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November 21st, 2014

Nutrition

How to prevent a second (and first) heart attack thru diet

Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D.N., F.A.N.D.

By Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D.N., F.A.N.D. Environmental Nutrition

Published August 13, 2014

How to prevent a second (and first) heart attack thru diet
If you're one of the 13 million Americans who have survived a heart attack, or if you've been diagnosed with heart disease, take heart. You can take control of your heart health with the knowledge that certain foods have been shown to quell inflammation, which is the root cause of plaque buildup in the arteries.

What's the food prescription? Science has proved that a Mediterranean eating style, which focuses on our top nine artery-healing foods, can reduce the risk of a second heart attack by up to 70 percent.

Eat these nine foods to quell inflammation and protect your heart:

1. Extra virgin olive oil

Extracted from olives by crushing the whole fruit, olive oil is a golden elixir brimming with potent inflammation-suppressing antioxidants called polyphenols, as well as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), the heart-healing kind of fat. The high MUFA content of olive oil is cardio-protective -- it cuts your "bad" LDL cholesterol level, helps stabilize vulnerable plaque by preventing LDL from becoming oxidized (when LDL reacts with free radicals to promote inflammation) and bumps up your level of "good" HDL cholesterol. Make this your main fat in marinades, sauces, dressings and cooking.

2. Greens and other vegetables

Dark green and leafy; red, ripe and juicy; bright orange and crunchy -- this rainbow of colors is from Mother Nature's medicine chest of foods that keep your arteries clean and healthy. Spinach, for example, is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth -- so nix the iceberg and make this vegetable your salad green of choice.

Red-purple vegetables such as radicchio, red beets and eggplant contain pigments that protect the heart by increasing production of a natural antioxidant called glutathione. Eat like an artist and try to consume at least five colorful vegetables every day.

3. Salmon and other seafood

Fatty fish that swim in the cold waters of the sea -- such as salmon, halibut and sardines -- contain ultra-heart-healthy omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA. Fish oil stabilizes plaque, reduces risk of sudden death, lowers triglyceride level, and reduces inflammation. Fish oil also revs up the body's ability to dissolve blood clots, the kind that seal off plaque-filled arteries. Aim for at least two fish meals per week.

4. Figs and other fruits

Figs and other fruits are rich in fiber, vitamins and potassium, and contain an array of plaque-fighting polyphenols. Substitute pureed fruit for fat in baking, sprinkle dried fruit on salads, add fresh fruit to smoothies, and try baked fruit for a delicious desert. Aim for at least three servings every day.

5. Walnuts and flaxseeds

Yes, walnuts and flaxseeds are high in fat but it's the good fat: the vegetarian omega-3 fat called alpha linolenic acid (ALA).

Walnuts are also high in vitamin E (an antioxidant that helps keep cholesterol from building up in plaque) and fiber. Add walnuts to fat-free Greek yogurt, salads and baked goods. Add ground flaxseeds to oatmeal, pancakes and baked goods.

6. Oatmeal and other whole grains

Oats are a nutritious whole grain filled with beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that soaks up cholesterol and pushes it through the digestive system so that it's not absorbed by the body. Oats also contain a unique antioxidant that counteracts the destructive and atherosclerosis-inducing damage of unstable free radicals. Aim for at least three servings of whole grains each day.

7. Lentils and other legumes

A versatile low-fat plant protein, legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are full of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals and are one of the best sources of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. In addition, lentils are loaded with antioxidants, protein, vitamins and minerals, especially iron -- and all this for pennies on the dollar.

Soybeans, a near-perfect protein choice instead of animal protein, exhibits strong antioxidant capacity that can help decrease artery inflammation. To get your daily dose of legumes, substitute soymilk for cow's milk; eat legume-based soups or chili; toss lentils into pasta sauce; try hummus as a dip; or sprinkle kidney beans on your salad.

8. Red wine

The deep garnet color is a clue that this "drink of the ages" is loaded with flavonoids, as well as the vital antioxidant resveratrol. However, moderation is the magic word, which means one 5-ounce glass of wine a day for women and two for men.

9. Dark chocolate and green tea

Dark chocolate is packed with heart-healthy nutrients and has been shown to lower inflammation in the arteries, as well as to reduce blood pressure. Try a nightly cup of rich hot chocolate -- made with 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, soymilk and a touch of sweetener. Or enjoy a small amount of dark chocolate (an ounce) every day washed down with green tea, also rich in polyphenols.

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