Mixed Berries

The Best Foods to Protect Your Heart

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Mixed BerriesWe all know that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is important for our overall health. But why? What makes plant-based foods so good for us?

For one, eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies every day provides you with a natural source of vitamins and minerals that you need to feel and be healthy. But plant-based foods also contain countless other compounds that are not as well known, but nonetheless have profound and far-reaching health benefits.

One such set of compounds is flavonoids. These antioxidant powerhouses found in various fruits and vegetables (and even dark chocolate) combat inflammation in the body, fight heart disease and aging, and protect against Alzheimer’s disease and even certain forms of cancer.

Heart disease is a big one, considering it is the top health concern in our country. Who wouldn’t want to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by simply adding a few extra flavonoid-rich foods into their diet?

Even better, though, is that researchers are learning that it doesn’t take a whole lot of flavonoid intake to have a huge positive effect on heart health and cardiovascular disease mortality.

A Little Goes a Long Way

To see exactly how much of an effect flavonoids had on cardiovascular disease mortality, researchers examined flavonoid intake and heart disease death rates among 38,180 men and 60,289 women who took part in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort in 1999.

These participants completed in-depth questionnaires, which included a 152-item food frequency questionnaire. During seven years of follow-up, 1,589 men and 1,182 women died of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers discovered that the participants who had the highest total flavonoid intake had a much lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. However, they concluded that consuming even relatively small amounts of flavonoid-rich food was beneficial. [1]

How to Add Flavonoids to Your Diet

It’s really quite easy to make sure you are getting flavonoids in your diet. Some of the most delicious foods and beverages on Earth contain these compounds. In addition to decadent dark chocolate (the higher the cacao content, the better), foods rich in flavonoids include apples, blueberries, broccoli, onions, strawberries, red grapes, pomegranates and cabbage.

You can even find them in red wine (since it’s made from red grapes) and all types of tea — black, green, white and oolong, although green tea has the highest amount since the leaves are the most minimally processed. 

Pomegranates, in particular, have become one of the latest darlings in the natural health world — especially when it comes to heart protection. One study found that pomegranates — and pomegranate juice — can help keep high-risk cardiovascular patients with severe carotid artery stenosis from needing surgery. Results showed that pomegranate juice consumption by these patients decreased the thickness of carotid arteries and reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number).[2]

Apples, berries and onions have also been touted for their heart protective factors, thanks to their abundance of the flavonoid quercetin. Researchers found that this potent antioxidant reduces blood pressure, as well as the risk of heart disease and stroke.[3]

All you need to do to boost your flavonoid intake is add as many of these foods or beverages to your daily diet as possible. Of course, with red wine and dark chocolate, moderation is key. One four-ounce glass of wine per day is plenty, as is one or two small squares of the darkest chocolate you can find.

If you prefer to take flavonoids in supplement form, there is a wide variety of choices from which to choose. Just a few include quercetin, rutin, citrus bioflavonoids and green tea extract. You can find these and other options at health food stores or online by clicking here.

[1] McCullough ML et al. Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012. [Epub ahead of print.]

[2] Aviram M et al. Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun;23(3):423–33.

[3] Edwards RL et al. Quercetin reduces blood pressure in hypertensive subjects. J Nutr. 2007 Nov;137(11):2405–11.

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