DEAR DOCTOR K: You’ve written about “superfoods” that deliver a lot of nutritional bang for their buck. Do you have a list of superfoods for heart health?
DEAR READER: Many foods — from the everyday to the exotic — are rich in nutrients that help keep heart disease at bay. That’s good news, and it’s been documented in many scientific studies. My colleagues in nutrition science at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School have published the following list of heart-healthy superfoods. They and I use the word “superfoods” advisedly. Obviously, no food offers anything like perfect protection against any illness. But many foods, when regularly consumed as part of your diet, improve your odds of escaping heart disease. Since heart disease is the No. 1 cause of premature death, I’d call foods that reduce that risk “super.” Here’s a list:
•Oatmeal helps lower cholesterol. Oats also keep blood sugar steady, reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes, both linked to heart disease.
•Oranges are rich in cholesterol-reducing soluble fiber; in potassium, which helps control blood pressure; and in vitamin C.
•Beans provide hearty doses of protein, fiber and minerals. They can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and keep your blood sugar from spiking.
•Spinach and kale are dark, leafy greens that are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. They deliver a lot of nutrients without a lot of calories.
•Avocados are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. They contain substantial amounts of fiber, potassium, several vitamins and compounds that help lower cholesterol.
•Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in LDL cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat. It discourages blood from clotting and helps steady blood sugar levels.
•Nuts are an excellent source of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, all known to protect heart health. Nuts lower harmful LDL cholesterol, raise protective HDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
•Salmon and similar fatty fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. People who eat more fish have a lower risk of dying from heart disease.
•Berries are packed full of substances that help block plaque from forming inside arteries.
•Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is an excellent plant-based source of protein. It also contains plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
•Dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa or higher) is rich in flavonols, which may help lower blood pressure.
I first began hearing about healthy eating from my kindergarten teacher. I wondered how she knew what foods improved your health. At that time, nutrition science was in its infancy. Today, studies of the eating habits of millions of people, and of their subsequent health, have given us information we can confidently use to protect our hearts.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.