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‘I’m a Cardiologist and This Popular (and Delicious!) Ingredient Can Make a Big Difference for Heart Health’

In World
June 04, 2024

Woman cooking with ingredients to help improve heart health

It’s hard to believe that one ingredient—which is technically a vegetable—could make such a big difference for heart health. And even though vegetables are essentially the mascot for healthy eating, the vast majority of Americans don’t eat the recommended two to four cups of vegetables a day.

For Americans who are fortunate to have access to produce, what could be getting in the way of meeting this goal? For some people, it could be a lack of time; fast food or microwaveable meals are easier to prepare than meals requiring more thought and effort. Some people might not eat many vegetables because they don’t know how to prepare them in a way that tastes good. For many people, it’s habitual. We often cycle through the same meals on repeat and if they don’t include vegetables, they don’t get eaten.

Not eating a diet high in vegetables—no matter what the reason is—can negatively impact heart health. Here, a cardiologist explains exactly why this is and shares the vegetable he loves the most for heart health.

Related: These Are the 20 Healthiest Vegetables of All Time, According to Registered Dietitians

A Cardiologist’s Playbook for Eating for Heart Health

When it comes to eating for heart health, Dr. Joel Kahn, MD, a holistic cardiologist and author of The Whole Heart Solution says that it’s important to eat primarily plant-based foods. “A plate should be colorful, diverse and predominantly or completely of whole plant foods,” he says. Scientific research backs this up, showing that following a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease by up to 29%.

This is because plant-based foods are high in antioxidants and help lower LDL cholesterol. (That’s the “bad” type.) The scientific researchers also point out that plant foods (like nuts, seeds, legumes and beans) are full of important nutrients including protein, carbohydrates and unsaturated fats as well as vitamins and minerals.

Related: 150+ Foods You Can Enjoy on a Plant-Based Diet, From Red Wine to Pistachios

Dr. Kahn says that he likes the mnemonic GBOMBS as a guideline for eating for heart health, which stands for Greens, Beans, Onions (and garlic), Mushrooms, Berries, and Seeds—all foods he says that are full of nutrients that positively impact the heart.

Of course, vegetables are an important part of following a plant-based diet. “A diet high in vegetables provides maximal nutrition with the least calories,” Dr. Kahn says. “They provide a rich load of fiber, vitamins, minerals, water and plant nutrients.”

While all vegetables are good for the heart, there’s one in particular that Dr. Kahn eats regularly because it’s especially good for cardiovascular health.

Related: Your Live-Well Guide to Maintaining Heart Health and Preventing Heart Disease

The One Ingredient a Cardiologist Swears By for Heart Health

If you like a strong flavor, you’re in luck: Dr. Kahn says one of his favorite foods for heart health is something we often think of as an herb, but is actually a vegetable: Garlic. Garlic has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol when eaten regularly.

Dr. Kahn adds that his very favorite heart-healthy dish is lightly-steamed broccoli with lemon juice, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil. Every single ingredient in this side dish is good for the heart, and it’s worth noting that a diet that includes olive oil has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 48%—that’s major!

Not into garlic? Dr. Chauncey Crandall, MD, a cardiologist in West Palm Beach, Florida, offers up another flavorful vegetable to put front and center in your diet: beets, which are his personal favorite vegetable for heart health. “Beets are high in nitric oxide and nitrates, which improves cardiovascular health in several ways,” he says. This includes reducing stiffness in arteries, which can help lower blood pressure. “Beetroot juice supplementation may lower blood pressure and increase blood flow,” Dr. Crandall adds.

It bears repeating that all vegetables benefit heart health. Focus on finding ways to incorporate the ones you enjoy into your meals more. Remember, it’s our habits that make or break our health. Making high-veggie meals your MO might just add years to your life!

Next up, find out what the best workout for heart health is for people over 50, according to cardiologists.


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