8 Evidence-Based Superfoods For Reducing Heart Disease Risk

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There are a number of evidence-based superfoods which are proven to support heart health and significantly reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

The typical Western diet pattern is one of the leading factors behind the significant rise in cardiovascular disease that we are now seeing.  Simply put, a typical western diet pattern is not conducive to good heart health.

Most western diets are severely lacking in plant-foods such as fruits and vegetables, often contain too much processed foods, excessive quantities of pro-inflammatory animal foods such as red meat, western diets typically are lacking in fiber and often have a poor fatty acid profile characterized by a high saturated fat intake and a lack of heart healthy omega-3 and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Many of the chief etiological processes behind causing cardiovascular disease such as inflammation, oxidative stress, hypertension and dyslipidemia can be modified or attenuated using a healthy plant based diet rich in heart healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, green tea, oily fish, olive oil, nuts, oats, beans, pulses, spices and many others.

Let me take you through eight of my favorite evidence-based foods for supporting heart health and reducing risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

1. Nuts

Nuts and cardiovascular disease risk studiesA number of studies have now found that frequent nut consumption is associated with a significantly decreased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Nuts are a food with alot of misconception surrounding whether they actually contribute or lower the risk of heart disease.

However, a wealth of scientific research has now confirmed that nuts despite their rich content of fats and moderate caloric density, significantly reduce an individuals risk of cardiovascular related diseases.

Nuts are a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytosterols, fiber and heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.

In conclusion, our results provide further evidence that nut consumption may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality, and possibly mortality from diabetes, respiratory disease, and infectious disease. [1]

Recently, the PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea randomised clinical trial of long-term nutrition intervention in subjects at high cardiovascular risk provided first-class evidence that regular nut consumption is associated with a 50 % reduction in incident diabetes and, more importantly, a 30 % reduction in cardiovascular disease(CVD).

Of note, incident stroke was reduced by nearly 50 % in participants allocated to a Mediterranean diet enriched with a daily serving of mixed nuts (15 g walnuts, 7.5 g almonds and 7.5 g hazelnuts).

Thus, it is clear that frequent nut consumption has a beneficial effect on CVD risk that is likely to be mediated by salutary effects on intermediate risk factors. [2]

2. Olive Oil

Olive oil and cardiovascular disease researchOlive oil is one of the most popular and well known health foods when it comes to supporting cardiovascular health and plays a major role in the heart health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Inflammation is considered to be one of the leading factors in the development of cardiovascular diseases.  Olive oil has been shown to contain numerous polyphenols, which have potent anti-inflammatory activity.

Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study.

“Higher baseline total olive oil consumption was associated with 48% reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality. For each 10 g/d increase in extra-virgin olive oil consumption, cardiovascular disease and mortality risk decreased by 10% and 7%, respectively.

Olive oil consumption, specifically the extra-virgin variety, is associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality in individuals at high cardiovascular risk.

In summary, the study found that greater consumption of total olive oil, especially EVOO, was associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and mortality risk in an elderly Mediterranean population at high cardiovascular risk. [3]

3. Black & Green Tea

Black and Green Tea For Reducing Cardiovascular Disease RiskTea consumption has a long history of being associated with a beneficial effect on heart health, which is largely thought to be attributed to the rich content of antioxidants.

Green tea(Camellia sinensis) a major source of flavonoids such as catechins, has recently shown multiple cardiovascular health benefits through various experimental and clinical studies.

These studies suggest that green tea catechins prevent the incidence of detrimental cardiovascular events, and also lower the cardiovascular mortality rate.

Catechins present in green tea have the ability to prevent atherosclerosis, hypertension, endothelial dysfunction, ischemic heart diseases, cardiomyopathy, cardiac hypertrophy and congestive heart failure by decreasing oxidative stress, preventing inflammatory events, reducing platelet aggregation and halting the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells. [4]

In conclusion, considerable observational human evidence suggests a preventive association of tea or flavonoid intake on specific subcategories of cardiovascular disease. [5]

Both black and green tea varieties have shown cardiovascular protective benefits in studies, although it appears that the evidence is stronger for green tea currently.

4. Berries

Berries and Cardiovascular Health ResearchBerries are an excellent choice of fruit as part of a heart-healthy plant-based diet.

Berries are packed with heath promoting phyto-nutrients and in particular are a rich source of polyphenols, such as anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, procyanidins, flavonols, ellagitannins, and hydroxycinnamates.

Good choices of berries include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries.

Aim for 1-2 cups plus daily in order to receive the health benefits of berries.  Frozen berries maintain their antioxidant content and are excellent for having on hand to make smoothies.

The great news is that the research indicates that berries are both safe and beneficial for healthy individuals and those with metabolic disorders such as Type 2 Diabetes.  With heart health and metabolic benefits(improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance) seen in both groups.

Epidemiological evidence indicates that the cardiovascular health benefits of diets rich in berries are related to their (poly)phenol content.

These findings are supported by small-scale randomized controlled studies (RCTs) that have shown improvements in several surrogate markers of cardiovascular risk such as blood pressure, endothelial function, arterial stiffness, and blood lipids after acute and short-term consumption of blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, or purified anthocyanin extracts in healthy or diseased individuals. [6]

Though limited, these data support the recommendation of berries as an essential fruit group in a heart-healthy diet. [7]

5. Dark Chocolate & Raw Cacao

Dark Chocolate, Cocoa Flavanols & Cardiovascular Disease ResearchDark chocolate with a high cocoa flavanol content is another superfood, which has shown a number of heart-health related benefits in studies.

Recent research demonstrates a beneficial effect of cocoa on blood pressure, insulin resistance, endothelial, vascular and platelet function.

One study from 2009 concluded that cocoa does indeed exert beneficial cardiovascular effects, probably mediated mainly by its polyphenols, a heterogeneous group of molecules found primarily in fruits and vegetables.

The beneficial effects of cacao are most likely due to an increased bioavailability of NO(nitric oxide).

This may explain the improvement in endothelial function, the reduction in platelet function, and the potentially beneficial effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and blood lipids. [8]

Another study from 2008 published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded:

Together the results of these human dietary intervention trials provide scientific evidence of the vascular effects of cocoa flavanols and suggest that the regular consumption of cocoa products containing flavanols may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease(CVD). [9]

6. Garlic

Garlic and cardiovascular disease researchGarlic is a prized ancient food with a long history of traditional use as a medicine for treating and preventing many diseases, including heart disorders.

Garlic has been shown to inhibit enzymes involved in lipid synthesis, decrease platelet aggregation, prevent lipid peroxidation of oxidized erythrocytes and LDL, increase antioxidant status, and inhibit angiotension-converting enzyme.

These findings have also been addressed in clinical trials. The studies point to the fact that garlic reduces cholesterol, inhibits platelet aggregation, reduces blood pressure, and increases antioxidant status.

In summary, evidence from clinical trials points toward garlic having a role to play in either preventing or delaying cardiovascular disease. [10]

Another study from 2002 concluded:

Epidemiological study shows an inverse correlation between garlic consumption and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease progression.

The wealth of scientific literature supports the proposal that garlic consumption have significant cardioprotective effect, which include both animal and human studies. [11]

7. Oily Fish

Oily fish and cardiovascular diseaseResearch has consistently found that diets which contain several portions of omega-3 rich oily fish such as salmon and sardines weekly to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Oily fish such as Salmon and Sardines contain a number of extremely important nutrients for cardiovascular health including the potent anti-inflammatory long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid) & DHA(docosahexaenoic acid).

In general, long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce CVD risk through anti-lipidemic, anti-inflammatory, anti-platelet, and anti-arrhythmic mechanisms.

Most typical western diet patterns are lacking in Omega-3 fatty acids such as ALA, EPA and DHA and excessively rich in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids.

Sardines are also packed with homocysteine lowering Vitamin B12, they are a rare dietary source of inflammation modulating Vitamin D3, contain minerals such as iodine, calcium and selenium and a good source of the heart protective, mitochondria antioxidant Co-Enzyme Q10.

Fish intake is related to CVD risk reduction in both observational and clinical intervention trials and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consumption 8 ounces or more of seafood weekly to provide an average consumption of 1750 mg per week (250 mg per day) of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) which are long chain omega-3 (LCn-3) fatty acids.

There is consistent evidence supporting risk reduction of CVD due to fish consumption, particularly the intake of oily fish high in LCn-3. [12]

8. Grapes & Red Wine

Grapes, Red Wine & Cardiovascular Disease ResearchThe last heart-healthy superfood on our list is the fruit Grapes and related grape products such as red wine.

Epidemiological studies suggest that consumption of wine, grape products, and other foods containing polyphenols is associated with decreased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Grapes are an excellent source of heart-health promoting polyphenols and phytonutrients such as resveratrol.

Experimental studies indicate that grape polyphenols could reduce atherosclerosis by a number of mechanisms, including inhibition of oxidation of LDL and other favorable effects on cellular redox state, improvement of endothelial function, lowering blood pressure, inhibition of platelet aggregation, reducing inflammation, and activating novel proteins that prevent cell senescence, e.g. Sirtuin 1. Translational studies in humans support these beneficial effects.

The available evidence supports a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, including grapes, as an appropriate strategy to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. [13]

References

[1] Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies

https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-016-0730-3

[2] Nuts and CVD.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26148914

[3] Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study

https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-12-78

[4] Green tea catechins: defensive role in cardiovascular disorders.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23845542

[5] Tea consumption and cardiovascular disease risk

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/98/6/1651S.full

[6] Berry (poly)phenols and cardiovascular health.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24059851

[7] Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068482/

[8] Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health

http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/119/10/1433

[9] Effects of cocoa flavanols on risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296357

[10] Garlic and Cardiovascular Disease: A Critical Review

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/3/736S.full

[11] Effect of garlic on cardiovascular disorders: a review

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC139960/

[12] Issues of Fish Consumption for Cardiovascular Disease Risk Reduction

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705336/

[13] Grapes and Cardiovascular Disease

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2728695/

The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.

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