Our heart works very hard for us every day. In any one day it can beat a whopping 100,000 times! It makes sense, therefore, to show your heart some love by feeding it specific nutrients to keep it beating healthily.
Clearly, the body needs a range of nutrients to maintain optimal health and the heart is no different in this respect. However, there are certain nutrients that the heart absolutely needs in order to stay strong and healthy.
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her three top nutrients to support your heart health.
We know vitamin C is really important when it comes to protecting the immune system. However, as one of our key antioxidants, it’s essential for the heart too. Thankfully, we have eradicated the classic deficiency disease of vitamin C, being scurvy, but the first sign of this was blood vessels literally leaking – very unpleasant.
From much research and further understanding since then, we know that vitamin C is needed for strong blood vessels and arteries. As an antioxidant, it protects the arteries from free radical damage that can block them and cause heart attacks. Additionally, vitamin C increases production of HDL, our ‘good cholesterol’, which helps remove excess cholesterol from the body.
All fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C so enjoying a colourful diet and including a wide range of these foods is going to really protect your heart. Top of the list are peppers, berry fruits, kiwis and broccoli.
Termed ‘essential fats’ because they have to be eaten in the diet, these omega-3 fats have a key role in heart health. Specifically, it’s the long-chain fatty acids, EPA and DHA which are the main players. Much research has found they can help reduce the risk of heart disease, thought to be down to their anti-inflammatory actions. This can reduce damage to artery walls, which is one of the key issues in heart disease.
Additionally, omega-3s help thin the blood, thereby reducing high blood pressure and minimising the risk of blood clots causing strokes.
The best sources of EPA and DHA are from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and to a lesser extent, tuna. For fish eaters, then aim to eat oily fish at least two to three times a week.
However, for those not keen on fish or are vegan, then flaxseeds are able to provide some (albeit in lower amounts, since the body has to undergo complicated conversions of nutrients beforehand). However, try to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself, before adding them to cereals or yoghurt, as this helps release the beneficial lignans which provide some wonderful health benefits.
Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle function and since the heart is a muscle, then magnesium is a key mineral for heart health. It is also a relaxant, so magnesium has the effect of relaxing the artery wall and reducing blood pressure. Magnesium is often used to great effect when treating cases of high blood pressure.
Additionally, magnesium deficiency can cause a heart attack by cramping a coronary artery even in the absence of a blockage within the artery itself. Magnesium deficiency is widespread within the UK population which may partly explain the prevalence of heart conditions.
The good news is that it can easily be rectified by including plenty of magnesium-rich foods in the diet. Load up on almonds, spinach, whole grains including quinoa, and all types of beans. Even better news is that dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium so you can enjoy a guilt-free treat of 70% or more dark chocolate!
Magnesium is depleted by stress (which many people are suffering at the moment), so try to eat magnesium-rich foods every day and take a magnesium supplement if needed. It will also help reduce stress levels.
So, with a few dietary ‘tweaks’ you can contribute to your heart health every day.
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