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Plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fish are all you need to fight heart disease, right? Well, not quite. These are certainly some of the best choices you can make when following a heart-healthy diet. However, there are several surprising foods and drinks not typically thought of as “healthy” that studies have shown actually benefit heart health. You probably already enjoy consuming some of these items, so it should be pretty easy to embrace them into your diet. Making changes to your lifestyle during American Heart Month in February as well as throughout the year can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Follow a healthy diet and exercise program that works for your needs and feel good about consuming some of the following foods and drinks guilt-free!
Dairy products, including cheese, contain high levels of saturated fat and have not typically been thought of as being beneficial for heart health. However, according to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, dairy fat is not associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, people who eat a small amount of cheese everyday can actually reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Cheese enthusiasts rejoice – however, no more than two servings of dairy are recommended daily for most adults. This equates to about three ounces of hard cheese (cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, Parmesan), which is approximately the size of eight dice or 2/3 cup if shredded.
Beer and wine in moderation have been found to benefit cardiovascular health – however it’s not entirely clear why. While researchers gather more data about the benefits of alcohol on the heart, what we do know is that a beer a day can help lower cholesterol levels, increase blood levels of heart-healthy antioxidants, and reduce levels of fibrinogen, a protein that contributes to blood clots. For wine, antioxidants in a glass of red wine, including polyphenols and flavonoids, may help protect against cholesterol buildup - and a substance called resveratrol, may help prevent coronary artery disease, the condition that leads to heart attacks. It is recommended to have no more than two standard sized (roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol) alcoholic drinks per day and to talk to your doctor about your consumption.
In addition to warding off dementia and helping you live longer, a study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions, found that drinking coffee may also benefit heart health. The study found that every 8-ounce cup of coffee per day reduced the risks of heart failure, stroke, and coronary heart disease by 7%, 8% and 5%, respectively, compared to people who didn’t drink coffee. Participants in the study who drank three to four cups had the lowest risk of developing clogged arteries which can lead to a heart attack. Researchers stop short of recommending that people drink coffee to prevent heart disease; however, it’s possible that for certain people a daily cup of joe in the morning may have some health benefits.
Along with cheese enthusiasts and beer, wine, and coffee drinkers, chocolate lovers can also celebrate. Dark chocolate, especially chocolate containing at least 74% or more cocoa, is linked to heart health. A study found that eating small amounts of chocolate each week decreases the risk of atrial fibrillation, a heart condition characterized by a rapid or irregular heartbeat. Several other studies have also found chocolate can help lower blood pressure, reduce blood clots, and protect against heart attacks and strokes. The amount of chocolate necessary hasn’t been defined, and more research is necessary; however, experts suggest small amounts of dark chocolate containing little sugar can have heart benefits.
We may think of oil as a clogging substance, but many oils are actually healthy, including corn, soy, and safflower oils which contain omega-6 fatty acids, and canola and olive oil which contain omega-3 fatty acids. All of these can help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol when used instead of saturated fats such as butter.
Of course, foods and drinks should always be consumed in moderation and talk to your doctor about making changes to your diet.
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Last Revised 11/15/2017