Eat your way to a healthier heart!

We’ve all heard this till we’re deaf: foods and lifestyle habits can reverse heart disease risk factors like cholesterol, high blood pressure, triglycerides, diabetes. Here’s a list for you to start now, to give your heart some yum benefits.

Chilli powder: Shaking hot chilli powder on food may help prevent a spike in insulin levels after meals. A small study in Australia showed that simply adding chilli to a burger meal produced lower insulin levels in overweight volunteers. Chilli powder is a blend of five spices, while dried chilli pepper comes from a single hot pepper. Both are good substitutes for salt in recipes. Avid if you have acidity or ulcer or sensitive stomach issues

Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a hearty, healthy substitute for normal potatoes for people concerned about diabetes. With a low glycaemic index, these spuds won’t cause a quick spike in blood sugar. Ample fibre, vitamin A and lycopene add to their heart-healthy profile. Roast them, add some salt and lemon juice, and you have a healthy snack ready!

Oranges: This sweet, juicy fruit contains the cholesterol-fighting fibre pectin – as well as potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure. A small study shows that orange juice (fresh) may improve blood vessel function and modestly lower blood pressure through the antioxidant hesperidin. A medium orange averages 62 calories, with three grams of fibre.

Extra virgin olive oil: This oil, made from the first press of olives, is especially rich in heart-healthy antioxidants called polyphenols, as well as healthy monounsaturated fats. When olive oil replaces saturated fat (like butter), it can help lower cholesterol levels. Polyphenols protect blood vessels as they are anti-inflammatory, and cardiovascular disease really is inflammation of the blood vessels. For best results, eat raw.

Salmon: Officially designated as a super food by the Nutrition world, salmon maintains heart health, it’s rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA and in Vitamin D. Omega-3s have been proven to help prevent heart disease. Two servings of salmon or other oily fish a week is good, more than that could harm due to the risk of mercury contamination, especially for pregnant women.

Red wine and Resveratrol: If you drink alcohol, a little red wine may be a heart-healthy choice. Resveratrol and catechins, two antioxidants in red wine, may help protect artery walls. Alcohol can also boost HDL, the good cholesterol.

Now before you rejoice, men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day ‘Regularly’ means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week. Too much alcohol may hurt the heart, increase blood pressure and cause palpitations.

Walnuts: A small handful of walnuts – around 40 grams a day can lower your cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the arteries of the heart. Walnuts are packed with omega-3s, monounsaturated fats, and fibre. The benefits come when walnuts replace bad fats, like those in biscuits or samosas – and you don’t increase your calorie count.

Almonds: A handful of nuts for a healthy heart! Flaked almonds go well with vegetables, fish, chicken, even desserts. They’re full of vitamin E, plant sterols, fibre and heart-healthy fats. Almonds may help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of diabetes. Don’t soak them or you will lose the water-soluble B vitamins important for reducing stress and staying calm.

Tofu: Make soya protein the main attraction more often at dinnertime by cooking with tofu instead of red meat. You gain all the heart-healthy minerals, fibre, and polyunsaturated fats of soya – and you avoid a load of artery-clogging saturated fat. You can add tofu to soups for protein with no added fat.

Oats: Oats in all forms can help your heart by maintaining healthy levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol. A warm bowl of porridge fills you up for hours, oats daliya or khichdi with vegetables can make a good lunch, and this cereal can replace white flour for baking. It helps keep blood sugar levels stable over time — making it useful for people with diabetes, too.

Flaxseeds: In older days, it was called alsi and was fed to cows in rural India. Today, the world has woken up to the benefits of this shiny seed which has three elements that are good for your heart: fibre, phytochemicals called lignans, and ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. The body converts ALA to the more powerful omega-3s, EPA and DHA. Grind flaxseed for the best nutrition absorption. Add it to cereal, cakes, yoghurt, even mustard on a sandwich.

Low-fat yoghurt: While low-fat dairy products are most often promoted for bone health, these foods can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels, too. Milk is high in calcium and potassium and yoghurt has twice as much of these important minerals. To really boost the calcium and minimise the fat, choose low-fat or no-fat varieties. Use yoghurt instead of ice cream, and dunk in an apple for a yummy dessert or snack.

Blueberries: The list of healthy nutrients in blueberries is extensive: anthocyanins give them their deep blue colour and support heart health. Blueberries also contain ellagic acid, beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium and fibre. Add fresh or dried blueberries to yoghurt and make a heart healthy dessert!

Rachna Chhachhi
Certified Nutritional Therapist

Rachna Chhachhi is a certified Nutritional Therapist, who has specialised in treatment of chronic lifestyle diseases without medication. She has cured people with hypertension, cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, hormonal imbalances, acne etc. She is the author of best selling health book called RESTORE, where she has shared the science of how diseases take route and how to reverse them.