When I was nineteen I worked in a florist shop and in the days leading up to Valentines Day, spent many hours de-thorning roses. Making beautiful red rose bouquets for lovers to present to their loves. That’s what Valentine’s Day was about in my mind at that time, all red roses… And chocolate of course.
I know there are still many a red roses and chocolate out there – but they are no longer my focus on this day of hearts and roses (well, maybe a bit – I am sitting beside 20 gorgeous hot pink roses).
Speaking of hearts – you might very well say that is my focus now. I want a strong and healthy heart that will help me to run strong and healthy.
I am going to bet you want a strong, healthy heart too. Therefore, I’d like to share with you the ONE most important nutritional strategy for heart health.
*** Eat a Plant-Strong Diet ***
Great – but why and what does this really mean, you might be asking. Let’s break it down!
For starters, it is only in plant foods you’ll find the phytonutrients and much of the wealth of vitamins and minerals that are oh so heart healthy. Taking a closer look at exactly what that includes, here are 7 plant foods that have been shown to help with building a strong, healthy heart.
1. Leafy greens (especially kale)
Leafy greens are the most nutrient-dense foods of them all. This means per calorie they have more phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals than any other food.
Kale contains huge amounts of vitamins A and C – two potent antioxidants important in heart health. And similar to the rest of its cabbage family, kale contains phytonutrients such as indoles and sulfur which remove free radicals from our system.
2. Berries (especially strawberries)
All berries are a great source of phytonutrients including flavonoids such as anthocyanins, which have been shown to reduce inflammation as well as inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells and improve memory.
Strawberries also contain ellagic acid, a phytonutrient that that helps to balance blood sugar levels, among other health benefits.
3. Nuts (especially walnuts)
All nuts are a source of monounsaturated fatty acids (the heart-healthy type, same as what’s found in olive oil).
Walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to fight inflammation and reduce plaque formation. Plus, they contain antioxidant phenols shown to improve blood vessel function.
4. Seeds (especially chia)
As with nuts, all seeds are a great source of heart-healthy fats and phytonutrients. Some of them (such as sunflower seeds) are rich in the heart-healthy vitamin E, one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body.
And then a few of them are a particularly good source of omega-3 (polyunsaturated) fatty acids. This is the case with chia seeds – they contain about 5,000mg omega-3’s per serving (3 Tbsp), which is on par with one serving of salmon.
5. Citrus Fruits (plus kiwi)
All citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit) contain vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that helps to keep our heart healthy.
Kiwi’s however, actually contain twice as much vitamin C as oranges do. Plus they’ve been shown to work as a blood thinner (same as what some people take baby aspirin for, but with none of the side effects!).
6. Spices (especially cinnamon)
Many spices exhibit strong anti-inflammatory properties, such as turmeric and ginger. This is beneficial to helping us recover from workouts, but perhaps most importantly it helps us build a strong heart.
Cinnamon is known to help with pain and stiffness in joints but it’s also extremely useful in balancing blood sugar levels and lowering “bad” cholesterol.
7. Tea (especially green tea)
All tea contain phytonutrients shown to be powerful antioxidants.
While black tea contains theaflavins which have been shown to lower the risk of stroke and heart attacks, green (and white) tea contains catechins which have also been linked to cardiovascular health as well as multiple other strong health benefits. Matcha tea contains 8-10 times the catechins found in regular green tea.
The fermentation process used to make oolong (partially fermented) and black (fully fermented) tea deactivates these catechins.
Yes, here it is! But of course I’m talking raw cacao – the real stuff. The flavanols in cacao prevent clogging of the arteries and they modulate nitric oxide – this is critical for healthy blood flow. If you’re choosing already made chocolate, look for 85% cocoa or higher. However, I recommend making chocolatey yumminess with raw cacao powder – to read more about cacao (last weeks blogpost), click here.
2. Red Wine
Red wine contains a phytonutrient called resveratrol and it is indeed a powerful antioxidant (white wine also contains resveratrol, just not as much). It’s been shown to reduce inflammation and protect the heart. Dosage is key, of course. A little goes a long way, and too much is quite destructive – it can raise triglycerides, increase blood pressure and easily lead to weight gain. For anyone looking to reach their racing weight, I don’t recommend including alcohol in their daily or even weekly fare.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you! Give yourself some serious self-love by eating to build a strong and healthy heart – and run strong and healthy for years to come.
Happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RHN