Listen to Dr. Anup’s Podcast about Heart-Healthy Whole Foods

 

The heart works hard, and it works non-stop. Therefore, like any machine, it needs good fuel and proper maintenance services to keep going and work efficiently. This has led to much exploration into the nutrients that support heart function and protect heart health. Research has highlighted many micronutrients, such as vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and antioxidants, that directly benefit the heart. Also, with our advances in pointing out these specific micronutrients, we have lost sight of how whole foods actually can provide us with these essential micronutrients.

Here, I would like to highlight these micronutrients as well as the heart-healthy whole foods that help us get them naturally in our diets.

Heart-Healthy Nutrients and Their Sources

L-arginine

Arginine is an amino acid that is commonly found as part of many protein structures. For the heart, L-arginine is converted into a nitric oxide compound. NO or nitric oxide serves as a natural relaxant for the blood vessels and as a supporter for anti-oxidant activity in the blood stream.1Ignarro LJ, et al. “Nutrition, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease: An update.” Cardiovascular Research. 2007(73):326–340. As it relaxes the blood vessels, NO helps to reduce pressure on the heart, lower blood pressure, improve efficiency of blood flow, and improve nutrient exchange across blood vessel walls. L-arginine is most readily found in sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, turkey, cold water fish (e.g., cod, tilapia, trout, and tuna), soy beans, spirulina, seaweed, and more. 2SELF Nutrition Data. “Foods Highest in Arginine.” Conde Nast. ©2014. Online article accessed November 16, 2016.

Lycopene and Polyphenols3Ignarro LJ, et al. “Nutrition, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease: An update.” Cardiovascular Research. 2007(73):326–340.

These two antioxidants, which help to reduce oxidative damage, are found abundantly in fruits and vegetables. Oxidation is responsible for the aging process; it also causes our LDL cholesterol to become stuck in the arteries, resulting in plaque. In turn, plaque buildup is the aging process of our cardiovascular system. Plaque produces blockage in blood flow and stiffens our arteries; it is the main process that results in a variety of heart disease.

Natural Rhythms Integrative Medicine on Heart-Healthy Whole FoodsLycopene is especially rich in tomatoes. Research has shown that as little as 20-150 mg of lycopene in the diet reduces oxidation of LDL cholesterol and DNA oxidation—within one week.4Ignarro LJ, et al. “Nutrition, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease: An update.” Cardiovascular Research. 2007(73):326–340. Richest sources of Lycopene are sun-dried tomatoes, cooked tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, asparagus, carrots, and more.

Polyphenols are a range of antioxidants found in variety of fruits and vegetables. I’d like to give a special mention to pomegranate, which is one of the richest sources of antioxidants. In fact, the pomegranate has been tested for the direct benefit of reducing plaque and oxidative damage to the heart. However, there are dozens of polyphenols that vary by source; therefore, it is best to have a variety of fruits and vegetables as part of the diet. The juicier and more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more variety of antioxidant polyphenols can be obtained from them. Some important sources are citrus fruits (e.g., oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit), green tea or black tea, beets, carrots, squashes, and more.5Manach C, et al. “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2004(79):727–47.

Magnesium and Potassium

Natural Rhythms Integrative Medicine on Heart-Healthy Whole FoodsMinerals tend to hold a certain charge when they’re in the body. For this reason, they’re involved in signaling and most movement activities of the cardiovascular system. Magnesium serves the cardiovascular system by improving relaxation of smooth muscles that function in the blood vessels and reduce pressure on the heart.6Iezhitsa IN. “Potassium and magnesium depletions in congestive heart failure–pathophysiology, consequences and replenishment.” Clin Calcium. November 2005(15): 123–33. Potassium, on the other hand, balances the activity of sodium in the body and helps to reduce nervous tension. Because minerals can affect cardiovascular activity significantly, they are most safely obtained as part of whole foods rather than concentrated supplement pills. Nuts and seeds are great balanced sources, especially when they are unsalted (less sodium). Included are almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Lentils and beans also are very supportive sources; some of my favorites are mung beans, red lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, lima beans, red kidney beans, and more.

Fatty Acids

Presence of inflammation is closely associated with plaque developing in the arteries. Finding good ways to reduce the inflammatory signals is essential. Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids provide this anti-inflammatory effect by lowering pro-inflammatory signals and improving anti-inflammatory signals.7Ignarro LJ, et al. “Nutrition, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease: An update.” Cardiovascular Research. 2007(73):326–340. This has made fish oils very popular in the modern day medical practices. However, fish oils are equally beneficial when we obtain them by eating fish. They also are more appetizing and delicious in the fish rather than out of it (like in a supplement), and especially cold water fish, like cod, halibut, tilapia, salmon, tuna, and trout.8SELF Nutrition Data. “Foods highest in Total Omega-3 fatty acids.” Conde Nast. ©2014. Online article accessed November 16, 2016. For vegetarians, rich sources of Omega-3 and 6 oils are flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, hemp milk, walnuts and walnut oil, avocados and avocado oil, spirulina, and more.9SELF Nutrition Data. “Foods highest in Total Omega-3 fatty acids.” Conde Nast. ©2014. Online article accessed November 16, 2016.

Co-Q-10

Because the heart muscle works constantly, it needs a lot of fuel. Co-Q-10 is an important compound that aids in energy production in the heart muscle; it also serves as an important cardiovascular oxidant that prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol and plaque buildup in the arteries.10 Kumar A, et al. “Role of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in cardiac disease, hypertension and Meniere-like syndrome.” Pharm & Ther. 2009(124):259–268. Increased energy production helps with more efficient heart muscle contraction and improves exercise capacity. Co-Q-10 concentrates in muscles; therefore, it is best obtained from such meats as chicken, herring, and rainbow trout as well as boiled eggs. Some vegetarian sources are almonds, sesame seeds, pistachios, broccoli, cauliflower, and oranges.11OregonState.edu. “Micronutrient Information Center: Co-enzyme Q10.” Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute. ©2016. Online article accessed November 16, 2016.


In conclusion, major nutraceuticals that are marketed to us can be derived primarily from food sources. When we pay for these supplements, we are paying for the process of extraction. The reason why nutraceuticals work is because our bodies have evolved to use natural nutrients as our resources for maintaining and optimizing daily function. They are healing because their presence helps the body to correct dysfunction. While we may have evolved using nutrients, our body is used getting these from whole foods, not pills. For this reason, eating whole foods and eating well is the ideal way to attain and maintain health.

Heart-Healthy Whole Foods

Meats
Chicken
Cod
Salmon
Tilapia
Trout
Tuna
Fruits
Grapefruit
Kiwi
Mango
Oranges
Papaya
Pomegranate
Watermelon
Vegetables
Beets
Broccoli
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cucumber
Red/Yellow Peppers
Squash
Zucchini
Nuts/Seeds
Almonds
Cashews
Chia Seeds
Flax Seed
Hemp Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds
Sesame Seeds
Sunflower Seeds
Walnuts
Legumes/Beans
Chickpeas
Fava
Kidney
Lima
Mung
Red Lentils
Oils
Avocado
Coconut
Olive
Walnut
Other
Black Tea
Green Tea
Hard-Boiled Eggs
Hemp Milk
Seaweed
Spirulina

References   [ + ]

1, 3, 4, 7. Ignarro LJ, et al. “Nutrition, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease: An update.” Cardiovascular Research. 2007(73):326–340.
2. SELF Nutrition Data. “Foods Highest in Arginine.” Conde Nast. ©2014. Online article accessed November 16, 2016.
5. Manach C, et al. “Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2004(79):727–47.
6. Iezhitsa IN. “Potassium and magnesium depletions in congestive heart failure–pathophysiology, consequences and replenishment.” Clin Calcium. November 2005(15): 123–33.
8, 9. SELF Nutrition Data. “Foods highest in Total Omega-3 fatty acids.” Conde Nast. ©2014. Online article accessed November 16, 2016.
10. Kumar A, et al. “Role of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in cardiac disease, hypertension and Meniere-like syndrome.” Pharm & Ther. 2009(124):259–268.
11. OregonState.edu. “Micronutrient Information Center: Co-enzyme Q10.” Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute. ©2016. Online article accessed November 16, 2016.