Your heart works around the clock, pumping nutrients and precious oxygen to your body’s tissues. It never takes a break. For the average adult, it beats a whopping 115,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood every day (1).
This is why it’s important that you do anything in your power to ensure it stays healthy. Especially considering the fact that heart disease is the single most common cause of death worldwide (2).
Living a heart-friendly lifestyle involves regular exercise, not smoking, and controlling your stress levels. Just as important as what you do, is what you eat.
Scientists have discovered that your heart needs specific nutrients to stay healthy…
1. Plant-Based Antioxidants
Antioxidants play a critical role in keeping your heart healthy because they protect your body from one of the most common causes of heart disease: the oxidation of cholesterol (3).
When cholesterol oxidizes, it causes fatty plaque to build up on the walls of your arteries, which can result in increased blood pressure and an increased risk of a heart attack.
The key is to consume plant-based antioxidants. Studies using synthetic vitamins—what you’ll find in most multivitamins—show no benefit, while antioxidants from fruits, veggies and herbs are shown to be protective (4).
2. Essential Fatty Acids
Researchers have found your body needs a balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. The problem is, most people get far too many omega-6s from processed foods.
This results in increased inflammation, a higher risk of obesity, and an increased risk of heart disease (5, 6). To remedy this issue, it’s important to get plenty of omega-3s from wild fish, flax seeds or chia seeds (7).
Perhaps surprisingly, you’ll want to avoid fish oil. While eating fish is good for you, most fish oils are highly refined and can easily turn rancid, which makes them pro-inflammatory in the body.
In fact, a complete review of 20 fish oil studies by the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that taking fish oil had no heart-health benefits (8). Stick to wild fish or plant omegas for a healthy heart.
3. Co-Enzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoQ10 is an enzyme found in almost every cell in the body. It’s an antioxidant, it helps cells generate energy, and delivers a wide range of heart benefits.
According to a study published by the College of Pharmacy and the Department of Medicine in Canada, “CoQ10 has significant potential for cardiovascular [disease] prevention as a standalone nutritional supplement.” (9)
CoQ10 is especially important for anyone taking cholesterol lowering medication. That’s because the class of drugs known as statins block your body’s production of the essential enzyme.
Plant sources of CoQ10 include spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and legumes. Leafy greens also have the added benefit of reactivating CoQ10 in the body.
4. Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide (N.O.) is a signaling molecule that helps your cells communicate and blood vessels expand. As you grow older, your body gets less efficient at making it and relies more on external sources.
Nitric oxide plays an important role in healthy blood pressure, improved blood flow, energy levels and better athletic performance (10).
Consequently, it’s a good idea to help replenish your body’s nitric oxide levels if you are over 40. You can increase your N.O. levels through nitrate-rich plants including leafy greens, beets and even (dark) chocolate.
When it comes to heart-healthy nutrients, magnesium is the most overlooked. But that doesn’t mean it’s less important.
This, in turn, can significantly increase your risk of a heart attack. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 7 of every 10 people having their first heart attack have high blood pressure (12).
Since magnesium deficiencies are exceptionally common, this is a nutrient you don’t want to brush off. Boost your magnesium intake with almonds, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds and spinach.
6. Curcumin (Turmeric Root)
Numerous studies have found that curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, it fights inflammation, and it also supports the function of the endothelium, the lining of blood vessels, thereby supporting healthy blood pressure (14).
Collectively, these properties make curcumin an essential part of any heart-healthy diet. Just be aware that curcumin has low bioavailability.
Combine turmeric with black pepper when adding it to recipes to boost absorption or take a supplement with turmeric with essential fatty acids to increase absorption.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli contain a compound called sulforaphane. These veggies can help the body detoxify toxins, and are strongly associated with a reduced risk of certain types of cancer (15).
How does this keep your heart healthy? Well, when toxins from the environment get into your body, they cause oxidative damage which can compromise the cells in your arteries and heart.
But sulforaphane can rapidly remove toxins found in air pollution, such as benzene, thereby helping to protect the heart from its damaging effects (16).
In addition to broccoli, other foods that contain sulforaphane are cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy.
If you have a hard time stomaching these types of veggies, you can get a supplement that contains sulforaphane instead.
Folate is a mineral that’s often associated with maternal health. But healthy prenatal development is far from its only benefit.
Folate helps decrease the amount of homocysteine in your blood. Which is important because when homocysteine levels get too high, studies have found that it significantly increases the risk of heart disease (17).
Rather than the synthetic folic acid found in most multivitamins, aim to get the natural variety (folate) which is found in beans, asparagus, and leafy greens such as spinach, and kale.
One of the easiest and most economical ways to get many of these heart-healthy nutrients is to drink a green juice every day. Pick one with a variety of leafy greens, veggies and antioxidant-rich fruits and you’ll give your heart the natural vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs.
Your heart works tirelessly over the years. Keep it ticking in a healthy way by exercising regularly, managing stress, and making sure you get some of these essential nutrients every day. They might be just what you need to keep the beat going for a long and healthy life.