National Heart Healthy Month: Are You Protecting Your Heart With These 8 Potent Superfoods?

While the month of February will forever be synonymous with all things heart related thanks to V-Day, it's also The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's American Heart Month, an initiative that strives to bring awareness to physical heart health and heart disease prevention. And it's a worthy cause - year after year heart disease tops the charts as the leading cause of death in this country, putting it ahead of even cancer. While that might seem like a grim reality, heart disease is actually, in large part, a result of poor diet and lifestyle habits, two aspect of life that each of us have quite a bit of control over.

Research shows that eating a diet full of processed food leads to cardiovascular disease. What's to blame? Refined grains and starches, refined sugars and salt, processed fats such as hydrogenated oils and unstable vegetable oils, non-food additives such as artificial flavors and colorants, and chemicals added to extend shelf life such as preservatives. These ingredients trigger inflammation, are very hard (if not impossible) for our bodies to fully process, and put incredible stress on our organs over time.

The consensus is in: heart health, and health in general, improves when a diet based around fresh, whole and minimally processed fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, cold processed fats and lean proteins is maintained.

So leave that processed stuff by the wayside, and instead pick up a few (or all) of these 8 exceptional, life-supporting superfoods, and give some extra TLC to your heart today, which is by far one of the hardest working organs in your body.

1. Cacao

While cacao's main claim to fame may be the fact that it is the base ingredient in all chocolate, it also contains a very impressive array of phytonutrition. Cacao's rich suppy of flavonoid antioxidants help protect our cardiovascular system, which includes our blood vessels and our heart. Flavonoids help increase blood flow and reduce high blood pressure. They also help strengthen the integrity and elasticity of our blood vessel and capillary walls, making them less likely to rupture. Be sure to choose raw, minimally processed chocolate to get the maximum health benefits.

2. Garlic

This pungent, spicy tuber is used in cuisines across the globe to add and enhance flavor, but it also packs a potent medicinal punch. Garlic's sulfur compounds are credited for many of its health benefits, sulfur being the 3rd most abundant mineral in the human body. Sulfur plays a profound role in protein synthesis and collagen and elastin formation, which help maintain the structure and integrity of our connective tissues and artery walls. Eating garlic has also been shown to help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, as well as lower high blood pressure. It's also one of the easiest foods to incorporate into your diet, as it can be added to a variety of recipes from soups to salad dressings, to marinades and sauces. That garlic breath is worth it!

3. Brassica Vegetables

Kale, broccoli, and brussel sprouts, we're looking at you...if you need a good reason to eat more of these superfood veggies, let your heart health be one of them! Brassica vegetables are rich with phenolic compounds, specific phytonutrients which act as potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents in the body. Phenolic compounds have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Brassica vegetables are also a rich source of mineral sulfur, which plays a big role in the structure, elasticity, and health of our blood vessels. Bored with the usual steamed broccoli or kale salad? Try adding steamed and frozen cauliflower to your superfood smoothies (you won't even know it's in there..), or roast up some brussel sprouts with seasonings, Himalayan salt, and avocado or coconut oil. Raw cabbage can be hard for many to digest - try a raw sauerkraut or kimchi instead and get the added benefit of probiotics.

4. Chia and Flax Seeds

Healthy fats are critical for heart health. Chia and flax offer a great supply of omega 3 fatty acids, which can be harder to come by. Not only are omega 3's highly anti-inflammatory, they have also been shown to help reduce triglycerides in the blood, reduce high blood pressure, slow the buildup of plaque in the arteries, and also reduce the risk of irregular heartbeat. While fish is often looked at as the best source, chia seeds and flax seeds offer a great plant-based alternative.

5. Almonds and Almond Butter

Eating raw nuts in general is a great heart-healthy habit due to their high fiber content and unsaturated plant-based fats. Almonds in particular have the added benefit of being rich with Vitamin E, a powerful anti-aging antioxidant. Almonds have been shown to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Our raw and low temperature stone ground almond butter from Dastony is also a delicious and versatile way to get your daily almond fix. Drizzle it over fresh fruit, whip up a delicious salad dressing, or blend it right into a smoothie!

6. Matcha

Matcha has gained a lot of popularity lately as its health properties become more well known. This finely milled green tea powder is most commonly served as a tea or latte, and it is absolutely awash with special antioxidants known as polyphenols. A diet rich in polyphenols has been associated with reduced risk for heart disease. Matcha also contains an amino acid known as l theanine which has anti-anxiety properties. L theanine is the comound responsible for matcha's signature calm-yet-alert effect on the body and mind, and why it's also been used as an aid to meditation.

7. Coconut Butter and Oil

Back in the dark ages (okay..maybe not that far back...) coconut was blacklisted as an unhealthy saturated fat that may promote heart disease. However, tides have turned as new research suggest that coconut fat is actually extremely beneficial for our health, heart health included. Coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCT for short) which are burned very efficiently by the body as a fuel source. Coconut oil has been shown to help boost HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and even drop triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. It turns out that the issue of saturated fat is far from black and white. Coconut oil and butter are superfoods!

8. Avocado

Avocado toast is all the rage, and for good reason. Avocados have the ability to make just about anything better (in our humble opinion of course...) with their creaminess and delicious, buttery flavor. Avocado is also a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which is known for lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising the HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the body. Adding avocado to your salads is also a great way to ensure those fat-soluble nutrients in your salad bowl, such as Vitamin K and carotenoids, are properly absorbed and utlized.

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