11 Effective Functional Foods for a Healthy Heart
“My heart is beating, keeps on repeating” I am sure you all remember this famous song. Our heart does this act of beating throughout our life. The heart begins to function right from when we are just a group of cells in our mother’s womb. It is the first organ formed in the body. Apart from the environmental factors and mental factors, what affects our heart the most is the food we eat. Let us take a look on which are the functional foods for a healthy heart. Read on to know more!
Dr. Gloria Gilbere in her book ‘When Food Becomes Your Enemy’ says “when we eat food devoid of enzymes through cooking or processing, digestion is compromised and food becomes toxic as it ferments and decomposes as toxic composite in the body“.
Now you may ask, how to avoid toxic food?
The answer lies in functional foods. These are the foods that contain additional function, often related to health promotion or disease prevention by addition of vital ingredients to our body. These foods are potentially beneficial in the prevention and management of heart diseases, which remains one of the leading causes of deaths around the world.
Here we list 11 effective functional foods for a healthy heart
Soybean is good for the heart. A study suggests that soy provides the body with isoflavones that help to lower the blood pressure. Isoflavones encourage the body to produce more nitric oxide, which dilates the arteries and lowers the blood pressure.
Soybean is also a good source of protein and fiber which helps to reduces the LDL levels as compared to animal proteins. A 2014 study concluded that eating Soy based foods can help to lower LDL cholesterol by 3% in middle-aged cardiovascular disorder (CVD) patients.
Oats are among the most recommended foods for heart, as well as weight management. Oats contain soluble dietary fiber in the form of beta-glucan. It slows down the digestion of food and reduces the sugar absorption. This helps in weight reduction. The soluble fibers in oats bind to the excess cholesterol and help in excreting it through faeces. Thus oats are among the most effective functional food for a healthy heart as it has blood cholesterol reducing properties.
Psyllium husk comes from the seeds of the herb Plantago ovata. It is also sometimes referred to as ispaghula or isabgol. It is a soluble fiber supplement usually used to treat constipation. It binds the excess cholesterol and reduces the total blood cholesterol levels.
According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, psyllium husk is also known to lower LDL cholesterol levels as well as two other lipid markers for heart disease. It’s action is similar to that of the soluble fibres. Psyllium also gives strength to the heart muscles.
Flaxseed or linseed is one of the richest plant sources of the omega 3 fatty acid or alpha-linolenic acid.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acids that reduce inflammation throughout the body. They decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease incidence of stroke, heart failure risk and reduce irregular heartbeats. Apart from flaxseeds, these omega 3 fatty acids are also found in fish and to some extent in almonds and walnuts. Know about the benefits of walnuts here!
Garlic produces a sulphur containing compound called allicin when it is crushed or chopped. Allicin is responsible for the protective effect of garlic on atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This has been attributed to its capacity to reduce lipid content in arterial wall. Allicin also suppresses the LDL oxidation in the body and prevents blood clot formation. Hence, using garlic regularly in your diet, is a great choice for maintaining a healthy heart. It is best to have garlic in raw form as most of this compound gets destroyed during cooking.
Green tea contains certain polyphenolic compounds called catechins mainly in the form of epigallocatechin gallates (EGCG). Studies have concluded that green tea catechins and EGCG have a beneficial impact on factors affecting cardiovascular health. These help in inhibiting platelet aggregation, improving lipid profile, reducing blood pressure, increasing anti-oxidant activity and reducing the levels of inflammatory substances. Thereby exerting an overall cardio-protective effect. Catechins prevent LDL oxidation as they help in fighting free radicals. These compounds also aid in weight loss and maintenance.
A simple seasonal fruit, grapes contain polyphenols. Experimental studies have shown that grape polyphenols reduce atherosclerosis by maintaining the arterial health. Thus, including grapes in your diet keeps your heart healthy.
Black pepper contains the active compound piperine. It has potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also considered as a natural pain killer as it reduces pain perception and inflammation. Piperine also helps in improving the absorption of other essential nutrients and compounds including curcumin (upto 20 times). Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric which improves heart health by improving endothelial functioning and by its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Piperine is also believed to have cholesterol-lowering properties in itself, but further human studies are needed to conclude it. Though it has been proven that it increases the absorption of cholesterol-lowering supplements. The above properties of black pepper make it a functional food for heart health and reduce the incidence of cancers.
A mediterranean herb, containing quercetin which is now used widely in India in pizzas and pastas. The quercetin in oregano has a cardio protective effect by exerting its anti-oxidant action. This reduces inflammation in the body and thereby improves blood circulation.
Commonly known as methi dana in India. These are a great source of soluble fibers. Fenugreek seeds soaked overnight and consumed the first thing in the morning helps to reduce cholesterol. Soluble fibres in these seeds bind to the excess cholesterol and remove it from the system.
A fruit commonly used in the Indian cooking, plays an important role in protecting heart health. Tomatoes contain a red coloured carotenoid called lycopene, which is a strong anti-oxidant. It can reduce free-radical damage, total and LDL cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Research has shown that maintaining high blood levels of lycopene reduce the risk of premature death in people with metabolic disorders (which can lead to heart disease). Studies have shown that inclusion of tomatoes in the diet of heart patients significantly improved their lipid markers and heart functioning. Moreover, tomatoes are a rich source of Vitamin C which is a great anti-oxidant and reduces internal toxin build up.
Apart from including the above foods in the diet, one should eat a balanced diet with good amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. When you consume the above mentioned effective functional foods for a healthy heart, you will certainly have added health benefits. Let us know in the comments below of any other functional foods you may know to maintain a healthy heart function.