How Functional Foods May Help Your Heart
In the quest for healthy hearts, many of us have turned to functional foods, loading up on cereals, juices, and margarines fortified with nutrients like fiber, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Can functional foods boost heart health, and if so, which nutrients do you need?
Most experts say we can keep our hearts healthy by following a few simple steps:
- Eat a variety of whole foods, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
- Get 30 minutes of exercise most days.
- Don't smoke.
- Reduce salt.
After you've laid this vital foundation, here are five nutrients often added to functional foods that may also help keep your heart healthy.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and cod, and in smaller amounts in nuts like pecans, almonds, and walnuts. A popular ingredient in functional foods, you can find omega-3 fatty acids added to soy products, milk, yogurt, eggs, cereal, pasta, margarine, and other foods.
Here's how omega-3 fatty acids help body and heart health:
- Omega-3s may reduce the inflammation that lead to heart attacks.
- Omega-3s improve blood vessel elasticity.
- And they reduce the risk of blood clots.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also improve mood and memory, lowering your risk of Alzheimer's disease. Studies suggest they may also help reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Experts recommend you get 7 to 11 grams of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet every week. You would need to eat 4 ounces of salmon about four or six times a week to get that much, which is why there's consumer demand for fortified functional foods.
2. Plant Sterols and Plant Stanols
Plant sterols and stanols, also called phytosterols, occur naturally in plants and can be found in foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Found in functional foods such as margarines, butter, and spreads, plant sterols and stanols are "one of the better functional food additions to your diet," says dietician Christine Gerbstadt, RD, MPH, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and author of Doctor's Detox Diet.
Here's how plant sterols and stanols help body and heart health:
- Similar to cholesterol in structure, sterols block the absorption of cholesterol in the lower intestine. Helping to:
- Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Reduce heart disease risks
Two or three grams of phytosterols daily may offer these benefits. You can find phytosterols in fortified margarines, oil, juices, yogurt, milk, and snack bars.