We’re really excited about our February Book of the Month, Longevity Kitchen by Rebecca Katz and Mat Elelson. The authors of the award-winning The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen are back with a new cookbook and nutrition guide that sorts through the latest research about how food can help us heal and prevent illness and live long, healthy lives. And don’t be fooled; this is no bland health food book. Katz’s nourishing recipes are packed with flavor and color. In honor of American Heart Month, we asked Katz to give us the lowdown on the best foods to support heart health. —BBL Editor
Among the plethora of findings on the heart, which is perhaps the most researched organ, are some incredible long-term studies that have linked dietary factors with heart disease. The tenets of good heart health are so well-known they can be chanted like a mantra: “HDL good. LDL bad. Triglycerides low. Aerobic exercise high.”
Mantras are great, but action is even better, which is why I always promote foods such as black beans, nuts, seeds and wild salmon, which can help prevent heart disease. (Diet can help with three out of four of the factors in the mantra; you’re on your own when it comes to taking a good walk.)
Below are nine foods from what I call the culinary pharmacy — open 24/7! — that help prevent heart disease.
1. Apples: Apples are their own little medicine cabinet. They have been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation. High levels of C-reactive protein are related to heart disease.
2. Buckwheat: Buckwheat’s effects on heart health have been fairly well studied. A notable study conducted in a region of China known for high buckwheat intake found an association between buckwheat consumption and lower overall levels cholesterol. It was also linked with a better ratio of good cholesterol (HDL) to bad cholesterol (LDL). Buckwheat is also relatively high in magnesium, a mineral that dilates vessels and can potentially help lower blood pressure.
3. Chocolate (dark): Eat chocolate and live longer. This sounds wonderful, and it may well be true. Animal studies suggest that the flavanols in dark chocolate can prevent coronary artery disease and reduce the impact of heart attacks. Spanish researchers who reviewed numerous studies of chocolate noted that these flavanols can also help reduce blood pressure and insulin resistance and protect red blood cells. And here’s a factoid that probably won’t come as a surprise: Studies also show that dark chocolate is an excellent mood enhancer.
4. Legumes: All beans are rich in fiber, which aids in digestion and elimination and slows the release of sugars into the bloodstream. The soluble fiber found in beans is also linked to lower heart attack rates. Generally, beans are extremely high in antioxidants and minerals, particularly manganese, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. Lentils are also an outstanding source of potassium, and a huge clinical study found a link between high levels of potassium and lower blood pressure.
5. Olives and olive oil: Renowned for its link to longevity, the Mediterranean diet has put the scientific spotlight on two popular ingredients: olives and olive oil. Long known for its monounsaturated (healthier) fat, extra-virgin olive oil contains large amounts of oleocanthal, a compound that helps protect the heart.
6. Pistachios: In animal studies, pistachios are like a panacea for the cardiovascular system. Greek researchers looking at an extract from pistachio nuts found that it kept the aorta from thickening while also lowering levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising levels of good cholesterol (HDL).
7. Salmon (wild): No fish offers higher concentrations of healthful omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon. Omega-3s are credited with decreasing inflammation throughout the body and thereby improving brain, cardiovascular, skin and joint health.
8. Walnuts: A great source of omega-3s (just 1/4 cup provides nearly 100 percent of the recommended daily intake), walnuts offer tremendous heart health benefits. They reduce inflammation, bad cholesterol (LDL) and risk of blood clots and can help prevent bone loss.
9. Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain abundant lycopene, a phytonutrient that’s been linked with lowering both overall cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL) and providing antioxidant support for the heart and bones.
To learn more about The Longevity Kitchen, visit rebeccakatz.com.