Produce a Healthy Heart

As many of us already know eating healthy is a great way to help your heart. Two food groups in particular, can really make a difference when trying to improve your heart health. Eat more fruits and vegetables and you’ll “produce” a healthy heart. Nutrients such as fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin C and antioxidants are plentiful in fruits and vegetables and all help promote heart health.

Fiber. Several studies have found soluble fiber may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. People who increased soluble fiber intake by 5-10 grams each day had about a 5 percent reduction in their LDL cholesterol. In addition, researchers from Harvard and the University of North Carolina found that for each 10 grams of fiber eaten from fruits or vegetables per day, the risk of death from heart disease may be reduced by nearly one-third. Soluble fiber superstars in the produce aisle include: broccoli, bananas, pears, apples, oranges, carrots, strawberries, grapefruit, Brussels sprouts, blackberries and cabbage.

Folate and Vitamin B6. Two B vitamins, B6 and folate, may help lower homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine in blood may damage arteries and contribute to blockages in arteries. Studies have found B6 and folate together work better to reduce homocysteine levels. Produce with both folate and B6 includes potatoes, acorn squash, butternut squash and broccoli. Combine foods that provide folate and vitamin B6 at the same meal, such as a spinach salad, high in folate, with mango or red bell pepper that contains vitamin B6.

Potassium. Diets rich in potassium may help control high blood pressure. Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables include potatoes, bananas, oranges, kiwi, avocado, cantaloupe, apricots, raisins, asparagus, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and winter squash.

Vitamin C. Vitamin C protects the heart by helping prevent the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which may lead to hardening of the arteries. Red pepper, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, papaya, strawberries, orange, cantaloupe, spinach, tomatoes, mango, blueberries and cauliflower are good sources of vitamin C.

Antioxidants. Anthocyanins and carotenoids are two antioxidants known for protecting the heart, by helping reduce LDL build-up on artery walls. Anthocyanin is found in raspberries, black raspberries, blueberries, cherries, red grapes and black berries. Carotenoid sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale and tomatoes.

Boost your heart health and fill your plate half-full of fruits and vegetables at each meal and snacks to get more of these important heart-healthy nutrients in your diet.

Katie Wilhelmi is a Registered Dietitian at the New Ulm Hy-Vee.

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