February is American Heart Month, a time when we can commit to caring for our most precious organ. Heart disease remains the number one killer in the Western world. Cardiovascular disease, or more accurately coronary artery disease (CAD), kills more Americans each year than cancer and respiratory diseases combined, according to the American Heart Association. The latest statistics show that CAD accounts for 840,678 — approximately 1 in 3 — deaths in this country.
“This disease is the cause of heart attacks, sudden death and the need for stents and heart bypass operations,” says Dr. Joel Kahn, MD, FACC, founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. “Many people believe that their fate is sealed because they may have a genetic predisposition to CAD, but research has demonstrated that the genetic contribution to CAD is 32% leaving a full 68% in our hands. While it may be that our genes load the gun, it’s really our lifestyle that pulls the trigger.”
The American Heart Association says that simply lowering one’s intake of dietary saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat reduces CAD by 30% — similar to the reduction achieved by statin treatment.
Now is a great time to start including these heart-healthy foods in your diet:
- Eat a plant-based diet. One of the best researched ways to beat heart disease is paying attention to what we eat. “Study after study supports the fact that a rainbow colored, organic, plant-based diet can help keep us healthy and disease-free,” says Kahn.
- Enjoy garlic. Kahn says that the ability to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood clotting with aged garlic extract (AGE) has been recognized for some time. “There have actually been a surprising number of studies testing the ability of aged garlic extract to halt heart disease progression,” he notes. “For example, in a study published in 2016 that used baseline and follow-up CT angiograms of heart arteries, aged garlic extract reduced areas of plaque in heart arteries at the one-year follow-up.”
- Drink pomegranate juice. Both pomegranate juice and its seeds have powerful antioxidant properties that improve the function of the so-called “good” HDL cholesterol. HDL acts like a vacuum, cleaning out the arteries and reversing CAD. Pomegranates can also reduce arterial damage and slow down their obstruction, says Kahn.
- Eat nuts, especially almonds. Dr. Kevin Campbell, a leading cardiologist from North Carolina and the author of Women and Cardiovascular Disease, tells Newsmax that the healthy fats found in nuts put them high on the list of foods that are good for your heart. Almonds, walnuts, cashews, and peanuts contain omega-3 fats, which have been shown to be heart healthy.
- Indulge in dark chocolate. Campbell says that many studies show that dark chocolate containing at least 60% cacao benefits the heart. “Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, and these have been shown to reduce inflammation — a known contributor to heart disease,” he says. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that consuming dark chocolate reduced heart attacks and strokes for people at high risk for CAD.
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