Nutrients for the Heart

Making changes to your diet and lifestyle is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Most of us know what we need to cut down on (i.e. salt, alocohol, saturated and trans-fats) and out (smoking). Here are some foods you can actually eat more of!

Besides following the low-fat, wholefoods dietary guidelines, there are certain specific dietary aids that can help reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Three of the most important of these are garlic, fibre, and the omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oils and flax seed oil.


Garlic has been found to lower cholesterol and blood pressure (onions and cayenne pepper also have these properties, but to a lesser degree). Garlic specifically lowers blood-clotting potential and has been shown to reduce triglycerides, cholesterol and low-density cholesterol (LDL, bad cholesterol) while raising the good high-density cholesterol (HDL). Studies have shown that high amounts of garlic, such as 10 to 15 grams a day, produce these effects without toxicity, as well as reducing platelet stickiness and clotting.

Garlic supplements come in a number of forms, including powder, oil, and deodorised and enteric-coated capsules. If you like it fresh, one very nice way to take it is juiced with carrots.


Fibre has been shown to have several positive effects, both when taken in the diet and as a supplement. It reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and LDL, and raises HDL. Apple pectin, oat fibre and psyllium husks have all been found to reduce cholesterol and LDL, which improves the risk ratio for heart disease.

omega fatty acids

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include many fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, and also flax seeds and flax seed oil, all of which contain the vital oils EPA and DHA. Flax seed oil also contains linoleic and linolenic acids, essential fatty acids (called ‘essential’ because we need them for our body tissues and function) that may help to reduce blood fat levels and fatty deposits.

It appears healthy and wise to include fish in your diet (and remember that eating fish supports brain function too), while daily intake of nuts and seeds, as well as flax seed oil, is recommended for vegetarians.


Nuts are high in fats, but these are mainly unsaturated essential fats that help to lower LDL cholesterol. Peanuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts are also good sources of arginine and other amino acids. Pistachios are rich in phytosterols, nutrients found to have anti-cancer properties.

Two large studies found 35% and 50% reductions in heart attacks respectively among people who ate nuts five or more times a week. Nuts found to be protective in the studies included walnuts, peanuts (which are actually legumes) and almonds. Interestingly, none of the participants in the studies gained weight, because the nuts were included as part of a healthy diet.

Nutrients for the brain

Other foods that have been reported to have beneficial effects include soybeans and soy products, such as tofu and tempeh, which may have a positive effect on cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Foods particularly recommended by nutritionist and naturopath Paavo Airola because of their beneficial effects on the heart and blood vessels are millet and buckwheat, sunflower seeds, okra, asparagus and apples.

Nutrients for the brain

Consider a supervised fast to re-alkalinise your body and blood. This will aid detoxification and can lower blood fats significantly.

A study of 42 000 women published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of 26 April 2000 reported that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean animal proteins appears to significantly increase longevity and reduce the risk of dying from diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.

It is obvious to those of us who follow this type of eating programme – you could call it a back-to-nature plan – that we feel good, and live and age in a healthier way. However, it’s nice to see medical science catching up with common-sense health practices!

Recent research has looked at a number of complex factors that push up the risk of heart disease.

Obesity appears to double the risk of heart disease.

Lipoprotein A, a type of cholesterol, raises the risk of heart disease.

C-reactive protein, a substance in the blood that rises in response to inflammation, appears to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Your doctor can check your level by means of an inexpensive blood test.

Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that is frequently the cause of stomach ulcers and gastritis, was found in an Italian study to be significantly more prevalent in patients with heart disease than in a comparison group.

Editor's note: Although not mentioned in this article we in South Africa similarly to the European community know how important the almost daily use of olive oil is, in heart health. We so often see olive oil endorsed by the Heart & Stroke Foundation of South Africa as being part of a healthy diet. Another excellent article is Lower your Risk for Heart Disease written by Patrick Holford. I really want to stress the importance of Omega-3 levels. High omega-3 blood levels correlate with longer life—so make sure you get yours. An analysis of the famous Framingham heart study data showed that omega-3 levels were as good, and sometimes better, predictor of mortality as traditional risk factors like smoking and diabetes.

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