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Foods That Support a Healthy Heart

You probably know by now what you shouldn't eat when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart. But what about the stuff that can help keep your ticker beating strong? Dr. William Li, a researcher based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with over 30 years of experience studying angiogenesis, explains that the process of growing and maintaining healthy blood vessels is crucial for cardiovascular health. In his book "Eat To Beat Disease," Dr. Li explores the latest research in this field. Here are some of the most recent findings and Dr. Li's recommendations for the best foods to reduce your risk of heart disease.

FOODS THAT IMPROVE CIRCULATION

"It's crucial to eat foods that can stimulate or help maintain good blood vessel growth for the heart and the rest of the body," says Dr. Li. Angiogenesis not only ensures blood circulation throughout the body but also plays a vital role in responding to threats like atherosclerosis or narrowing of the coronary and carotid arteries. These foods can stimulate blood vessel growth and enhance overall blood flow:

Sample Fare: Apples (including the peel), capers, sesame seeds, cranberries

FOODS THAT ACTIVATE STEM CELLS

"Our body's own stem cells are essential for regeneration and recovery," explains Dr. Li. Stem cells play a crucial role in protecting and rebuilding the heart after injuries like heart attacks. They also contribute to the health of blood vessels. Research has shown that higher levels of stem cell factor lead to a decreased risk of heart failure, stroke, and overall mortality. Here are some foods that can activate stem cells:

Sample Fare: Green tea, red wine, dark chocolate, mangoes

FOODS THAT REDUCE INFLAMMATION

While inflammation is necessary for the immune system's defense against invaders, chronic inflammation poses risks, including heart problems. Dr. Li emphasizes the role of inflammation in atherosclerosis development. Anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce chronic inflammation and its impact on the cardiovascular system:

Sample Fare: Dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, green tea, garlic

FOODS THAT IMPROVE THE MICROBIOME

Surprisingly, there is a close relationship between the heart and gut. Dr. Li explains that the gut microbiome, consisting of trillions of bacteria, can lower inflammation, control blood pressure, and reduce lipid levels in the body. Nourishing the microbiome also benefits the cardiovascular system:

Sample Fare: Prebiotics (such as lentils, walnuts, and mushrooms), Probiotic foods (like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, Gouda cheese, and Parmigiano-Reggiano)

 

STAR PLAYERS

Certain foods and beverages play a particularly significant role in maintaining heart health. These star players include:

DARK CHOCOLATE: Rich in natural polyphenols, dark chocolate protects blood vessels and stimulates stem cell production.

GREEN TEA: Known for its numerous health benefits, green tea reduces chronic inflammation, supports blood vessel growth, nourishes the microbiome, and enhances stem cell activity. BEER: Moderate beer consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease due to bioactive compounds like xanthohumol.

COFFEE: Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, which helps dilate blood vessels, protects the heart, and inhibits the growth of harmful blood vessels.

CHICKEN THIGHS: High in vitamin K2, dark chicken meat can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and arterial plaque buildup.

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