Heart disease remains America's No. 1 killer, and it all starts with the condition of our arteries.
The 60,000 miles or so of blood vessels in the body are like an interstate road system delivering everything each cell needs to survive. Although the vessels are pretty efficient at repairing themselves when we are young, wear and tear takes its toll.
"Everything suffers from the ravages of time, including blood vessels," Dr. Jack Wolfson, author of The Paleo Cardiologist, said. "The thin layer of cells that line the vessels, called the endothelium, is particularly vulnerable. Those cells are responsible for limiting inflammation and the ability of LDL (bad) cholesterol and other particles to get through the lining to create plaque formation."
Inflammation can cause plaque buildup in arteries to become unstable and rupture, leading to clots that result in heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues.
So, it is really important to keep your arteries in good repair. Along with not smoking, exercising, getting enough sleep and reducing stress, Wolfson says diet is critical. In general, foods high in natural nitrates, healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, certain proteins and amino acids, and probiotics can all help to keep vessels clear.
Here are some of the best foods Wolfson and other experts recommend for arterial health:
Beets: This root vegetable is high in nitrates, which turn into nitric oxide gas through the digestive process. Nitric oxide lowers blood pressure by relaxing the vessels, which helps prevent damage to the endothelium. Arugula, spinach, and kale are also high in nitrates.
Kombucha: The slightly alcoholic fermented tea produces the types of oral bacteria that are vital to the process of transforming nitrates into nitric oxide. "Kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods really crank up the oral bacteria," says Wolfson, an integrative cardiologist based in Paradise Valley, Arizona. "So, on a hot afternoon, instead of having a frozen margarita, have a tall glass of kombucha."
Grass-fed beef: Muscle and organ meat is a complete source of protein and the amino acids needed to optimize digestive pathways and increase levels of nitric oxide. "These foods are also high in vitamin K2, which is the Holy Grail for reversing arterial calcification," Wolfson tells Newsmax. "Since the quality of the meat is dependent on what the animals eat, be sure to get grass-fed as studies show it has more appropriate fatty acid levels than corn- or grain-fed beef products."
Wild salmon: The omega-3 fatty acids abundant in wild salmon, anchovies, sardines, and shellfish increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, reduce triglycerides and fight inflammation. "Oysters are one of the best choices because they are packed full with omega-3s and zinc, which is also heart-healthy," Wolfson noted.
Almonds: Like other nuts and seeds, almonds are loaded with healthy fats. But they are a particularly good source of heart protective vitamin E and magnesium, which help prevent plaque buildup in blood vessels.
Asparagus: The crunchy stalks are great for arteries because they contain a lot of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Asparagus boosts the body's production of the inflammation-fighting antioxidant glutathione, and it also contains alpha-linoleic and folic acids, which help prevent hardening of the arteries.
Grapefruit: Wolfson recommends a grapefruit a day to help keep cardiovascular trouble away. Actually, all citrus fruit works to some degree because it contains naringin, a flavonoid that helps optimize cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure and lower both inflammation and oxidative stress. But grapefruit has the most of the bitter-tasting nutrient.
Avocado: Rich in vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, potassium and healthy fats, avocados produce a lot of artery-healthy effects, including protection from free radicals, upping HDL cholesterol, lowering LDL cholesterol, and reducing blood pressure.
Turmeric: The curcumin in the spice is a potent antioxidant that helps protect the endothelium and thus reduce risk of arteriosclerosis. In general, spices are rich in beneficial compounds. "I tell people, put spices in everything," Wolfson said. "Oregano, rosemary, cumin, thyme, ginger . . . just open up your spice drawer and dump them in everything."
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