Heart disease is the biggest cause of death in the developed world with as many as 10% of problems occurring before the age of 45. The message is clear – it’s never too early or too late to start looking after your heart.
This National Heart Month, Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her three favourite red and heart-friendly foods to add to your diet.
Tomatoes are probably one of the most researched fruit or vegetable in relation to heart disease. And they come out with flying colours! The reason? Firstly, they are loaded with antioxidants, primarily from their carotenoid content, especially lycopene. This means they help prevent fats that are moving around the bloodstream becoming oxidised. When this happens, clots and arterial damage occurs.
Secondly, they help improve blood fat profile, meaning they reduce bad LDL cholesterol and raise the good HDL cholesterol levels. While they make a great portable snack or can be added raw to many dishes, because lycopene is fat soluble, they’re even more powerful when cooked. Meanwhile tomato ketchup, used in moderation, has some health benefits too so you can vamp up your bacon and eggs with pride!
Beetroot is often given the accolade of ‘super food’, for very good reason. It delivers some wonderful health benefits, especially for the heart but also the liver.
Just like tomatoes, beetroot is high in antioxidants, making it protective of heart health. However, it’s also been discovered to contain specific phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory compounds. Certain types of heart disease, such as atherosclerosis, are characterised by chronic inflammation.
One lesser-known fact about beets is they contain betaine which helps reduce an unwanted amino acid called homocysteine, also linked with various types of heart disease.
Even better, beetroots are delicious. Whether you add them to a healthy morning juice, roast them in the oven or eat them cooked and cooled in a salad with goat’s cheese and walnuts, they never disappoint.
Of all the peppers red peppers have the highest amounts of vitamin C. Whilst vitamin C is well known for its amazing benefits for the immune system, it’s one of our most powerful antioxidant nutrients. It’s therefore great for the heart, helping to prevent the oxidisation of fats and protecting the health of arteries and blood capillaries.
Red peppers have an amazing mix of antioxidant nutrients, including carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, all bringing their own specific health benefits. They also contain good levels of niacin which helps keep cholesterol levels in check. Another powerful antioxidant is Vitamin E which helps to keep blood thin and flowing smoothly. And finally, they also contain magnesium which is great for muscle function. We often forget that the heart is a muscle, which needs to be worked and cared for just like any other muscle.
Peppers make a versatile addition to many dishes, especially in stir fries, but are also delicious stuffed with savoury rice, mince or mixed beans and roasted in the oven.
So, love your heart this month and treat it to some super-healthy foods.