February officially marks American Heart Month and red is the symbol of awareness. Heart disease and related complications (heart attacks and strokes) are leading causes of death worldwide killing about 600,000 people annually in the United States alone.
That’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
Believe it or not, you can greatly reduce your risk with simple lifestyle strategies. These include refraining from smoking and alcohol abuse, exercising regularly, and consuming a sensible diet that’s rich in fiber-packed vegetables and fruits.
Related Article: Three Ways to Reduce Your Risk of a Heart Attack
Vegetables and fruits that are red in color are uniquely beneficial. Collectively, these powerful foods are potent sources of essential micronutrients known to PREVENT and even REVERSE atherosclerosis, which is the major precursor of heart disease. To lower your risk, here are five you should definitely be eating.
Beetroots (beets) house a cocktail of micronutrients that have been shown to protect against heart disease by lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol, and reducing triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood. These micronutrients include folate, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and phytonutrients like betaine and beta-carotene.
In addition to promoting heart health, the many nutrients contained in beets help support liver health and have remarkable cancer-fighting effects.
You can reap the many heath-promoting benefits of beets by consuming them in whole or juiced form. Like most vegetables, beets are extremely low in calories (34 calories per beet) making them a top choice food for long-term weight management. Raw beets taste great in salads or as stand-alone snacks. Since beets are naturally high in sugar, combining fresh beet juice with green juices like kale and broccoli can lessen their pungent flavor.
RECIPE: Citrus Honey Glazed Golden Beets
The tomato fruit is deliciously sweet and so good for you. The reddest tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful carotenoid antioxidant known to improve the function of blood vessels in ways that facilitate healthy blood flow and protect against atherosclerosis.
Besides being extremely rich in lycopene, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, biotin, and vitamin K, which further supports heart health by protecting the arteries against calcium buildup.
You can reap the benefits of tomatoes by consuming them in whole or juiced form. Although they can most certainly stand alone, tomatoes make a great addition to almost any food preparation including salads, omelets, soups, stews, salads, and stir-fry preparations. In juiced form, tomatoes pair well with just about everything from apple and mango to carrots and spinach.
RECIPE: Tomato Seafood Chowder with Turkey Bacon
Whether raspberries, cranberries or strawberries, red berries are deliciously bittersweet, nutrient-dense, and just plain old good for you. In addition to their high content of vitamin C and manganese, red berries are exceptionally rich in flavonoid antioxidants like anthocyanins.
Excess free radical production in the body can trigger systemic inflammation in ways that encourage the onset of atherosclerosis. In combination with other antioxidants, anthocyanins have been shown to reverse this process by countering excess free radical production and improving the body’s natural antioxidant defenses.
If you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors like high blood pressure, you can greatly benefit from adding 1-2 servings of berries into your daily diet. Include a half a cup in your favorite yogurts, cereals or smoothie recipes. Berries can also bring unique flavor and texture to homemade breads, salads, and even meat, poultry and seafood dishes.
RECIPE: A Deliciously Creamy Spinach and Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie
4. Red Peppers
You can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease by making red peppers a staple in your diet. Whether sweet or hot, red peppers are an unbelievably dense source of beta-carotene and vitamin C, both of which function as antioxidants that counter systemic inflammation and neutralize free radical production in the body.
Red peppers are also uniquely rich in a powerful chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin has been shown to prevent blood clot formation in the arteries in ways that lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
In addition to being a low-calorie source of heart health-promoting nutrients, red peppers are low in sugar and virtually sodium-free. They’re also low in cost, extremely versatile, and easy to include in everyday meals including fresh juice blends, omelets, salads, soups, stews, chili, and stir-fry preparations.
RECIPE: Turkey and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese
Whether you prefer them sweet or tart, all cherries are packed full of important micronutrients that prevent heart disease and promote overall good health. Similar to berries, cherries are naturally high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and anthocyanins, which function together in lowering cholesterol and keeping blood pressure levels in check.
Tart cherries uniquely supply large amounts of melatonin.
Melatonin is a powerful sleep-regulating hormone that also functions as an antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Due to their content of melatonin regularly eating tart cherries can improve sleep duration and quality, which is especially beneficial as prolonged sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
In addition to their heart-healthy benefits, cherries are among the most versatile fruits around. You can get a substantial dose of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants by eating them as a stand-alone snack or adding them to your favorite cereals, yogurts or smoothie blends. In juiced form, cherries pair very well with apple, pear, and pineapple. Add sparkling mineral water and you’ve got yourself a tasty soda.
RECIPE: Chocolate Cherry Macadamia Smoothie
And there you have it! Five red foods that’ll substantially lower your risk of heart disease and related risk factors. Other ‘non-red’ vegetables and fruits with research-proven heart-healthy benefits include carrots, broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, collard greens, spinach, celery, cilantro, parsley, onions, garlic, avocado, and citrus fruits. For maximum protection, make an effort to consume 9-10 daily servings of vegetables and fruits across the color spectrum.