It’s Valentines Day so lets talk about heart health! The heart is an amazing organ that works non-stop every second of your life. Without its complete function you will not live. Disease and illness of the heart and other related illnesses can cause compromised heart function allowing you to live however not the kind of lifestyle you may enjoy.
Many factors can affect our heart health. Our diet, stress, other lifestyle factors like smoking and the amount of physical activity we get play a huge role in heart health.
In less than a minute, your heart can pump blood to every cell in your body. In about a day your heart beats 100,000 times pumping around 2000 gallons of blood containing oxygen and nutrients to 100 trillion cells through 60 thousand miles of blood vessels. That is a huge job that requires a special muscle.
The heart is an organ and also a muscle. The heart requires a lot of energy and quality nutrition to keep it healthy. The muscles in the heart are unique and do not fatigue. It only stops when oxygen is no longer available. The demands put on the heart are so great; each cell in the heart muscle has many more mitochondria than other muscle cells have. Mitochondria are the parts of the cell that make energy.
Exercise increases the hearts fitness so it can deliver more oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Develop a good exercise program!
Because of the great energy requirements put on the heart, nutrition is very important. Vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, enzymes and antioxidants are super important for heart health.
- Studies show that a plant-based diet can even reverse heart and cardiovascular disease. Vegetative foods provide a bounty of nutrients the body needs for great heart health.
- Studies show Nuts and seeds daily reduce the risk for heart disease. They are anti-inflammatory and a good source of Vitamin E, which, is very important for cell membrane health and is also an antioxidant.
- Omega 3’s from Salmon, sardines, ground flax seed and walnuts reduce inflammation and keep blood platelets from sticking reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease
- Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables reduce inflammation and protect the heart from free radical damage. The greater the volume of oxygen is needed in a cell to make energy, the higher the potential for free radical damage. The heart is a big air and fluid pump. So antioxidants are even more important for the heart muscle.
- Magnesium is very important for heart health because it helps blood vessels relax potentially reducing blood pressure which, if high can damage the heart.
- B Vitamins are critical for preparing foods into energy.
- B12, Folate and B6 are critical to reduce the protein homocysteine from our tissues. Homocysteine causes cellular damage to the heart and blood vessels and heavily related to heart disease.
- Iron, B12, Vitamin C and Folate are important to make healthy red blood cells and blood vessels.
Some of the best foods for heart health are:
- Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans)
- Dark chocolate
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens)
- Brussel sprouts
- Beans (pinto, garbanzo, black)
- Goji Berries
- Sweet Potatoes
- Wild rice
The better question might be what foods are bad for heart health. That is a simple answer. Any foods that are not good providers of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, enzymes and antioxidants should be avoided. This would mean any refined and processed foods.
Sugar is a poison that is the biggest cause of heart and cardiovascular disease.
The average American now consumes over 170 lbs. of sugar per year. At the beginning of the 20th century, the average American consumed less than 10 pounds per year. The rise in the intake of sugar over the past 20 years has created almost epidemic levels of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Unless we get the intake of sugar under control, the percentage of Americans suffering from lifestyle related disease and illness will continue to climb. Sugar is not the only food ingredient that is causing us problems; it is however close to being the worse, if not the worse.
A new study recently published in Journal of the American Medical Association concludes that sugar intake significantly contributes to illness and specifically increases cholesterol levels.
Researchers at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta examined the added sugar intake and blood fat levels in more than 6,100 adults.
- Study participants consumed an average of 21.4 teaspoons of added sugars a day, or more than 320 calories a day from these sources.
- The study also revealed, that people with the higher intakes of added sugars were more likely to have lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides, which studies have shown to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
The American Heart Association is recommending that women get no more than 6.5 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day and men get no more than 9.5 teaspoons (38 grams) per day.
- A Dairy Queen Blizzard has 26 teaspoons (124 grams) of sugar
- A 20 oz. Pepsi has 17.5 teaspoons (70 grams) of sugar
- A 1.7 ounce bag of M%M Peanuts has 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of sugar
How do we cut out the excess sugar?
The first step is to read the food labels on the foods we eat. Look at the Nutritional Label. Check the area under carbohydrates; you will see fiber then sugar. If the amount of sugar is more than 7 grams per serving I would read the ingredient section to see where the sugar was coming from. If they were from added sugars I would seriously consider looking for a healthier choice with less sugar.
Some people may be addicted to sugar. Most doctors do know believe that sugar is addictive and it may not be, however the physiological response from a quick rise in blood sugar is a corresponding quick drop in blood sugar that creates a craving for sugars to get the blood sugar back to a healthy level again. This is a vicious cycle that some people may find hard to break. It takes about a week of eliminating added sugars from the daily diet to break it. If you do try it cold turkey, expect a headache and fatigue for a couple of days. Now you are free of the sugar cycle!
Partial list of added sugars
- Beet Sugar, Brown Sugar, Cane Sugar, Confectioner’s Sugar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Demerera, Dextrose, Granulated Sugar, Grape Sugar, Molasses, Muscavado Sugar, Raw Sugar, Refined Sugar, Sucrose, Table Sugar, Turbinado Sugar, White Sugar, Maple Syrup
Honey and molasses are natural and a better choice however they still cause a quick rise in blood sugar.
In my opinion the best choices for home use are stevia, xylitol and d-ribose (a sugar that produces more energy with very little blood sugar impact)
When shopping for foods, absolutely avoid high fructose corn syrups and limit the amount of added sugars to no more than 7 grams per serving.
- Avoid added sugars, the healthiest sweeteners are Truvia and raw honey.
- Make your diet mostly vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts and seeds.
- Exercise daily
- Reading food labels are an important habit you should develop. It is the first step in your road to wellness. If you do not know what you are eating how can you control it?
- Reduce your salt intake to 1300 mgs per day to reduce blood pressure.
- Drink plenty of clean water
Happy healthy eating!
Wally Bishop C.N.C.
The contents of this blog is not and should not be considered medical advice. This blog is for informational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor before making any dietary or lifestyle changes. Never quit taking prescription medications unless advised to do so by your doctor.