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Eat your way to health

olive oil in jar 07 3 12Here are 10 tasty ways to help you to protect your heart against disease and reduce cholesterol.

1. Cinnamon
This spice has been hailed as a superhero in terms of health effects on the body. Aiding weight loss and digestive function, and helping to ease arthritis and menstrual discomfort, a teaspoon a day also reduces fats in the bloodstream. The antioxidant-rich properties help prevent plaque build-up in the arteries and lower cholesterol levels by as much as 26%, according to recent research. Sprinkle some on your morning coffee or porridge to spice up your way to a healthy heart.

2. Asparagus
‘This vegetable is one of the best, natural artery-cleansing foods around,’ says Shane Ellison, an organic chemist and author of Over-The-Counter Natural Cures (from £10.21, Sourcebooks, Inc). ‘Asparagus works within the 100,000 miles of veins and arteries to release pressure, thereby allowing the body to accommodate for inflammation that will have accumulated.’ It also helps ward off deadly blood clots, and contains 66% of the recommended daily allowance of folate, a B vitamin essential for a healthy cardiovascular system, in one cup. Asparagus is a springtime veggie favourite and makes a great addition in risottos and salads.

3. Red grapes
More than just the basis of fine wine, red grapes are rich in fibre and antioxidants, including sveratrol and flavonoids, which reduce the risks of heart disease. Producing a cocktail extracted from the most fibre-rich parts of the grape, such as the skin and seeds, researchers from Madrid found that blood pressure was reduced by up to 5% and cholesterol by up to 14% among grape eaters over a 16-week period. The fruit’s carotenoid lutein also lowers inflammation of cholesterol in the artery walls, studies have shown.

4. Wholegrains
Swapping refined grains such as white bread for wholegrains, including wholewheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal promotes general health and digestive wellbeing, while minimising fatty artery deposits and decreasing your heart disease risk. ‘The soluble fibre in wholegrains binds the cholesterol in food and banishes it from the body,’ says Megan Madden, a registered dietitian in New York. When the body needs cholesterol, it draws on the remaining supply, thus lowering your total blood cholesterol level in general.

5. Olive oil
The omega 3 found in olive oil has long been associated with a healthy Mediterranean diet, and a decreased risk of heart disease. Listed among the ‘good’ oils, its monounsaturated fats prevent cholesterol particles from becoming oxidised. As only oxidised cholesterol can stick to the artery walls, olive oil, although still a form of fat in itself, is invaluable at counteracting the bad effects of omega 6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils.

6. Turmeric
The health properties of this spice are so potent that it can now be found in health food stores in capsule form. As well as it being a delicious addition to curries, turmeric is also an antioxidant and a powerful anti-inflammatory. ‘It contains curcumin which lowers inflammation – a major cause of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries),’ explains Dr Gregg Schneider, a nutritionally oriented dentist and expert on alternative medicine. In fact, curcumin can reduce fatty deposits in arteries by as much as 26%, according to recent research. The perfect excuse to create a wide range of Indian dishes!

7. Swiss chard
This leafy green, similar to spinach, is a powerhouse of health-boosting phytonutrients and antioxidants, plus calcium and protein, to fight diabetes and arthritis and build strong bones. Most importantly, Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamin E, which helps prevent damaging free radicals from oxidising cholesterol. Diets rich in this leafy veg have been proven to reduce the risk of developing clogged arteries. Swiss chard is widely available from the end of March through to November. Braise or sauté the mature chard leaves, or use fresh young chard as a raw salad accompaniment.

8. Green tea
Health experts find it difficult not to gush about green tea. With more than a decade of research into its health benefits – from the potential to fight cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and aid weight loss – drinking just one cup a day gives a mighty antioxidant boost. Eliminating free radicals from cells and arteries, the flavonoids – powerful antioxidants within the unprocessed green tea leaves – may even surpass those of vitamins C and E.

9. Cherries
Although often overlooked in favour of their popular berry competitors, cherries are a super fruit that contain 19 times the amount of beta-carotene (vitamin A) found in blueberries and strawberries. Rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which give the ripe, round fruits their red colour, cherries contain more than 17 compounds to help clear clogged arteries.

10. Sweet potatoes
Packed full of cholesterol-busting fibre, potassium, beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C and blood pressure-lowering magnesium, sweet potatoes outshine the regular kind with its superfood status. You can easily boil, bake or roast its orange flesh (or even make delicious chips with it by drizzling the potatoes with olive oil), and it will still contain less calories than a usual potato. An 225g sweet potato provides women with almost a fifth of their daily protein requirement and enough iron to support healthy levels for two-and-a-half days. Once you’ve gone orange, it’s hard to go back to the regular spuds!

This article was first published in at home’s ’Ask the Doctor’ with Dr Christian Jessen in March 2012. [Read the digital edition here]

Photograph: Shutterstock

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