Proper Nutrition and Heart Health
WebMD's top 5 vitamins and minerals for heart health. Part 2 of a three-part series.
Nixing Your Heart Risks With Niacin
Niacin (also known as vitamin
B-3) helps increase HDL or "good" cholesterol levels. It comes in
over-the-counter preparations and as dietary supplements. It's also
found in dairy products, poultry, fish, lean meats, nuts, and eggs. Legumes and
enriched breads and cereals may also contain some niacin. Poon recommends that
people with low HDL levels take 500 mg of niacin each day, building up to 1,000
But, he cautions, this should be monitored by a doctor because each person
is different. "It can have some side effects and is not for everybody,
particularly people who already have high HDL levels," he tells WebMD.
Flushing, itching, and nausea and vomiting can occur.
Pumping Up Your Potassium
Potassium helps regulate blood
pressure levels, and high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk
factor for heart disease. Normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic, the
upper number in a blood pressure reading, and less than 80 diastolic pressure,
the lower number in a blood pressure reading.
For adequate potassium, "I suggest five to nine servings of fruits and
vegetables each day," says Kennedy. Potassium-rich foods include bananas,
potatoes, peaches, and apricots. In fact, the National High Blood Pressure
Education Program recommends that people who do not suffer from hypertension
consume at least 3,500 mg of dietary potassium daily.
Kennedy prefers whole foods to supplements when
it comes to potassium. "Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, and
you also need fiber to lower cholesterol levels, which
won't come from potassium supplements," she tells WebMD. One medium-sized
baked potato with skin has 850 mg of potassium; 10 halves of dry apricots
contain 407 mg; 1 cup of raisins has 1,099 mg, and one cup of winter squash has
Counting on Calcium
"A lot of people think of calcium as for the bones, but it's also good
for the heart," Kennedy says. "It helps weight management, which
indirectly affects heart disease risk." It also helps regulates blood
pressure along with magnesium and potassium.
"I recommend that everyone get two to three servings of calcium-rich
food a day," she says. "You can eat almonds or broccoli, but it takes
three cups of broccoli to get the calcium in one glass of milk, so I really
push dairy or soy foods.
"For people who are lactose intolerant or don't like the taste of milk,
I suggest including soy cheese and soy milk because they are rich in calcium
and also help lower cholesterol," she says. One cup of milk has 290 to 300
mg of calcium, and 1 oz of Swiss cheese has 250 to 270 mg. Calcium-fortified
soy foods stack up well against their dairy counterparts, she says.