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Top ten essential nutrients for a healthy heart

by , 01 April 2016

Did you know...

The average adult heart beats 72 times a minute,100,000 times a day, 3,600,000 times a year, and 2.5 billion times during a lifetime? Every day, your heart creates enough energy to drive a truck over 32 km. In a lifetime, that's equivalent to driving to the moon and back!

Interesting, right?

I'm sure you do know that heart disease is the number one killer in South Africa; one person dies each minute from its affects. And most of these deaths are completely preventable! On that note, here are ten essential nutrients to support your heart with the energy it needs to beat healthfully and happily for years to come.

Ten nutrients to eat for optimal heart health

#1: Omega-3 fatty acids
Salmon (be sure to get wild-caught and not farm-raised or Atlantic) and sardines are great sources of the omega-3 fats. The omega-3 fatty acids eicopentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) support your heart by decreasing inflammation, preventing clot formation and helping to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Studies show that consuming two or more servings of salmon per week is associated with a 30 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease.
If you don't eat fish, another important source of Omega-3 fatty acids can be flax seed. Be aware that flax seed contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) only. ALA must be converted in our body to EPA and DHA and due to nutrient imbalances some of us are unable to make this conversion, therefore consuming flax seed alone may not be enough. 
#2: Quercetin
Apples are a natural source of quercetin. Quercetin is a plant-derived flavonoid that contains natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help to prevent blood clots.
The Iowa Women’s Health Study showed that those who ate apples regularly had a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.  So, an apple a day may actually keep the doctor away! Quercetin may also be taken as a dietary supplement!
#3: Folate
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard and romaine lettuce contain high amounts of folate, which helps to maintain healthy levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid and people with blood levels over 12 mmol/L have been found to be at higher risk of heart attacks, vascular disease and strokes. 
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that eating eight or more servings of green leafy vegetables each day resulted in a more than 20 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared to eating less than three servings.
#4: Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Beef, organ meats, soy oil, sardines and mackerel contain CoQ10. However, the amounts of CoQ10 found in these foods are relatively low and this may be one nutrient that is best taken as a supplement. CoQ10 acts as a natural anti-oxidant and energy-producer for every cell in our body. Our heart muscles contain the highest amounts of CoQ10. 
An analysis of twelve clinical trials showed that CoQ10 reduces blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure. Prescription cholesterol-lowering medications, referred to as statins, deplete coQ10 levels so if you are taking one of these medications it is a must that you supplement with CoQ10. 
#5: Monounsaturated fats
Avocado, olive oil, pecans, walnuts and almonds are wonderful sources of these heart healthy monounsaturated fats.  
Studies have also shown that people who ate an avocado every day for a week reduced their LDL (‘bad cholesterol’) and triglyceride levels, which are associated with heart disease, by an average of 17 percent. These same studies showed that at the same time, HDL (‘good cholesterol’) levels increased.
#6: L-Carnitine
Avocado, fermented soy foods and animal protein contain L-carnitine. L-carnitine is an amino acid derivative found in almost all of our cells. It’s essential for healthy cholesterol levels as well as aiding in breaking down fats into energy so that our heart muscle can function properly.
Two recent clinical trials reported that L-carnitine given immediately after a heart attack improved recovery and those taking it with heart failure showed improved exercise tolerance.
#7: Lycopene
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene. Lycopene, which gives tomatoes it’s red color is an antioxidant that has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
A study published in Atherosclerosis showed that lycopene increased levels of super oxide dismutase (SOD), which in turn reduced blood pressure as well as high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) levels. hsCRP is a marker of cardiac inflammation and if elevated, is a risk factor for cardio vascular disease.
#8: Magnesium
Walnuts and spinach are awesome sources of magnesium. Every organ in our body, and especially our heart, needs magnesium to function properly. Magnesium is essential for a normal heartbeat. Magnesium is the main treatment for a heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
Magnesium has also been shown to reduce blood pressure in several large studies and may help those recovering from heart attacks as well.
#9: Polyphenols
Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are packed with Polyphenols. Polyphenols help to increase nitric oxide production in our body, which in turn causes blood vessels to relax and dilate and thereby lowering blood pressure. 
A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed eating about a cup of mixed berries daily for eight weeks increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure.
#10: Reservatrol
Dark chocolate and red wine contain reservatrol. Reservatrol prevents blood clotting as well as enhances antioxidant and nitric oxide production leading to lowed blood pressure. Though, you would need to drink a lot of wine and eat a lot of dark chocolate to receive these benefits. This again may be one heart-healthy nutrient that is best taken as a supplement. 

PS: Go here for my top tips on how to be a heart smart shopper.

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