sea—such as salmon, halibut, and sardines—contain a large amount of the ultra heart-healthy omega-3 marine fats, DHA and EPA. Fish oil stabilizes plaque, reduces risk of sudden death, lowers triglyceride level, and reduces inflammation. Fish oil has been shown to rev up the body’s ability to dissolve blood clots that can precipitate a heart attack by sealing off plaque-filled arteries. Aim for at least two fatty fish meals per week, and avoid fish high on the mercury scale: swordfish, marlin, shark, and tilefish.

Walnuts and Flaxseeds. Yes, walnuts and flaxseeds are high in fat but it’s the good fat: the vegetarian omega-3 fat called ALA. Walnuts are also one of the best sources of vitamin E (an antioxidant that helps keep cholesterol from building up in plaque), and they’re also high in fiber. Top fat-free Greek yogurt with a few walnuts for a snack, and add walnuts to salads, casseroles, and baked goods. Flaxseeds are another wonderful plant source of omega-3 anti-inflammatory fats, a plus in countering the inflammatory disorder atherosclerosis. Add ground flaxseeds to morning oatmeal, pancakes, and baked goods.

Pinot Noir and Other Red Wine. Red wine is good for the heart. The deep garnet color is a clue that this “drink of the ages” is loaded with flavonoids (potent polyphenol antioxidants) as well as the vital antioxidant resveratrol. One important caveat: Moderation is the magic word, which means no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine a day for women and two for men.

Lentils and other Legumes. A versatile low-fat plant protein, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are full of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals and one of the best sources of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Lentils are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially iron—and all this for pennies on the dollar. Soy, another legume, is a near-perfect protein choice and great alternative to animal protein. Soy also exhibits a strong antioxidant capacity, linked with decreased inflammation of the arteries. To get your daily dose of legumes, substitute soy milk for cow’s milk; eat legume-based soups and chiles; toss lentils into pasta sauce; try hummus (made with chickpeas) as a dip with raw veggies; or sprinkle kidney beans on your salad.

Bonus Food! Dark Chocolate. Isn’t this great nutrition news? Dark chocolate—high in nonalkaline-processed cocoa solids—is packed with heart-healthy nutrients and has been shown to lower inflammation in the arteries as well as reduce blood pressure. Try a nightly cup of rich hot chocolate—made with 2 heaping tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, light soy milk, and a touch of natural sweetener. Or enjoy a small amount of dark chocolate (eat it by the piece, not the pound!) every day.

Adopting these simple steps into your day is a scientifically proven effective means to prevent and even reverse heart disease. No need to follow an austere diet plan that banishes your favorite foods forever. This easy lifestyle advice ensures that you will be satisfied, rather than deprived, as you (or your loved one) eat your way to better heart health. Take this advice to heart, as it will give you the knowledge, skills, and confidence to make simple but life-changing modifications to reverse your disease and live long and live well. As Hippocrates so wisely counseled centuries ago, “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food,” and “Walking is man’s best medicine.”

Top 5 Nutrition Supplements for Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease

Not all supplements are created equally when it comes to treating and reversing plaque buildup. Here are five heart-saving supplements that should be in every heart attack survivor’s medicine chest:

  1. Niacin. This B vitamin possesses the greatest capacity of all drugs currently available to boost your (good) HDL cholesterol. The dosage ranges from 500 mg to 3 g per day. Niacin can cause an unpleasant flushing of the skin, which may last about an hour. Be aware that only niacin, not niacinamide (often used in flush-free forms), promotes healthy cholesterol levels. Try: Doctor’s Best Real Niacin.
  2. Vitamin D3. Research suggests that low vitamin D status is associated with poor cardiovascular health. Many scientists believe optimum vitamin D levels are between 35 and 40 ng/mL. Take at least 1,000 IU daily. Certain fish oil products are naturally rich in vitamin D. Try: North American Herb & Spice PolarPower.
  3. Fish oil. If consuming 1 g of omega-3s daily from eating fatty fish—the amount in approximately 3.5 ounces of salmon—is not in the cards for you, consider taking a fish oil supplement. Even if you eat fish regularly, fish oil supplements are a smart addition to any health regimen. Use only molecularly distilled products. Try: Nature’s Way Fisol Fish Oil.
  4. Plant sterols. Phytosterols, a plant’s version of cholesterol, are highly effective in reducing (bad) LDL cholesterol because they are absorbed into the intestinal cells in lieu of cholesterol. When it comes to reversing heart disease—the lower the LDL cholesterol, the better. Try: Wakunaga ModuChol.
  5. Psyllium seed husk. Psyllium husk is one of the most potent LDL cholesterol-lowering agents there is. An added benefit is that it promotes a healthy digestive tract, too. Follow label instructions with fiber products, and be sure to drink plenty of water. Consider taking away from food for optimal absorption. Try: Enzymatic Therapy Fiber Fusion Plus, Daily Cleansing Fiber.



Janet Bond Brill, PhD, is a registered dietitian, licensed nutritionist, and the author of Cholesterol Down:10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in 4 Weeks—Without Prescription Drugs and the new book, Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease. She is a nationally recognized nutrition, health, and fitness expert, specializing in cardiovascular disease prevention. Visit DrJanet.com or PreventaSecondHeartAttack.com.
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