ST. LOUIS—The crumbs from the Christmas cookies are gone and black-eyed peas, eaten on New Year to bring luck, are a distant memory. Declared American Heart Month with Valentine’s Day smack dab in the middle, February is here. What to eat to keep your heart healthy?
While some dietitians extol the virtues of red wine, dark chocolate, and salmon for heart health, Katie Eliot, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, has a different plan.
Keep it simple. Look to heart shaped foods to protect your heart.
“Being red and heart shaped can be a tip off that some foods are good for your heart,” Eliot says. “Many heart shaped fruits and vegetables are great sources of antioxidants. These compounds act like shields, taking the hit from free radicals that otherwise damage the body and cause heart disease and cancer.”
For instance, strawberries and raspberries are loaded with vitamin C and an antioxidant known as polyphenol that prevents plaque from forming. Cherries contain an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which is thought to protect the blood vessels, and is high in potassium, which lowers blood pressure.
Tomatoes and red peppers are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which is in many red fruits and vegetables and works magic by neutralizing free radicals. And acorn squash and apples contain loads of fiber, which reduces bad cholesterol that can clog up your arteries to cause heart attacks and stroke.
So, while the current recommendation is to eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day, Eliot adds a special suggestion for February.
“To help keep your ticker ticking, celebrate heart month and Valentine’s Day by making sure at least two of those five fruits and veggies are heart shaped or red,” Eliot says. “It’s a happy coincidence that many of these foods actually resemble the organ they help to protect.”
*Strawberries image via Shutterstock