By William W. Li, M.D. President and Medical Director, The Angiogenesis Foundation
One of the biggest health threats today is cardiovascular disease. It affects the heart as well as every organ of the body, and one of the underlying causes is a hardening of the arteries. The condition is associated with genetics, diet and lifestyle as underlying causes, and clogging of the arteries by something called “plaque” can lead to a fatal heart attack or stroke. The plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, and other materials found in the blood. High blood cholesterol, which affects 1 in 6 adults, is one of the major risk factors for plaque build-up. Thankfully, there are foods that can help protect against this.
While you can’t change your genetics, and your doctor can prescribe medications that can control cholesterol, you can also take a proactive and preventive approach by aligning your diet to support better cardiovascular health. The following are some of the foods that can help lower your cholesterol.
By its name, you might guess that mustard greens might be used to produce the condiment mustard – and you would be right! The seeds of the plant are used to make mustard. The leaves, however, are a delicious leafy green you can find in the produce section of the grocery store. They are rich in natural substances called sulforaphanes that, when eaten, help the body get rid of bile acid in our gut. Bile acids are used by the body to make cholesterol – so the less bile acid results in less cholesterol. Some cholesterol-lowering medicines help get rid of bile, too – but this is a natural way to do it using food.
Preparation Tips: What’s the best way to eat mustard greens? They are tasty raw in a salad, but researchers have actually shown that steaming mustard greens makes them even more potent in their ability to lower cholesterol! Raw or cooked, try adding mustard greens to your diet.
Dark Chicken Meat
Everyone knows that chicken is one of the healthier meats, but most people think the white meat, such as the breast, is the best cut. The dark meat found in thighs and legs is actually healthier for your heart. Dark meat contains a special vitamin called menaquinone (vitamin K2) that’s also found in some hard cheeses. Vitamin K2 interferes with the body’s ability to make cholesterol in the blood, and researchers have shown that vitamin K2 prevents hardening of the arteries, as well. When the levels of K2 were measured in the blood, people who ate more K2-containing foods had more than a 50% reduction in the chance of dying of heart disease.
Preparation Tips: Chicken thighs are often the preferred part of the bird in Asian cooking, and the legs are tasty roasted or stewed. Just make sure you trim away the skin and any fat before you cook them. And here’s the best part: dark meat is cheaper than chicken breast. A healthy serving to eat is 4 oz. per day, which measures out to be a portion a little bit bigger than a deck of playing cards.
Persimmons are a delicious orange fruit that grows in California, Asia and in the Mediterranean, where they are called “kaki.” Their season is late fall and winter, so they are a cool-weather treat. Persimmons look a lot like tomatoes, and like tomatoes, they contain a natural substance called beta-cryptoxanthin that is related to vitamin A. Researchers have shown beta-cryptoxanthin can protect the good form of cholesterol in our blood called HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and it can also prevent hardening of the arteries. Want to know another benefit? It fights belly fat, as well!
Tips: When you eat a persimmon, just make sure you don’t eat the skin. Cut it away, or eat around it like you would an orange slice. The reason is that some varieties of persimmon have skins that are astringent. That means it makes your mouth pucker. Just enjoy the tender sweet flesh. A persimmon a day is heart-healthy.
Pistachio are a cholesterol-lowering superfood. It contains a natural antioxidant called lutein that can raise the good cholesterol (HDL) and lower the bad form, called LDL (low density lipoprotein).
Tips: How much is heart-healthy? About 1/3 of a cup each day. That’s about 50 kernels of shelled pistachios. They’re also a great source of fiber in your diet.
Some Heart-Healthy Foods are Also Cancer fighters
Here’s the best news of all: the same natural substances I just mentioned that lower cholesterol – sulforaphanes, vitamin K2, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein – also protect against cancer! So, the next time you go to the grocery store, think about stocking your fridge and your pantry with some of these delicious foods that are good and good for you in more ways than one.
At the non-profit Angiogenesis Foundation, we are working to bring this type of practical, lifesaving information to the public through our Eat to Defeat Cancer campaign. To get recipes and more information on foods containing the heart-healthy substances that can also fight cancer, click here.