At our beating centre, the heart is arguably the most important organ of the body. Taking care of such an important organ should be a daily job: your heart works so hard for you, you should work hard to take care of it! Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her top tips of how to take good care of your body’s hardest working organ!
Much is written about blueberries and their health-giving benefits, and for very good reason. Recent research has further confirmed that colourful berries, specifically blueberries, not only protect the heart but also help prevent other degenerative diseases.
The heart benefits of berries are mainly attributed to the presence of anthocyanins which are the pigments that provide the beautiful rich colours of many fruits and vegetables – and these are found particularly in blueberries.
Blueberries are easy to eat on their own, are great in a fruit salad and can provide the ‘wow’ factor to your morning porridge or other cereal, so they really are a versatile heart-booster.
Garlic or Allium sativum, is part of the onion family and provides some very real and well-researched benefits for the heart. Whilst it may not be the best thing to eat on a date, taking a garlic supplement is a good way of getting the benefits whilst still remaining sociable!
Recent research has found that garlic supplementation reduced high cholesterol particularly where eating habits were the main reason for excess amounts of the bad or LDL cholesterol. High cholesterol levels are generally produced from diets that are high in sugar and hydrogenated fats such as those found in refined foods such as pastries and cakes.
Garlic also has many other health benefits: it boasts immune-stimulating properties as well as digestive benefits, and is particularly effective in treating fungal and bacterial infections.
Of all nuts, walnuts have been found to contain the most powerful antioxidants. When consumed regularly, walnut oil may also support healthy blood vessels and balanced cholesterol levels. This is because they are rich in polyunsaturates, especially the omega 6 essential fatty acid linoleic acid.
They also contain good amounts of omega 3’s which are great for the brain, hormones, joints and eyes. Walnuts are high in fibre and also contain other heart-friendly minerals such as calcium. And if that’s not enough to convince you, walnuts have also been found to lower both resting blood pressure and, most surprisingly, blood pressure under stress.
Try to eat a few each day and drizzle some walnut oil onto your salads whenever you can, to gain the greatest benefits.
It is quite well known that caffeine is linked to high blood pressure. This is because it acts as a stimulant, hence the reason people drink lots of caffeinated drinks as a ‘pick-me-up’ throughout the day. However, once it’s provided a quick boost, you’ll quickly get a drop in energy and concentration levels.
Interestingly, decaffeinated tea and coffee still contain a little bit of caffeine but not nearly as much as the regular caffeinated drinks in the same quantities. It is much better to change to completely caffeine-free drinks such as herbal or fruit teas. Green tea is incredibly heart-friendly because it contains a range of antioxidants which are heart-protective and it has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
Whilst it’s hugely important to look after your heart nutritionally, taking some exercise comes a very close second in terms of heart-healthy benefits.
Being more active encourages better balancing of blood sugar levels, a key factor in weight gain; and, of course, being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease.
If going to the gym doesn’t ‘float your boat’ then there are many other options, all of which provide great benefits to the heart, and also your waistline. One of the best all round forms of exercise is cycling – it’s suitable for all ages and abilities and it doesn’t need to cost very much at all. It’s also great to do as a family.
Why not try salsa classes, doing some exercises at home with a DVD or using YouTube (there are so many to choose from) or invest in some walking boots and explore some of the wonderful countryside all around us a couple of times a week.
Exercise needs to be planned into a weekly routine – make a diary note if it helps you to stick to it! But whatever you do, pick an activity that you really enjoy and will continue to keep you motivated.
And even if you haven’t had the best habits in the world up until now, it’s never too late to start looking after your heart: it will certainly love you for it!
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 Chen L et al. Phytochemical properties and antioxidant capacities of various coloured berries. J Sci Food Agric. 2014 Jan 30;94(2): 180-8.
 Ebrahimi T et al. High doses of garlic extract significantly attenuated the ratio of serum LDL to HDL level in rat-fed with hypercholesterolemia diet. Diagn Pathol. 2015 Jun 20;10:74.