Today, heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in America. But here's the good news: 90% of the time, we can prevent it with a healthy lifestyle. And by taking steps now to tune up your heart, not only will you benefit your long-term health — you'll also help boost your circulation, trim your waistline and enhance energy and brain speed today.
As a cardiologist and fellow at the American Heart Association, I've devoted my career to studying heart disease and aging. Here, I'm sharing the five food groups I recommend to anyone aiming to boost their heart health — now, and for the long-term:
1. Feed on fabulous fiber.
If you measured your daily intake of just one nutrient, I'd want you to pick fiber. Fiber is the roughage that comes with vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts. It suppresses appetite, improves your blood sugar and cholesterol profile, decreases inflammation and slows aging.
Your challenge is to get 30 grams of fiber every day. But too often, people consume their daily fiber in the form of processed grains, which has many adverse impacts on our health.
Instead, aim for a diet consisting of:
- 3 cups of vegetables
- 2 pieces of fruit (such as a cup of berries or an apple)
- 2 handfuls of nuts and seeds
- ½ to 1 cup of beans
2. Enjoy more healthy fat.
You don't need to follow a low-fat diet to be healthy — but you do need to eat more healthy fats.
Clinical studies show that eating fats from seafood, virgin olive oil and nuts decreases your risk for a heart attack and stroke, without increasing weight. Enjoy fats from avocado, seeds and dark chocolate, too. These healthy fats are critical for your brain, and help reduce inflammation.
3. Pick clean, not mean protein.
When I say “mean protein,” I’m talking about the commercial fatty meats and dairy that are loaded with hormones and pesticides.
Instead, eating "clean" means enjoying wild seafood, such as grilled salmon, baked sole, and steamed shellfish. For poultry, focus on free-range, organic-fed options. And keep organic, free-range eggs on the menu as well.
Like to eat red meat? Aim for grass-fed, grass-finished, organically raised beef and pork products.
If you're in a restaurant and can’t find any clean protein options, then opt for lean, since the less fatty cuts have fewer toxins. That means chicken and turkey breast, seafood, and if you eat red meat, pork tenderloin and sirloin.
For clean protein plus fiber, add in beans, as they improve blood sugar and cholesterol profiles. That means you can enjoy tasty bean dips, great turkey chili and a lovely hummus.
4. Drink more beneficial beverages.
Start with upping your intake of pure water — at least 4 cups per day. For something with caffeine, green tea is your best bet. All unsweetened tea is great, and mint tea is lovely too. You can also still enjoy 1-3 cups of coffee per day, since in moderation it can be good for you.
And don’t forget my favorite breakfast: a fiber and protein-rich smoothie of organic cherries or blueberries, almond milk, protein powder and chia seeds. It’s delicious, takes two minutes, and revs you up for the day!
You can also enjoy a glass of wine with dinner — just be sure to limit your alcohol intake. Lastly, don’t be fooled into drinking juice, as without the fiber and pulp, fruit juice is closer to drinking soda than actually eating fruit.
5. Savor more fantastic flavors.
One thing I discovered during a chef internship at the Four Seasons restaurant is that healthy foods must taste delicious for people to actually eat them.
Spices and herbs like garlic, Italian herbs, curry spices, and hot chili spices make food taste great — plus they help block arterial plaque growth, rev up your metabolism and lower inflammation.
And don’t forget about chocolate: The fats in dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) act like olive oil in your body and it’s awesome for your heart and brain. Yes, I’m asking you to eat some form of dark chocolate every day!
The bottom line: By adding these food groups into your daily diet, you’ll nourish your heart, reduce your risk of a future heart attack and stroke, and find yourself feeling younger, trimmer, fitter, and healthier every day.