A Heart-Healthy Diet: Wining and Dining the Heart
Chocolate and the Heart-Healthy Diet
Dark chocolate and cocoa are rich in antioxidants called flavonoids.
Research suggests that eating flavonoid-rich chocolate helps to keep blood
vessels healthier by improving their ability to expand.
One small study showed that eating high-flavonoid dark chocolate daily
helped high blood pressure patients lower their blood pressure and reduce LDL.
Patients who ate white chocolate got no beneficial effects.
Eating chocolate in moderation is fine, Lichtenstein says. But be aware that
flavonoid levels differ in various chocolate products, so there's no guarantee
that you'll get a dose large enough for health benefits. Also, too much
chocolate has no place in a heart-healthy diet because the extra calories can
lead to weight gain.
Fish Oil and the Heart-Healthy Diet
Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent heart disease. Good
choices include fatty fish such as salmon, lake trout, mackerel, sardines, and
albacore tuna, according to the AHA.
Fish oil contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid
(EPA). Lichenstein has reviewed many studies on fish oil and cardiovascular
disease, and most of the evidence associates DHA and EPA with decreased risk of
cardiovascular disease, she says. People who report eating two or more servings
of fish per week have a lower risk, she adds.
How do omega-3 fatty acids help to promote heart health? Experts don't know
for sure. "It's still open to debate," Lichenstein says.
But whatever the reason, there is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids cut risk
of death, heart attack, and dangerous heart rhythms in people with
cardiovascular disease, according to the NIH. Omega-3 fatty acids also lower "bad"
LDL levels, mildly decrease blood pressure, and lower levels of a blood
fat called triglycerides.
Getting omega-3 fatty acids from food is best, the AHA says. It recommends
at least two servings of fish per week. But people with coronary artery disease
or high triglycerides may want to talk to their doctor about taking a
supplement if they're not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet.
Cholesterol-Lowering Foods and the Heart-Healthy Diet
Cholesterol-lowering margarines that contain plant sterols have been shown
to decrease "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Other foods that are sterol-fortified
include some orange juices, chocolate bars, yogurt, and more.
Though these cholesterol-lowering products seem to be effective, they
should be part of a comprehensive heart-healthy diet, one that is
low in saturated fat and cholesterol, experts say.