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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 mg.

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 896 mg.

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.

Reviewed on February 16, 2006

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