February is heart-health month, so it's a great time to focus on your cardio awareness. And what better way to boost heart health than with delicious, and nutritious, real foods? Here are 10 to try.
Contain polyphenols — antioxidants associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke — and can protect against hardening of the arteries. In one study, people who drank cranberry juice showed significant improvements in blood flow and arterial stiffness.
Try this: Add chopped raw cranberries and walnuts to tuna salad; purée unsweetened cranberry juice, chopped basil, and honey, then strain and serve over ice as a mocktail; top baked sweet potatoes with dried cranberries and chopped pecans.
Is packed with antioxidants that reduce the risk of blood clots and help blood vessels relax; green tea also improves HDL and LDL cholesterol ratios, and some studies show that drinking two cups per day can lower heart disease risk by 25 percent.
Try this: Blend matcha (green tea powder), coconut milk, and frozen bananas; brew it strong with slices of ginger, then use the liquid to cook rice; grind tea leaves in a spice mill and combine with herbs for a seasoning blend.
Are high in omega-3 fats that lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other types of cardiovascular disease, and can decrease the risk of death from coronary artery disease by as much as 50 percent. Plus they're high in protein, and studies show that eating adequate protein lowers heart disease risk by as much as 26 percent. Other fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and herring, have the same effect.
Try this: Broil sardines with lemon and garlic; toss sardines, grated cheese, and chopped parsley with cooked pasta; make sardine (instead of tuna) salad.
Is high in beneficial compounds that prevent narrowing of the arteries, reduce cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, and studies show that a glass per day of grapefruit juice can protect against heart disease. Pink grapefruit also contains lycopene, another heart-healthy antioxidant. If you're taking heart medication, statin drugs, or other prescriptions, ask your doctor-grapefruit may interact with these medications.
Try this: Halve a grapefruit, sprinkle lightly with brown sugar, and broil; make a salad from grapefruit sections, blackberries, and Belgian endive leaves; mix grapefruit juice, sparkling water, and a splash of rosewater for an easy mocktail.
Did You Know?
Grapefruit is a great source of lycopene, a heart-healthy antioxidant that also helps protect against prostate cancer.
Are an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces lipid peroxidation, lowering the risk of atherosclerosis. Lycopene and other unique compounds in tomatoes, including esculeoside A and 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid, also lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, and reduce blood triglycerides. In one study, eating tomatoes cut the risk of heart disease by 25 percent.
Try this: Simmer chopped tomatoes, leeks, garlic, and a sprig of rosemary for a fast, fresh sauce; brush thick tomato slices with olive oil, grill for 3 minutes, and sprinkle with basil and goat cheese; toss chopped tomatoes with black olives, capers, white beans, and baby arugula leaves.
Are a rich source of soluble fiber, which has been shown in dozens of studies to lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels. In one study, people who ate beans four or more times per week had a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease.
Try this: Purée cooked white beans, roasted red peppers, olive oil, and garlic into a dip; toss cooked chickpeas with shredded basil and minced sun-dried tomatoes; use cooked black beans, brown rice, and chopped vegetables as the base for veggie burgers.
Is high in fiber that can bind to cholesterol and reduce LDL levels by as much as 22 percent. It's also rich in avenanthramides, antioxidants that are unique to oats and prevent LDL cholesterol oxidation.
Try this: Grind quick oats into flour in a blender and swap for wheat flour; soak oat groats in water overnight, then drain and serve with almond milk, walnuts, and berries; blend quick oats, raspberries, and yogurt for a drinkable oatmeal-to-go.
Contain healthful compounds known as anthocyanins, as well as other antioxidants that help keep blood vessels healthy and decrease blood pressure. Strawberries have similar effects: in one study, people who ate three or more servings per week of blueberries or strawberries had a 32 percent lower risk of heart disease.
Try this: Blend blueberries, coconut milk, and honey, and freeze in an ice cream maker; toss blueberries, quinoa, baby spinach, and sliced almonds with olive oil; mix puréed blueberries, chia seeds, and honey to make a homemade raw "jam."
Are high in heart-healthy fats, and people who munch on nuts five or more times per week have a lower risk of heart disease. The best choices are walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, and macadamia nuts, which have the highest levels of monounsaturated fats. In one study, people who ate macadamias lowered LDL cholesterol and increased beneficial HDL cholesterol by 8 percent.
Try this: Toss macadamia nuts, arugula, blueberries, and diced pears with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; add pistachios and goat cheese to sautéed butternut squash cubes; spread almond butter, honey, and cardamom on pear slices.
Are high in pectins, fiber-like substances that interact with other phytonutrients found in apples to significantly lower blood fats. The peels are also high in antioxidant polyphenols, which are associated with reduced risk of death from heart disease, stroke, and other causes (so never peel apples).
Try this: Core apples, thinly slice crosswise into rounds, and spread with walnut or peanut butter; simmer diced apples with apple juice, raisins, ginger slices, and cinnamon sticks into a thick, fragrant chutney; cut into matchsticks and toss with shaved fennel, arugula, and a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette.