Protecting your heart often requires a series of lifestyle changes that most people either refuse to make, don’t know they need to make or simply lack the time and money to make. For instance, superfoods are a great addition to your diet and health goals, but they’re usually not the cheapest option at the grocery store. Getting better-quality sleep can help prevent constant cravings and overeating, but what if you have a full-time job, four kids and a house to run?
Sometimes, the most obvious solutions to preventing health problems and complications aren’t the most realistic ones. So if you’re struggling with high blood pressure and fear of heart attack or stroke, let’s look at all the options at your disposal. Remember to consult with your doctor first, but be sure to bring up some of these options if they pique your interest.
Traditional ways to improve your heart health
The American Heart Association’s recommendations for improving heart health deserve acknowledgment. They mention that making smart choices now can pay off for the rest of your life. Of course, unhealthy options don’t simply overwhelm your body all at once. It takes time for poor habits to really begin to worsen our health, but for many people, their bad habits are never changed or addressed.
They recommend foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. You should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds, and try eating some meals without meat. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat. You should combine 150 minutes of cardio with two days a week of strength training exercises.
They also recommend avoiding smoking and contact with secondhand smoke. Also, get your blood pressure checked by a doctor. The machines you see at Walmart or the mall are often poorly calibrated and can give you inaccurate results.
I’ve been critical of supplement use before, mainly because of the fact that they can be abused and many suppliers cannot back up the claims they make about their products. However, they’re not all snake oil. Some supplements really can dramatically improve your health if they’re taken responsibly and with your doctor’s permission.
Berberine is one potentially beneficial supplement. It has been found to reduce the amount of total and LDL (or bad) cholesterol. It lowers blood triglycerides and blood pressure levels as well. One review of 27 randomized controlled clinical trials found that berberine had a therapeutic effect similar to some prescription medications in combating Type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension, with no serious side effects.
Another option to consider is adding more garlic to your meals, as it contains an active compound called allicin, which can significantly lower blood pressure. A review of 25 studies found a decrease in blood pressure among people already suffering from hypertension.
We know that sugar is bad for us, but our taste buds are still used to the sweet sensation we get from eating all those candy bars and tasty desserts. If you’re struggling to say no to sugar, remember this: Not all artificial sweeteners are bad for your health. Although some of the science isn’t quite out yet, Stevia has been used as a sweetener and medicinal herb for centuries in South America. In two separate Chinese studies, subjects already suffering from hypertension were found to have decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure when taking 750 milligrams or 1,500 milligrams of Stevia per day. There’s also little to no evidence of negative side effects.
If you’re worried about heart health, the best foods to add to your diet are ones high in potassium. Adding this mineral to your diet can help your nerves and muscles work as they should, keeping your heart beating at a strong and steady rate. Here’s a list of foods you can add: avocados, artichokes, bananas, beans, broccoli, cantaloupe, fish, milk, nuts, oranges, orange juice, baked potatoes, raisins, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, raisins, spinach, tomatoes, turkey, squash, yogurt and zucchini.
If you’re overweight or obese, one almost-certain way to lower your blood pressure is to lose some weight. Even losing 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure by as much as 10 percent. Personally, I find the best method to lose weight is to practice intermittent fasting.
Our bodies require a balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to function well, but we often get too much or too little of one or the other during our meals. That’s why I find it important to make up for those shortcomings at our next meal.
Basically, if you have pastries or cereal for breakfast, you’ve gone overboard on the carbs. So, for lunch, go heavier on protein and fat. That’s why I always keep a couple of Atkins frozen meals in my freezer and protein powder in my pantry. It helps stabilize my body if, once in a while, we decide to go out for doughnuts on a Saturday morning. Of course, we try not to make a habit of this, but every now and then, it’s just what sounds good. We all eat unhealthy from time to time, so just remember what you ate and try to get back on track with your next meal. It’s not always easy, but it’s certainly doable. Counting calories and keeping track of your meals can help you with this if you’re the forgetful type. This way, you can help prevent overeating and keep the weight you lose off, thus maintaining a healthier heart.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.