Tag Archive for: heart health

Gearing your nutrition to better serve your heart is good for your ticker, and your overall well-being. It can be tricky to know the right recipe for heart health. There are many diet plans and strategies from which to choose. When sifting through the oodles of fad diets and fitness plans, a well-balanced approach with the right blend of heart healthy foods should be your target.

A heart-conscious diet fundamentally supports healthy blood flow. Blood rides around the body on the highway of your circulatory system. It’s pumped by the heart and moves by way of arteries and veins. Your blood vessels (especially arteries) rely on a nutritious, well-balanced diet for their health and longevity. A diet filled with heart healthy foods contains nutrition to help maintain healthy circulation.

Finding Heart Healthy Foods

The wholesome nutrition you’re looking for comes from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats and protein sources. Below, you’ll see five of the best heart healthy foods you can incorporate into your diet this week. They’re also nutrient-dense alternatives (containing a lot of important micronutrients per calorie) to some of the culprits of poor cardiovascular health. Heart healthy foods are rich in nutrients, healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamins.

Practicing a heart-healthy diet doesn’t require copious planning and preparation. There are simple things you can do throughout the week to gear your diet towards cardiovascular well-being. Simple substitutions and wholesome alternatives to junk food and snacks will help you support your heart’s health.

Here’s your shopping list of five interesting foods so you can cook up a menu focused on heart health.

  1. Fatty Fish

Yep, you read it right. The fats in some fish—like salmon, sardines, and mackerel—support heart health because they’re densely packed with omega-3 fatty acids (also known as polyunsaturated fats or PUFAs). These essential fatty acids are important components to healthy cell membranes and provide a source of energy.

Multiple scientific studies have indicated a possible tie between omega-3 fatty acid and regular heart patterns. Current research indicates that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy blood vessel function. By keeping blood vessels in tip-top shape, omega-3 fatty acids can help keep your heart in good health.

Eating fatty fish twice weekly is recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA).

Fish is a great replacement for proteins high in bad fats—like red meat. Replacing two red-meat meals each week with fish will foster a better environment for heart health. Not to mention, the added bonus of consuming fewer calories from fat each week.

  1. Oatmeal

A bowl full of oats is a great way to start the day. That’s because oatmeal has multiple layers of nutritional benefits. Your cardiovascular system will thank you for treating it to a good breakfast each morning.

Oatmeal is loaded with soluble fiber and is well-known for promoting healthy digestion. According to the American Dietetic Association, high-fiber foods have merits beyond digestive health. Your heart’s health depends on fiber, too. Fiber-rich foods (like oatmeal) serve your cardiovascular system by helping maintain healthy levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) in your blood—provided they’re already in the normal range.

Large amounts of LDL levels in the blood can have adverse effects for your arteries and veins. The mechanism by which soluble fiber impacts LDL levels is still being researched. But many scientists believe that soluble fiber molecules are chemically “sticky” and disrupt the bonds that link LDLs together. Fiber can effectively then “pull apart” (or even keep them from sticking together in the first place) LDL molecules and help support already healthy blood cholesterol levels.

Insoluble fiber is heart healthy, too. They’ve been shown to form a gel-like matrix and bind up many substances that impact heart health, including cholesterol. By reducing LDL cholesterol absorption into the blood, oatmeal and other fiber filled foods support healthy blood vessels. When choosing your meals for the day, reach for foods rich in fiber. The one-two punch of soluble and insoluble fiber is a heart-healthy combination.

  1. Berries

Berries are another great source of LDL-affecting soluble fiber, making them heart healthy foods. These juicy, delicious fruits are also brimming with phytonutrients and potent antioxidants. Polyphenolic compounds called flavonoids (plant compounds shown to have health benefits) make up the berry antioxidant profile. Antioxidants are great for your heart because they help maintain healthy pressure in your vessels. These compounds also protect your cardiovascular system from oxidative stress and free-radical damage.

A bowl of berries is naturally low in calories and fat. That makes them a great option for a healthy body. Berries are sweet and add exciting flavor to smoothies and salads. Snacking on berries instead of processed food helps keep sweet cravings at bay while promoting heart health. Berries also provide added fiber that supports healthy digestion.

  1. Dark Chocolate

One of the most beloved dessert foods can also do wonders for your heart. Dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa and above) has been shown to help maintain healthy blood pressure already in the normal range—a hallmark of cardiovascular health.

Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. These important phytonutrients support healthy circulation. Dark chocolate’s polyphenols also scavenge the free-radicals that can lead to oxidative damage.

Research has shown that one of the major polyphenols responsible for the health benefits of dark chocolate is called epicatechin. The polyphenol has been shown to help blood vessels relax between heart beats. This relaxation means blood can flow more easily through blood vessels. And your heart likes that. Dark chocolate is a great source of epicatechin, but so are apples, green tea, and dark (seeded) grapes.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for milk chocolate. Most chocolate bars and candies don’t meet heart-healthy criteria. Eat small squares of dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent cocoa. And eat responsibly. Chocolate is relatively high in calories and should be savored, not scarfed down.

  1. Avocado

Trendy and tasty avocados rank high on the list of heart healthy foods. You can mash them and spread on whole-wheat toast. You can slice them to top off your fish tacos. No matter how they’re prepared, avocados are a delicious food that supports your heart.

Avocados contain large stores of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). These healthy fats act like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. The MUFAs maintain healthy levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol—already in the normal range—and keep blood vessels in good repair.

Avocados are also bursting with antioxidants and potassium. The essential mineral, potassium, is critical for heart health. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure already in the normal range. The potassium found in avocados is also useful for managing smooth muscle contraction. Smooth muscle is found all over the body, especially in the intestines and lining arteries. Potassium, therefore, promotes healthy digestion and supports healthy blood flow.

Combining mashed avocado with diced tomatoes into a simple guacamole is a healthy alternative to high-fat chip dips. Enjoy it spread on raw veggies like celery and carrot sticks to avoid consuming with salty corn chips.

Developing a Diet Full of Heart Healthy Foods

These five foods are a great start to a heart healthy diet. But to be effective, they need a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and lots of water. Replacing less nutritious foods with the following options can improve your diet and help it support maximum heart health:

  • Broccoli
  • Red, orange, and yellow vegetables
  • Flax seed
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe

Your heart can be subjected to some pretty unhealthy changes as a result of poor nutrition. When planning a heart-healthy meal, try to avoid some common pitfalls. Processed and prepackaged foods are stuffed full of salt and trans fats. These dietary scoundrels work against your cardiovascular system by making cholesterol levels move in the wrong direction.

Fight for your heart. Treat your ticker to some tender love and care. Chowing down on heart healthy foods can support healthy circulation and maintain your heart health throughout your life. The foods you’ve just read about are delicious and easy to incorporate into your favorites meals and snacks. Take action now to support your heart’s health through improved diet and nutrition.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Blood heart circulation

Blood heart circulation

You know that lub-dub sound your heart makes. You’ve felt the pulse in your wrist. It all indicates that your body is still running. But the blood coursing through your arteries and gently flowing in your veins didn’t get there by accident. Your blood, blood vessels, heart, and lungs, all work together to bring the oxygen you breathe to the rest of your body. This relationship is known as the cardiovascular system, and it works 24/7 to keep you moving.

Your cardiovascular system is remarkable. To fully appreciate how hard it works for you, brush up on some cardiovascular vocabulary.

  • Cardiovascular system: The sophisticated network of organs and blood vessels responsible for oxygenating and moving blood throughout your body. The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, lungs, and includes all blood vessels.
  • Heart: A four-chambered muscle located underneath the breastbone (sternum) of your rib cage. The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood out to the body and oxygen-poor blood to the lungs. Contraction of the heart muscle is often called a beat.
  • Heart rate: Also called the pulse. This is the frequency of complete heart-muscle contractions. It is usually measured in beats per minute. The average heart rate for a healthy adult is between 60 at rest and 100 beats per minute going about your day.
  • Lungs: a pair of organs that sit within your rib cage and occupy most of the left and right sides. Think of the lungs as very fine network of sacs that spread your blood out to increase its surface area. Increasing the surface area allows gases to diffuse in and out of the blood (carbon dioxide out and oxygen in).
  • Pulmonary: Referring to the lungs.
  • Systemic: Referring to the other organs of the body, including liver, intestines, brain, kidneys, etc.
  • Blood vessel: The tubes through which blood flows. There are two main types of blood vessels—arteries and veins. For most of your body, this means arteries carry oxygenated blood and veins carry oxygen-depleted blood. But in the vascular system connecting the heart and lungs, this convention is reversed.
  • Blood: The red, liquid substance pumped throughout the cardiovascular system. Blood is mostly water, and is responsible for delivering nutrients to your body. It also contains many types of cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, serum and platelets.

Red blood cells (RBCs) carry oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the body. White blood cells are mostly involved in your immune response. Plasma is the colorless fluid that contains the fatty components of blood. Serum is the amber-colored component of blood that contains most of the proteins of the blood. And platelets are half-moon shaped, cell-like structures that are responsible for blood clotting (usually after an injury to a blood vessel).

  • Blood pressure: The force of blood moving through the blood vessels, measured in mmHg (millimeters of Mercury). Clinically, blood pressure is reported as systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is highest in arteries and lowest in veins.
  • Diastole: Related to expansion, relaxation, or dilation.
  • Systolic blood pressure: The pressure in your blood vessels when blood is actively moving through them after being force by the pumping of the heart. Normal systolic blood pressure is considered to be less than 120 mmHg.
  • Diastolic blood pressure: The pressure in your blood vessels between heart beats when blood is not flowing and your blood vessels and heart are at rest. Normal diastolic blood pressure is considered to be less than 80 mmHg.
  • Capillaries: The small, intermeshed networks of tiny blood vessels. Capillaries allow oxygen and other nutrients to diffuse out of blood and into cells, tissues, and organs. They also send oxygen and nutrient-poor blood back to the heart. These networks are the end of arteries and the beginning of veins.

You know your cardiovascular system is important, but it may be bigger than you think. Together, your blood vessels stretch over 60,000 miles (or 100,000 km). That means your blood vessels, placed end-to-end, could circle the globe about two and a half times.

A Closer Look at the Cardiovascular System

The simplest definition of your cardiovascular system is the series of organs that propel blood through blood vessels. But that misses some beneficial information. The cardiovascular system delivers oxygen and other nutrients to tissues, and removes waste and carbon dioxide from circulation.

That’s a lot of important jobs. They’re accomplished through a series of interconnected tubes (arteries and veins) that guide blood throughout the body. The heart is the pump that moves the blood forward. Two circuits in the cardiovascular system, the pulmonary and systemic circuits, channel blood through the heart and through your body.

The Anatomy of the Human Heart

Your heart is primarily responsible for pumping blood into and out of all areas of the body. The human heart can accomplish this huge task because of its unique construction.

It’s composed of smooth cardiac muscle cells that contract with incredible force. Some of these cardiac cells make electrical connections with nerves. When you exercise or experience a change in emotion, electrical impulses travel through your nerves to your heart. These signals can alter the rate at which heart muscles contract—or how fast it beats.

You may know that the heart is divided into four separate chambers – left and right atria and ventricles. The chambers of the heart are pouches of muscle separated by valves. They collect blood from circulation and squeeze it through the heart to the lungs or out to the body. The left and right sides of the heart mirror one another in structure. But each side is unique and performs a specialized function necessary for pumping blood.

The right side of the heart collects blood that has circulated through the body. This blood is in desperate need of rejuvenation in the form of oxygen. Before it can go to the lungs for oxygen, it must first enter the right atrium (collection chamber) and descend to the right ventricle (pumping chamber). The right ventricle is responsible for pushing the blood to the lungs for oxygen.

The left side of the heart receives oxygenated blood after it has passed through the lungs. The left atrium is the collection chamber for this oxygenated blood. Oxygen-rich blood is then passed down to the left ventricle through a one-way valve between the two chambers. The left ventricle is the strongest chamber of the heart. When the cardiac muscles of the left ventricle contract, blood is propelled from the heart out to the entire body.

Every minute, five liters (or about a 1.5 gallons) of blood is pumped through the heart—about your entire blood volume. Your heart funnels 7,200 liters of blood per day to every square inch of your body. Every pump literally brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body to support healthy tissue and organ function.

Blood Flow: Where Does It Go?

Understanding the path of blood flow through the cardiovascular system is similar to reading a road map. Think of red blood cells as vehicles on a busy highway. You can easily follow their path through the heart and on to the rest of the body.

Healthy, happy, oxygen rich blood cells start their journey down the cardiovascular system roadway by exiting the left ventricle of the heart. After the left ventricle contracts, the blood in this chamber gets the green light to enter the aorta through the aortic valve.

The aorta is the largest artery in the body and is the super-highway of blood transport. Blood speeds through the aorta due to high pressure and thick, muscular artery walls. Smaller arteries branch from the aorta. These are the exits where blood can hop off this busy thoroughfare and travel to different locations of the body.

The roads of blood travel shrink the further they get from the heart. Just like roads get smaller as they go from freeways, to city streets, and through individual neighborhoods, arteries branch off into smaller vessels that eventually connect to capillaries. These small vessels surround vital organs and tissues. Capillaries nourish the organs and tissues with nutrients and oxygen.

After reaching their final destination, red blood cells need to make their way back to the heart and lungs. But the journey back to the heart is much slower than the fast-paced trip via the aorta.

If arteries are the blood transport freeway, veins are the scenic route. They have slower speed limits than arteries due to lower pressure. The tight structure of arteries helps propel blood through the body quickly. Veins, on the other hand, are wider and looser. Blood takes its time traveling through veins, merging with traffic from all over the body on their way back to the heart.

All blood from the veins enters the heart through the inferior or superior vena cava. Blood traveling from the lower body is directed to the inferior vena cava—the largest vein in the body. Blood from the upper body is channeled through the superior vena cava. Each one empties into the heart’s right atrium.

This chamber collects blood and directs it through the tricuspid valve to the right ventricle. Blood is quickly ejected from the right ventricle, into the pulmonary artery through a half-moon-shaped valve called the pulmonary valve.

Once in the pulmonary artery, blood travels through the lungs, using capillary mesh to replenish oxygen stores. Blood is then funneled back to the heart through the pulmonary vein and into the left atrium. The bicuspid valve is the final gate blood must pass through to hop back on to the cardiovascular system’s super highway and complete a full circuit through the body.

Living a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

Your blood has to travel to so many nooks and crannies. It’s amazing that a healthy heart pumps without problems all day, every day, for your entire life. Even though your heart is built to go the distance, there are several things you can do to support its health. And the rest of your cardiovascular system, too.

Daily exercise is by far the best way to maintain a healthy heart and support good cardiovascular health. Requiring your heart to work a little harder during periods of exercise you can keep this important muscle toned and poised for long-term success.

Physical activity does not only make your arms and legs stronger. It strengthens your heart and cardiovascular system, too. Athletes typically have healthier hearts than those who do not regularly exercise. You don’t have to be a professional athlete, but make it your goal to exercise regularly and support your heart and cardiovascular health.

Walking daily may be the easiest exercise to keep a healthy heart. A brisk walk for 30 to 60 minutes every day can get your heart rate up to that “sweet spot.” Maintaining an elevated heart rate (between 50-85 percent of your maximum) should be your indicator of good, heart healthy exercise. For reference, a walk will get your heart rate up to 50–70 percent of its maximum. A game of tennis or a run on the treadmill pushes your heart rate up between 70 and 85 percent of its maximum.

A diet low in trans-fats and salt while high in vegetables and lean protein is also great for your heart.

Regulating your diet’s salt and unhealthy fat content reinforces your body’s ability to maintain healthy blood pressure already in the normal range. In addition to being great for your heart, a diet low in unhealthy fats and salts could be your ticket to maintaining a healthy weight.

Here’s a few things you can do. Replace salty foods with whole fruits and vegetables with lots of natural flavor. You’ll also get a lot of important nutrients—like lycopene and vitamin C—that have been shown to support a healthy cardiovascular system. And make sure the fat in your diet comes from more natural, plant sources—think nuts, olive, and coconut oil.

Keep your body’s engine running smoothly and get your blood pumping with exercise and a healthy diet.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

For those with diabetes, folic acid supplementation may be beneficial in reducing the risk of stroke.

Folic acid is a derivative of folate (an essential B vitamin) and is an essential nutrient which has been linked to numerous health benefits. It is important enough that many governments require grains to be fortified with folate/folic acid to provide their citizens with regular, daily access to this important vitamin.

In countries with low access to folate, research has demonstrated an incredible reduction of incidences of neural tube defects (NTDs) in infants whose mothers had access to folic acid supplementation during pregnancy. Folic acid supplementation has proven to be a safe, inexpensive, and effective way to reduce the risk of NTDs and other birth defects in third-world countries and at-risk populations all around the world.

Folic acid supplementation has also been purported to improve heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) published an article last year exploring the decrease in congenital heart defects associated with folic-acid supplementation and folic-acid-fortified foods. This connection between the B vitamin and heart health suggests that folic acid can work preventatively with regards to stroke and myocardial infarction, otherwise known as heart attack.

Diabetes, which is characterized by high blood glucose concentrations during and after periods of fasting, is a known risk factor for stroke. Researchers at several universities and hospitals in China hypothesized about the link between folic acid supplementation and the first stroke associated with elevated blood glucose levels. They performed a randomized double-blind study over the course of several years.

Participants in this study were men and women between the ages of 45 and 75 with hypertension, who were diagnosed as diabetic (type 2 diabetes mellitus) or normoglycemic prior to the study. The subjects were provided with either a daily oral dose of 10mg enalapril and 0.8mg folic acid, or 10 mg enalapril only. Follow-up visits for each participant were scheduled every three months for the duration of the study (median duration = 4.5 years).

Results indicate that, for any given glucose category (hypoglycemic, normoglycemic, diabetic), risk of stroke was significantly reduced by folic acid supplementation. Those with fasting glucose blood levels indicating diabetes showed the greatest risk reduction due to folic acid supplementation.

From the results of this study, it can be inferred that folic acid supplementation may be beneficial in reducing the risk of stroke for those with diabetes. Increasing the amount of folic in the diet should be a priority for everyone; however, without regular access to folate-fortified grains, this goal can be hard to achieve. Folic acid supplements can be a great way to regularly meet the daily recommended value of this essential nutrient.

Xu RB, Kong X, Xu BP, et al. Longitudinal association between fasting blood glucose concentrations and first stroke in hypertensive adults in China: effect of folic acid intervention. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017;105(3):564-570. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.145656.

Folic acid fortified food linked to decrease in congenital heart defects. News on Heart.org. http://news.heart.org/folic-acid-fortified-food-linked-to-decrease-in-congenital-heart-defects/. Published August 29, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2017.


In a study of middle-aged adults, only one in 1,933 met all seven factors of ideal cardiovascular health as defined by the American Heart Association.