Cardiovascular health should be a top health priority.
Approximately 2,200 Americans die from cardiovascular disease every day (that’s one person every 40 seconds!), and by the year 2030, over 23.6 million people are expected to die annually from this chronic illness. Those are some frightening statistics especially considering heart disease is rooted in many diet and lifestyle factors that can be appropriately managed.
The advice coming from the government and various other health sources seems conflicting, and people are left confused as to what helps and what hurts their cardiovascular health.
There is mounting, overwhelming evidence suggesting that the widely recommended low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, heavy in processed grains and legumes and man-made polyunsaturated fats, is not the way to go.
In fact, the principles of the Paleo diet and a Paleo-based lifestyle are heart-healthy, especially due to the emphasis on a variety of vegetables and protective fats, like salmon and sardines and the encouragement of movement, community, sleep and sunshine. Recent research has indicated that saturated fat is not damaging to the heart as was once suspected, but rather, processed carbohydrates and refined sweeteners are more to blame. A well formulated Paleo diet (one based on whole, minimally processed food choices) naturally eliminates many of the catalysts for cardiovascular issues. Even within these guidelines, there are specific foods that can offer some great benefits for the heart and the cardiovascular system.
Many medical establishments are beginning to support following a Paleo diet to reduce blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, BMI, waist circumference, and hip-to-waist ratio. A Paleo diet also boosts HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) and improves elasticity in your arterial walls as well as reducing other risk factors by increasing weight loss, regulating blood sugars, restoring insulin sensitivity and other markers of inflammation.
A Paleo Diet For A Healthy Heart
A well formulated Paleo diet (one based on whole, minimally processed foods) naturally eliminates many of the inflammatory triggers for cardiovascular issues. Within these guidelines, there are a few specific diet and lifestyle modifications that can offer greater benefits for the heart and the cardiovascular system.
Omega-3 Rich Foods.
Across numerous studies, omega-3 fats are consistently associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (as well as reduced mortality from sudden cardiac death). These essential fats promote cardiovascular health in a variety of ways, including by lowering triglycerides, reducing inflammation, and providing important micronutrients to support vascular function.
The fiber in vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds can protect the cardiovascular system. Fiber consumption is associated with lower risk of stroke and heart disease, and some types of fiber can reduce LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and promote healthy body weight.
The idea that high-saturated fat animal foods cause heart disease has been discredited, and eating naturally occurring saturated fats (like those found in well-raised, pastured animals) is not detrimental to your heart health. Certain genetic factors, however, may make some people more sensitive to the LDL-raising properties of some forms of saturated fat. Always focus on saturated fats in their whole-food form (such as fatty cuts, organ meats and eggs), while also getting a variety of monounsaturated fats (avocado, olive, macadamia nut) and omega-3s from your diet.
You can eat all the right foods but without addressing certain lifestyle factors, you may still have inflammatory markers that are high.
Sleep deprivation is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease risk, and is associated with higher blood pressure, weight gain, obesity, and greater rates of heart disease and stroke. Getting less than 6 hours of restorative sleep a night doubles the risk of stroke, heart attack, and coronary heart disease, while also raising risk of congestive heart failure.
Stress is a larger predictor of cardiovascular disease than other diet or lifestyle factors. Make a conscious effort to reduce the avoidable stressors in your life, or to manage existing chronic stress through activities including meditation, taking walks, journaling and getting time in nature. This will directly translate into increased protection against cardiovascular disease.
Make the commitment to engage in gentle movement throughout the day. Although chronic overtraining can actually harm the cardiovascular system by raising cortisol and inflammatory markers, frequent gentle movement helps improve insulin sensitivity and circulation.
Get your daily dose on vitamin D. In a number of studies, vitamin D deficiency has been strongly associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Whether getting daily sun exposure is or is not an option, eating vitamin-D-rich foods like fatty fish and egg yolks, as well as supplementing when needed, can help protect against the cardiovascular-harming effects of deficiency.
If you smoke, quit! Smoking is a powerful risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If you are a smoker, even the most nutritious Paleo diet and aggressive lifestyle modification will fail to offset the damage and disease risk created by smoking.
A note on cholesterol: there is a certain amount of cholesterol in your body; 25% which comes from your diet and 75% which is produced by the liver. Most of the cholesterol found in food is not absorbed by your body. Your body regulates how much cholesterol it produces in relation to how much you eat; when intake increases, you make less, and vice versa. Research has shown that in 75% of the population, dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol levels. In the remaining 25%, dietary cholesterol does modestly increase both LDL and HDL, but does not affect the ratio or increase the risk of heart disease. Eating cholesterol is not bad for you. This means you can eat your eggs, including those nutrient dense yolks packed with all 13 of the essential nutrients found in an egg.
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Foods For Heart Health
Eating a Paleo diet provides the body with a rich supply of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants, along with emphasizing foods that boost your metabolism and keep your body satiated and satisfied.
There a many heart-healthy Paleo food including:
These fat-filled fruits are already a Paleo favorite. They are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats along with numerous vitamins and minerals that help keep the cardiovascular system strong, namely vitamin K (aids in proper blood clotting), magnesium (promotes muscle relaxation and electrolyte balance), and potassium (helps to regulate blood pressure). Eating an avocado daily may help to maintain normal serum total cholesterol. More evidence that good Paleo fats are good for you in every way.
Nutrients in Brussels sprouts help to lower systemic inflammation and reduce arterial plaque buildup, along with improving blood vessel function.
Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins and flavonoids which are antioxidants that can decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
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, adding more citrus to your diet can boost your heart health. Furthermore, adding citrus to your dark leafy greens will almost quadruple the amount of iron you absorb.
In humans, foods like cacao which are high in flavonols counteract lipid peroxidation and, therefore, lower blood plasma levels and support heart health. When consuming, ensure to choose a product that is as close to the whole food, 100% cacao as you can find!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
EVOO may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. High quality Extra Virgin Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats which have been found to lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Promote your heart health by upping your intake of this delicious fat in favor of relying too heavily on nuts.
Wild caught Salmon is one of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as reducer plaque buildup in the arteries. Salmon is a superfood for the cardiovascular system because of these essential polyunsaturated fats. When consumed regularly, salmon can help to reduce blood pressure, lower resting heart rate, and improve vascular flow. Make sure it’s wild-caught, though, or the full nutritional benefits will not be realized as farmed fish are lower in nutrients and higher in toxins.
This dark, leafy green is loaded with lutein (a carotenoid), B-complex vitamins, folate, magnesium, potassium, calcium and fiber. Lutein is found in beneficial HDL cholesterol and may prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and promoting heart disease.
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The topic of heart health can be incredibly confusing thanks to much myth and misinformation. It is, however, clear that by emphasizing these components of a Paleo diet and lifestyle, you can add dramatic protection for your cardiovascular system and your overall health!