Smart for the heart foods

Smart for the heart foods.jpg

The number one killer of both men and women in the United States continues to be heart disease.  Vast improvements have been made over the years in earlier detection, state-of-the-art procedures and medications along with general awareness, all of which have saved numerous lives. 

The question asked by many people though is, is there a more natural approach towards preventing or reducing their risk of developing cardiovascular disease to begin with?  The answer is a strong “yes.”  Our day-to-day food choices have a significant role in beating back the encringing approach of a disease many of us would rather ignore until it’s too late. 

Assessing heart disease risk

A blood lipid profile – total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad), and HDL cholesterol (good) - are the assessment tools physicians use to determine a person’s risk of heart disease.  Another blood parameter doctors and researchers believes gives a better assessment of the risk of heart disease is called non-HDL cholesterol.

Non-HDL cholesterol is obtained by subtracting total cholesterol minus HDL cholesterol. What you have left is LDL cholesterol but also cholesterol called very low-density lipoproteins or VLDL.  VLDL cholesterol is produced in the liver and released into the bloodstream to supply body tissues with the type of fat called triglycerides.  When levels of VLDL cholesterol are high, then the development of plaque deposits on artery walls is more likely to occur which can restrict blood flow leading to the development of heart disease. 

Having a healthy blood lipid profile is vital in reducing heart disease risk. 

Diet – first line of defense in treating heart disease

Therapeutic lifestyle changes – diet, exercise, weight loss, and quitting smoking- should be one of the first lines of defense in reducing the risk of heart disease.  This more natural lifestyle approach is often a preferred method to try in beating back this disease.

Your day-to-day food choices can have a significant positive impact on cholesterol levels influencing risk reduction.  Research shows increasing dietary intake of foods containing soluble fiber appears to be a key solution to lowering overall total cholesterol, LDL and non-HDL cholesterol thus resulting in a lowered risk of heart disease.

Soluble fiber is a type of dietary fiber used to describe fibers that form a viscous gel when dissolved in water and are fermented by bacteria in our colon.  Soluble fiber’s characteristic of viscosity or the ability to form a gel makes a big difference in lowering cholesterol levels.  Think of it in this way – this is the type of fiber making oatmeal gummy, gives beans a mushy center, and causes pectin to swell. This type of fiber has a high water-holding capacity just like a sponge causing it to swell in the intestine, absorbing water, nutrients, and even cholesterol and bile acid as they pass slowly through the intestinal tract.    

Viscous fiber is also prebiotic meaning it is food for the good bacteria living in our gut.  As bacteria happily eat away fermenting soluble fiber, gases are produced along with short-chain fatty acids which have been linked to help lower blood cholesterol levels. 

It is also believed soluble fiber prevents bile acids from being reabsorbed in the intestines.  Bile acids contain cholesterol and are necessary for helping to digest fat.  When your diet contains sufficient soluble fiber, the bile acids bind to fiber and is carried out of the body along with your feces.  To replace the lost bile acids, your body removes cholesterol from the blood to make new bile acids in the liver.  This action helps lower blood cholesterol levels.

Smart for the heart foods containing viscous or soluble fiber

The following foods are loaded with viscous fiber – choose several to eat each day: 

·         Psyllium husk

Psyllium is a form of fiber made from the husks of the seeds of the Plantago ovata plant.  Not only is this fiber your friend as a laxative by keeping your bowels moving rapidly and regularly, it also is a friend to your heart.  Psyllium has effectively been shown to lower cholesterol levels with few side effects.  It can also help lower blood pressure, improve lipid levels and strengthens the heart muscle. 

One of the best sources of psyllium husk is Metamucil.  Psyllium husk is the active ingredient in this bulk forming fiber commonly used to treat constipation.  But psyllium husk is also the most powerful LDL-lowering viscous soluble fiber around.  A rounded tablespoon of Metamucil mixed with cold water each day may be the prime substance you need for keeping heart disease away.

·         Apples and Oranges

Normally we don’t compare apples to oranges, but this time we do.  That’s because they both have a similar compound making them fierce fighters in lowering LDL cholesterol.  Their powerful weapon is the viscous soluble fiber called pectin.  When apples or oranges are eaten and then digested in the intestinal tract, pectin from either one forms a thick gooey gel within the intestines trapping cholesterol and carrying it on out of the body before it can be absorbed in to the bloodstream. 

Another factor about pectin is when it reaches the colon, the good bacteria readily consume it to release short-chain fatty acids in the form of acetate.  Acetate may promote cardiovascular health by making the blood less likely to clot.

Both apples and oranges should be eaten in their natural form to benefit from the pectin content rather than as a juice. 

·         Beans

Beans of all kinds are very good for the heart.  They are rich in soluble fiber which limits the absorption of fats in the intestines and lowers blood cholesterol levels. Beans also contain a host of phytochemicals preventing plaque buildup in artery walls by dismantling free radicals that oxidize LDL cholesterol during the process of atherosclerosis. But their high soluble fiber content is what really makes them a superstar – one cup of black beans has 4.8 g of soluble fiber, navy beans have 4.4 g and red kidney beans have 4 g.

·         Barley and Oatmeal

These two cholesterol-lowering, soluble fiber containing grains are put together since they can be substituted for one another and they both effectively diminish LDL cholesterol levels.  As whole grains, they help stop inflammation of the arteries related to plaque buildup. 

Both barley and oatmeal are excellent sources of a soluble fiber called beta-glucan.  Beta-glucan has the ability to transform itself into a viscous, gel-like sponge.  This allows it to absorb bile from the intestines, putting the brakes on the speed at which food and waste move through and exit the body.  Another secret to beta-glucan’s LDL lowering ability is its talent to increase the excretion of bile acids.  The more bile acids excreted, the less reabsorption depriving the liver of bile acids returning to it.  This action forces the liver to use circulating LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream causing blood LDL levels to drop.

·         Almonds and Walnuts 

What is it about these two dynamic duos when it comes to lowering heart disease?  For one, the famous Seventh-Day Adventist Study found that eating nuts five or more times each week decreased risk of dying from heart disease by 52 percent.  For another, both have LDL lowering powers that beat back heart disease in several ways - Both are high in monounsaturated fat, both are high in dietary fiber with almonds containing the highest amount of all tree nuts, both contain antioxidants preventing oxidation, a precursor to plaque buildup and both contain very high amounts of the amino acid arginine, necessary to make nitric oxide.  Nitric oxide relaxes arteries helping lower blood pressure and lessens the ability of blood to clot.  In a nutshell, they are excellent food choices to have on a routine basis.


·         Flaxseed

The key ingredients in flaxseeds ability to lower LDL cholesterol is its rich omega-3 fatty acid content, high concentration of lignin, and soluble fiber.

First, flaxseeds omega-3 fatty acid content means cell membranes are kept supple leading to a greater ability to clear LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.  When cell membranes are rigid, then less LDL can be cleared.   

Second, the lignin content found in flaxseed means a reduction in aortic plaque.  This is due to lignin’s antioxidant properties while preventing blood platelets from sticking together and clotting which means greater prevention of atherosclerosis.

Third, the soluble fiber in flaxseed helps to increase excretion of bile acids, blocks cholesterol absorption, and speeds up intestinal transit time of feces. 

Putting it all together

Heart disease may still be the leading cause of death in the United States, but that doesn’t necessarily make it inevitable that it will happen to you.  Making consistent wise food choices along with other healthy lifestyle is one of your best defenses to beating back a disease that can be outsmarted.