Heart Disease and Diet
8 Snacks That Fight Heart Disease
Sure, genetics play a big role in heart health. But lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise, play an even bigger part in preventing and reversing heart disease. The eight snacks on this list are particularly powerful -- packed with nutrients that fight heart disease and the risk factors that cause it. And because they're portable, they're a cinch to fit into any busy schedule.
Maybe it's due to their ubiquitous nature, but apples don't get enough credit. Never mind it doesn't get the same health billing as exotic goji berries -- the humble apple is king, especially when it comes to fighting heart disease.
Apples frequently feature in heart health studies, and it's no wonder. When compared to the most commonly consumed fruit in the U.S., apples rank second only to cranberries (not the most snack-friendly food!) in antioxidant activity. They're also chock-full of pectin, a fiber that interacts with other phytonutrients found in apples to deliver a host of cardiovascular benefits.
How they help: Quercetin and other apple antioxidants combat oxidative stress that can lead to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular problems, while pectin helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, a precursor and contributor to heart disease. Apples are also anti-inflammatory, which helps support overall vascular health.
Snack smart: All apple varieties deliver these heart-protective nutrients, but red apples boast the most antioxidant power.
2. Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
In his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Jonny Bowden cites a study of 10,000 men and women that associated regular consumption of legumes with a 22 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.
How they help: All beans are a good bet for heart health, but garbanzo beans are the winner when it comes to reducing your risk of coronary heart disease. They're packed with soluble fiber -- which helps lower cholesterol -- in addition to heart-protective antioxidants, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Snack smart: Aim for four servings a week. Grab hummus and whole-wheat pita on the go, or snack on whole chickpeas right from the can (look for brands that list only these three ingredients: garbanzo beans, water, sea salt).
Researchers comparing evidence from four large epidemiological studies found that regular consumption of nuts was associated with a 37 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Why choose almonds over other nuts? It's simple: Calorie for calorie, they're packed with more cardioprotective nutrients than just about any other nut (walnuts are a close second).
How they help: Almonds house a slew of heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber, vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium. Magnesium contributes to healthy blood pressure, and potassium is essential for helping your heart pump blood. Almonds are also rich in monounsaturated fat -- the healthy kind -- which has been associated with lower levels of heart disease in countless studies.
Snack smart: Reach for plain raw almonds or top an apple with a tablespoon of unsweetened almond butter. Work four servings a week into your routine to give your heart health a boost.
Studies show that high blueberry consumption (one to two cups per day) can improve cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides, and protect against oxidative damage that could lead to clogged blood vessels, a sign of heart disease.
How they help: Blueberries are powerful pellets of antioxidants (especially manganese and vitamins C and E) that provide protection on a cellular level. In addition to lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol and raising HDL ("good") cholesterol, the phytonutrients in blueberries also prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, protect blood vessels, and support healthy blood pressure levels.
Snack smart: A number of recent studies have shown that organic blueberries may have a higher antioxidant capacity than their conventionally grown cousins. Opt for organic, and eat them as often as possible; daily is best. Out of season, dip into a bag of frozen blueberries -- they retain virtually all of their antioxidant power.