Lifestyle Changes to Improve Heart Health

For your overall health to improve, don't forget to take care of your heart, arteries, and circulatory system. Your circulatory system consists of a network of blood vessels, capillaries, and arteries. For your organs to survive, oxygen is necessary, so the role of your arteries is pretty crucial. The arteries transport oxygenated blood throughout your body, fueling every aspect of your life. As you breathe out carbon dioxide, you inhale more oxygen-rich blood, and the cycle begins again. 

natural heart health

As long as the blood vessels are open and clear, blood can flow freely. However, sometimes, our dietary habits and lifestyle choices can clog or block arteries, leading to a greater risk of heart attack or stroke. It occurs when cholesterol deposits on the artery walls. In response to the cholesterol problem, your immune system sends white blood cells to combat it. It starts with several reactions that result in inflammation. As a result, the arteries become thin and restrict blood flow to the heart and other body parts. It is known as atherosclerosis, and it is often undetected until symptoms such as chest pain begin to occur.

In the United States, atherosclerosis is a major contributor to heart disease. About 50 % of all deaths in Western countries are caused by atherosclerosis. Several risk factors contribute to this chronic inflammatory disease1. The major risk factors are:

  • High LDL or bad cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar levels or diabetes
  • A family history of atherosclerosis
  • Obesity
  • Smoking and alcohol consumption
  • Poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle2,3

Many of us eat foods that can cause a blockage, including high fat and salt. However, certain foods can also aid in cleansing your arteries and keeping them open4. Read on if you would like to learn about foods that may help prevent clogged arteries and benefit your heart.

1. Fish

foods that are good for your heart

Fish is a wonderful source of omega-3 fats, which are considered essential nutrients for your heart. Fish high in omega-3 will reduce your risk of atherosclerosis if you eat it regularly. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce an adhesion molecule's expression in cells, which is a protein that helps cells adhere to one another and their surroundings. When inflammation occurs, your body releases adhesion molecules that clog arteries.

Moreover, a diet high in fish may reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis. An observational study compared people who consumed less than one portion of fish per week with those who consumed two or more portions per week. The study reported that 13.3% of people who ate less fish had atherosclerosis in their carotid arteries (which provide blood to your brain) versus just 6.6% of those who ate fish5.

2. Green Tea

Studies have revealed that people who take green tea regularly have a stronger cardiovascular system than those who don't. Polyphenols in green tea are believed to offer multiple health benefits, including those for your heart and blood vessels. A study found that the likelihood of heart disease and stroke was 26% lower in people who drank green tea. Also, they had a 16% lower risk of dying from these chronic heart conditions6.

3. Citrus Fruits

Fruits like oranges are delicious and full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including flavonoids. By inhibiting free radicals from oxidizing LDL cholesterol, citrus flavonoids can help reduce inflammation in the body. Having oxidized LDL contributes to the development and progression of atherosclerosis. It may come as no surprise that citrus consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke7.

4. Berries

berries for heart health

There are many varieties of berries, including blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and more. In addition to reducing inflammation, these fruits have been associated with a number of positive health benefits for your heart and other organs. Berries are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants like flavonoids, which may help support a healthy heart.

Also, berries have been shown to reduce the risk factors associated with atherosclerosis, including elevated LDL or bad cholesterol, high blood glucose, and high blood pressure. Hence, berries may prevent blood vessels from becoming blocked by reducing inflammation and cholesterol buildup, improving arterial function, and protecting against cell damage8

5. Cruciferous Vegetables

You may reduce your risk of developing clogged arteries by increasing your consumption of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Research shows that eating cruciferous vegetables reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. Researchers found cruciferous vegetables were associated with a reduction in carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) in a study of 1500 women.

Using this measurement, healthcare providers determine an individual's risk of developing an atherosclerosis-related disease. Additionally, cruciferous vegetable consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of atherosclerosis-related death and arterial calcification. As a result of arterial calcification, the arteries harden in atherosclerosis9.

6. Beets

Beets are a good source of nitrates, which your body converts to nitric oxide, which is a molecule that plays a variety of functions in your body. Reduced production of nitric oxide is linked to inflammation of the blood vessels. The consumption of foods rich in dietary nitrates, such as beets, may help enhance blood vessel function and reduce inflammation, thereby preventing atherosclerosis. In addition, studies have found a link between dietary nitrate intake and a decreased risk of death from atherosclerosis10.

7. Onions

Several health benefits are associated with onions, which are part of the Allium genus. These popular vegetables may benefit the heart when eaten in moderation. Those who consume more Allium vegetables like onions have a reduced risk of dying from atherosclerosis, according to a study that followed 1,226 women ages 70 and older for 15 years. It is believed that sulfur compounds in onions can prevent blood vessel inflammation, inhibit platelet clumping, and increase nitric oxide production in the body. It may all work together to protect against atherosclerosis and prevent arterial disease11.

8. Beans

beans good for your heart

Several studies have shown that beans are good for your heart because they contain fiber. It is essential to consume fiber-rich foods like beans to prevent atherosclerosis. To keep your blood cholesterol levels low, eat beans regularly. This will ensure that your arteries do not clog up. Beans have been reported to reduce the amount of LDL or bad cholesterol in the body in a number of studies12.

In a meta-analysis of 26 high-quality studies, it was found that diets containing about one serving (130 grams) of beans daily had significantly reduced levels of bad cholesterol compared with controls. A bean-rich diet has also shown to lower blood pressure, promote healthy arteries, and decrease diabetes risk. They may all reduce your risk of atherosclerosis13.

9. Tomatoes And Tomato-Based Products

Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment found in tomatoes, which is especially helpful in preventing atherosclerosis. Consuming tomato products rich in lycopene may reduce inflammation, elevate HDL or good cholesterol, and lower heart disease risk. It might be surprising to learn that combining cooked tomato with olive oil is likely to have the greatest effect on clogged arteries. For example, a study of 40 people found that eating tomato sauce with olive oil reduced adhesion molecules and inflammatory protein levels the most when compared with plain tomato sauce and raw tomatoes. However, all of the tomato preparations increased HDL or good cholesterol and decreased total cholesterol14.

10. Oats

Those with atherosclerosis or who want to prevent clogged arteries should consider consuming oats. It has been shown that oats can help significantly reduce risk factors associated with atherosclerosis, like high total and LDL or bad cholesterol levels. Furthermore, oats contain antioxidants, avenanthramides that may decrease inflammatory proteins, like cytokines and adhesion molecules. As a result, atherosclerosis may be prevented. Fiber-rich oat bran may also assist. As depicted by a study, participants with coronary artery disease had lower inflammatory markers and LDL or bad cholesterol levels after consuming oat fiber, as compared to those who didn't consume oat fiber regularly15.

11. Flax Seeds

The tiny seeds of flax are packed with nutrients. In addition to fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins, they are also rich in calcium and magnesium. Flax seeds are not merely highly nutritious but may also prevent atherosclerosis. The lignan compound secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG) found in flax seeds works to lower cholesterol and reduce atherosclerosis. In one study, rabbits who ate flaxseed after eating a high cholesterol diet developed 40% less plaque than those who didn't eat flaxseed16

12. Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, and spinach contain many nutrients that are thought to lower the risk of atherosclerosis. These foods contain high levels of dietary nitrates, which can reduce inflammation and improve blood vessel function. Additionally, they're high in potassium. The mineral prevents vascular calcification, which leads to atherosclerosis. Moreover, researchers found that eating green leafy vegetables reduced heart disease risk by 15.8% through a review of eight studies17.

13. Nuts And Seeds

foods for your heart

Several nutrients are found in nuts and seeds, including protein, fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins. Nut and seed consumption has consistently been proven to improve atherosclerosis risk factors. Eaten in moderation, nuts, and seeds can reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol and may increase HDL cholesterol. A recent study has also demonstrated that nuts and seeds lower blood sugar levels and may prevent diabetes, which is associated with atherosclerosis. Moreover, nuts and seeds can promote blood vessel function and reduce the risk of heart disease18.

14. Olive Oil

Olive oil has been found to prevent atherosclerosis in several studies. According to a 2018 review, olive oil consumption is related to lower inflammatory markers related to atherosclerosis and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. It is thought that olive oil's high content of polyphenol compounds is responsible for its heart and blood vessel health benefits. What's more, extra virgin olive oil that has been less refined has significantly higher levels of polyphenols than refined olive oil19

15. Cinnamon and Other Spices

Clogged arteries can be prevented with spices like ginger, chili, pepper, and cinnamon. Spices like these and others have anti-inflammatory properties, may scavenge free radicals, increase blood lipid levels, and may prevent platelets from clumping together in the blood. Spices are versatile flavorings that can be added to almost any type of food, from oatmeal, soups, and stews to just about anything else you can imagine20.

The Bottom Line 

The key to a healthy lifestyle is a healthy heart. You may be able to lessen your risk of clogged arteries by eating nutritious foods. Studies have shown that eating foods like berries, cruciferous vegetables, fish, olive oil, onions, greens, oats, and beans can help prevent atherosclerosis. It is worth eating more of the foods mentioned in this blog post to help keep your arteries clear, significantly reduce your chances of obtaining diseases, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet since they will be more familiar with your condition.

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