Most of us know the importance of maintaining and protecting our hearts to live longer, healthier lives. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of both men and women, with nearly one in every three deaths in America caused by heart disease. However, with age, it’s even more vital to keep an eye on our “heart-related numbers” including blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Older adults over the age of 65 are more likely to suffer from a heart attack, stroke, or develop heart disease. In addition, emerging research suggests high blood pressure and heart disease can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia later in life.
Fortunately, heart disease and other heart-related conditions can be prevented by making lifestyle changes. No matter your age, it’s never too early or too late to start taking your heart health into your own hands. One of the easiest ways to lower your risk of heart disease and other senior health issues is by eating a healthy diet. If you’re ready to begin eating your way to better heart health, try incorporating some of these tasty and nutritious foods into your daily meals. And remember, always check with your doctor before starting a new diet or nutrition plan.
Did you know that chocolate can be good for your heart? Dark chocolate – the darker, the better – is not only a tasty treat, but it’s also a powerful source of antioxidants and flavonoids that reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. Eat small portions of dark chocolate a few times each week is a great way to tame sugar cravings and boost heart health. Look for dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cacao, which contains a higher concentration of antioxidants than chocolate with a lower cacao percentage.
Swapping saturated fats with unsaturated fats is an easy way to help lower cholesterol levels and promote better heart health. For example, instead of cooking with butter, try replacing it with a healthier option that’s lower in saturated fat, such as olive, grapeseed, avocado, canola, peanut, or sunflower oil. For a heart-healthy snack that’s filled with “good” fat, protein, and fiber, choose nuts such as walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or peanuts. Another source of healthy, unsaturated fat is avocado. Try adding sliced avocado to your salads or toast, or cut it into chunks and add a sprinkle of pepper or lemon juice.
Fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to provide a variety of heart-healthy benefits. In studies, omega-3 fatty acids were found to decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias), which can lead to heart attack or sudden death. Omega-3 fatty acids can also lower blood pressure and slow the growth rate of plaque in the arteries. Fish is also a healthy, low-calorie source of protein, which can keep you full throughout the day. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fatty fish at least two times each week as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Leafy green vegetables
Vegetables such as spinach, salad greens, Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens are chock-full of heart-healthy nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which can help control blood pressure. Greens are also an excellent source of fiber, which keeps you full and can regulate cholesterol levels. Try eating more green vegetables by adding them to your salad, soups, or even smoothies!
There’s nothing better than food that tastes great and offers great benefits for your heart, like berries! Berries are often considered a “superfood” because they are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, which help the body fight inflammation, protect against disease, and may even prevent cell-damage linked to cancer. All types of berries, from blueberries to blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cranberries provide heart-healthy benefits. Be sure to eat berries that are fresh or frozen, as opposed to dried, as dried fruits generally have fewer health benefits and often include added sugar.
Whole grains, such as oats, oatmeal, rye, barley, quinoa, brown rice, and millet provide numerous health benefits. Whole grains contain dietary fiber, which can help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve blood cholesterol levels. Fiber also helps control hunger, which can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. Try adding more whole grains to your diet by eating things like whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, air-popped popcorn. When possible, choose whole grains over refined grains. For example, opt for brown rice instead of white rice.