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Top 10 Paleo Foods for Heart Health

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
February 11, 2015
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One of the things I love most about a True Paleo regime is being able to enjoy so many of the foods I used to think were unhealthy choices.

And despite diet trends coming and going, many people get caught up with some of the less healthy versions along with the inaccurate hype that tends to surround them.

Some of the foods I now savor are ones I never would have dreamed of eating a mere decade ago, simply because I thought they were too high in fat (90’s mindset), didn’t provide enough carbohydrate (Endurance athlete? Go heavy on the carbs.), or simply because the sheer number of calories might exceed what I’d need in a given day (Exercise physiology thesis: Calories In vs. Out is the single, most important factor in determining whether you would lose weight, gain weight or stay the same), source of calories aside.

Testing and trying a number of ways of eating thankfully brought me back to a Paleo Diet in 2005. Guess what? The many foods I didn’t consider are ones I’ve come to relish. It turns out they not only taste great, but are increasingly beneficial to our health.

February is National Heart Month and there is no better diet than a Paleo Diet to promote heart health.

Salmon

One of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as plaque build up in the arteries. 1 Stick with wild, not farmed.

Blueberries

Rich in anthocyanins and flavonoids, antioxidants that can decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.2 Freezing wild berries makes for a surprisingly decadent treat, all on their own!

Citrus

High in flavonoids that are linked with a reduced rate of ischemic stroke caused by blood clots, and rich in vitamin C which has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, like atherosclerosis.3 Boost your heart health by adding tangerines to your spinach salad and quadruple the amount of iron you absorb.

Green Tea

Researchers estimate the rate of cardiac arrest decreases by 11% with consumption of three cups of tea per day.4 Green tea is rich in Theanine, the amino acid that will offset caffeine’s effect.

Tomatoes

Cardio-protective functions provided by the nutrients in tomatoes may include the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.5 Go local and organic with this fruit in particular.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), EVOO may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.6 Promote heart health by upping your intake of this delicious fat in favor of relying too heavily on nuts.

Spinach

Lutein (a carotenoid); B-complex vitamins; Folate; magnesium; potassium; calcium; fiber.7 Looks like Popeye had the right idea!

Avocados

Consumption of ½ – 1½ avocados a day may help to maintain normal serum total cholesterol. More evidence that good fat is good!8

Wine (Sulfite-Free)

Rich in resveratrol, studies have shown that adults who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol may be less likely to develop heart disease than those who do not drink at all or are heavy drinkers.9 Cheers to that!

Dark Chocolate

In humans, flavanol-rich cocoa counteracts lipid peroxidation and, therefore, lowers the plasma level.10 Just make sure to stick to the real stuff and go as close to 100% cacao as you can find!

And, just in time for Valentine’s Day, why not use this as the special occasion to enjoy my signature Paleo truffles!

While it’s no surprise wild salmon and leafy greens are included in my list of Top 10 Paleo Foods, when there’s room for the occasional glass of red wine and raw, dark chocolate on a lifelong Paleo regime too, it’s something that many people, myself included, enjoy wholeheartedly.

References

[1] “The Role of Fish Oil in Arrhythmia Prevention”, Anand RG, Alkadri M, Lavie CJ, Milani RV. Mar-Apr 2008

[2] “Daily Blueberry Consumption Improves Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness in Postmenopausal Women with Pre- and Stage 1-Hypertension: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial”, Sarah A. Johnson, PhD, RD, CSO, Arturo Figueroa, MD, PhD, FACSM, Negin Navaei, Alexei Wong, PhD, Roy Kalfon, MS, Lauren T. Ormsbee, MS, Rafaela G. Feresin, MS, Marcus L. Elam, MS, Shirin Hooshmand, PhD, Mark E. Payton, PhD, Bahram H. Arjmandi, PhD, RD, October, 2014

[3] Woollard KJ, Loryman CJ, Meredith E, et al. Effects of oral vitamin C on monocyte: endothelial cell adhesion in healthy subjects. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2002 Jun 28;294(5):1161-8.

[4] Cooper R, Morre DJ, Morre DM. Medicinal benefits of green tea: Part I. Review of noncancer health benefits. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11(3):521-8.

[5] Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2003;43(1):1-18. Tomatoes and cardiovascular health. Willcox JK1, Catignani GL, Lazarus S.

[6] Lecerf JM. Fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Nutrition Reviews. 2009;67:273.

[7] Ursula Arens, dietetician at the British Dietetic Association, Kathleen Zelman, WebMD director of nutrition. U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. British Heart Foundation. British Dietetic Association. The Journal of the American Medical Association , July 23/30, 2003.

[8] Influence of avocados on serum cholesterol.[Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1960]

[9] Brien SE, Ronksley PE, Turner BJ, Mukamal KJ, Ghali WA. Effect of alcohol consumption on biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies. BMJ. 2011;342:d636.

[10] Wiswedel I, Hirsch D, Kropf S, Gruening M, Pfister E, Schewe T, Sies H. Flavanol-rich cocoa drink lowers plasma F(2)-isoprostane concentrations in humans. Free Radic Biol Med. 2004; 37: 411–421.

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