As we get older, the collective opinions of the medical community and the mainstream media begin to instill a fear of cardiovascular disease in our minds. Every food becomes a danger for clogging your arteries. Every gym workout is spurned on by the growing fear that your heart isn’t as strong as it should be.
And with all that fear-mongering aside, your concerns are not without merit. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 614,348 deaths were caused by heart disease in 2014. This makes it the leading cause of death amongst all other diseases and health conditions, cancer included.
Atherosclerosis refers to the progressive clogging of the arteries. It is a key contributor to heart disease, along with stroke and a range of other cardiovascular conditions. Atherosclerosis is affected by a range of variables including autoimmunity, infection and dietary complications. It is also a condition which is entirely preventable. And in my opinion it’s very easy to prevent or even reverse, provided you know which foods to eat and which to avoid.
I’ve put together a list of foods known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense and fiber-rich properties. These are all important elements which can set you back on the path to healthier arteries and improved cardiovascular health. The added effect is that these foods will improve your health in general, meaning you’ll feel better than ever!
Fruit for scrubbing arteries
A personal favorite of mine, avocados are unbelievably nutritious and make a great addition to any meal. They supercharge a boring sandwich and make salads a whole lot more exciting. They are great simply on their own or in a delicious homemade guacamole dip. It seems hard to believe that something so creamy and delicious can also be good for you, but you better believe it!
In addition to their other wide-ranging health properties, avocados have been shown to dramatically improve blood cholesterol. A study published in the Archives of Medical Research found that consuming avocado on a daily basis leads to a decrease in triglycerides. LDL cholesterol (the unofficial “bad” kind) dropped by about 22 percent and HDL (“good”) cholesterol increased by around 11 percent. Lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol means clearer arteries and less chance of plaque buildup. And yes, avocados are technically fruit!
The deep red hue of cranberries belies their antioxidant-rich properties, along with their deliciously tart flavor. Similar to avocados, the high concentrations of antioxidants contained within their ruby depths really give your cardiovascular health a boost by lowering LDL cholesterol and elevating HDL cholesterol levels. And the best thing about it? You can enjoy all the artery-scrubbing benefits of this fruit in a simple glass of pure cranberry juice. Easy as that.
Let’s face it: they’re a little bit weird. You’ve probably bypassed the occasional persimmon display at the supermarket because you simply didn’t trust the darn things. Are they oranges, tomatoes or something else? Whatever their loyalties, persimmons are positively overflowing with antioxidants and polyphenols. Like the avocado and cranberry, these help to decrease both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides from your bloodstream. It also just so happens that persimmons are high in fiber, which is a critical aspect of regulating blood pressure and cleansing your arteries on a regular basis.
It seems hard to believe that something so sweet and delicious can also play an important role in keeping your arteries clear and your heart healthy, but the experts seem to think it’s true. Watermelon contains plenty of a little thing called L-citrulline, an amino acid which lowers blood pressure and decreases inflammation. Therefore, it eases pressure on your arteries and promotes a healthy heart. Reflect on that next time you’re considering whether you’ve earned that next juicy slice of watermelon!
Vegetables and spices
It’ll come as no surprise to you that broccoli, that flowery green vegetable that your mom always forced you to eat, is dynamite when it comes to artery scrubbing. This bushy brassica is packed with vitamin K, an essential antioxidant which helps to prevent calcification and hardening of the arteries. Not only that, broccoli is surprisingly high in readily available fiber. As we know, this helps to support heart health by normalizing blood pressure and lubricating arterial walls against damage.
The delicious taste and non-sugary sweetness of cinnamon mean that you shouldn’t really need any other reasons to use cinnamon on a daily basis. But here’s another one. It turns out that a tablespoon of cinnamon every day can dramatically reduce LDL cholesterol levels while simultaneously preventing plaque buildup. This effect is further supported by the fact that cinnamon makes an excellent replacement for sugar. It provides that sought-after sweetness in your coffee or baking but without elevating blood sugar levels and increasing inflammation in your arteries.
Still not convinced? Here are 20 other reasons why cinnamon deserves pride of place on your spice rack.
Here’s another vegetable which has long received it’s fair share of fame due to its wide-ranging health properties. Spinach is a powerful ally to have on your side when it comes to cardiovascular peace of mind. Spinach contains loads of fiber, potassium and folate, which collectively help to lower blood pressure and keep your arteries humming along without a care in the world. In addition, this study showed that one serving per day of folate-rich leafy greens, spinach included, significantly lowered homocysteine levels, which are recognized as a contributor to cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.
While technically not a vegetable, this powder derived from a particular species of blue-green algae holds its own in the vegetable department due to its vast array of amino acids. These amino acids surpass any found in any plant-based sources of protein, helping to fortify your health and regulate lipid levels in your blood. This, combined with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, can significantly lower arterial inflammation and boost the health of your heart. Spirulina is best enjoyed as a nutrient-rich addition to your morning green smoothie or simply as a daily supplement.
Turmeric is a spice which just keeps getting better and better in the eyes of the health community. This powerful anti-inflammatory orange powder owes many of its health benefits to the ultra-high levels of curcumin. This compound has been shown to reduce the fatty deposits in our arteries by as much as 26 percent. Not only that, studies show that curcumin supplementation, or simply getting plenty of turmeric in your diet, can reverse arterial dysfunction and reduce the oxidative effects of aging on your arteries. All good news for your heart.
If you’ve been following the dramatic rise of coconut oil in the alternative health community, you’ll probably be aware that the saturated fats found in this oil are loaded with essential nutrients. As a result, they’re amazingly good for your heart. The high concentrations of medium-chain triglycerides (MGT) in coconut oil can significantly reduce plaque buildup in your arteries. They can convert the cholesterol in your bloodstream into a form that is more readily available for utilization by your body. Far from saturated fats being a cause of heart disease (as the authorities led us to believe over the past 30 years), they are actually an important part of robust cardiovascular health.
Olive oil has been a favorite amongst health-savvy eaters for considerably longer than coconut oil, and for good reason. It has high concentrations of monounsaturated oleic acid. This is an essential fatty acid which has been linked to a lowering of triglycerides and a reduction of oxidative stress in the bloodstream. And while we’re on the topic, studies suggest that the positive effects of olive may be so profound that people who consume it on a regular basis have a 41 percent lower risk of stroke than those who don’t.
Seeds and nuts
If you haven’t yet dabbled in the versatility of chia seeds, it’s time you did. They contain impressively high levels of both fiber and alpha-linolenic acids. These two important compounds work together to regulate blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol, increase HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides. All important aspects of maintaining healthy arteries.
You’d probably be surprised by just how many delicious meals and snacks you can construct with chia seeds. Here are five recipes with chia seeds that I have a feeling you’ll love.
Due to their high levels of healthy fats and protein, nuts make an excellent snack alternative for anyone thinking of heart health. But in addition to their high fat and protein content, almonds contain plenty of vitamin E and fiber. Both of these support healthy artery function and robust cardiovascular function. If almonds aren’t really your thing, why not walnuts instead? They contain loads of alpha-linolenic acid, the same compound found in chia seeds. It reduces blood pressure, inflammation and keeps things running smoothly in your arteries.
— Liivi Hess
Wondering what sort of state your arteries are really in? Simply looking at your feet might save you a trip to the doctor to find out.