February is National Heart Month: How Healthy is Yours?

Aside from celebrating it by giving your loved one heart-shaped chocolates, what are you doing to protect your ticker?

In all seriousness, tuning in to heart health is a top priority.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke as more than 67 million Americans have high blood pressure[1].

Hypertension increases the odds fourfold of death from a stroke and triples the chances of heart disease, compared to those with normal blood pressure[2].

Not too worried because you’re ‘feeling fine’, or you’re young or you don’t smoke?

Not a good reason to shrug off the seriousness as high blood pressure often shows no signs or symptoms, which is why having your blood pressure checked regularly is important.

There are certain elements of risk you cannot change, including age (your risk for heart disease increases as you get older), sex (heart disease was the number one killer of both men and women) and race (heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States for non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and American Indians)[3].

But whether or not your blood pressure is exactly as it should be now, there’s no good reason not to be proactive about making sure it gets, or stays that way through controlling the factors you can: what you eat and how you move.

A study posted on Harvard Health[4] showed that a heart-healthy diet includes:

  • Avoiding highly refined and processed grains and carbohydrates.
  • Avoiding soft drinks and other sugars
  • Avoiding processed meats

So what should you eat, then?

Here are my top-ten must-eat foods for a heart-healthy Paleo –inspired plan [5]:


One of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as plaque build up in the arteries.[6]  Stick with wild, not farmed.


Rich in anthocyanins and flavonoids, antioxidants that can decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.[7] Freezing wild berries makes for a surprisingly decadent treat, all on their own!


High in flavonoids that are linked with a reduced rate of ischemic stroke caused by blood clots, and rich in vitamin C which has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, like atherosclerosis.[8] Boost your heart health by adding tangerines to your spinach salad and quadruple the amount of iron you absorb.


Researchers estimate the rate of cardiac arrest decreases by 11% with consumption of three cups of tea per day.[9] Green tea is rich in Theanine, the amino acid that will offset caffeine’s effect.


Cardio-protective functions provided by the nutrients in tomatoes may include the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.[10] Go local and organic with this fruit in particular.


Rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), EVOO may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.[11] Promote heart health by upping your intake of this delicious fat in favor of relying too heavily on nuts.


Lutein (a carotenoid); B-complex vitamins; Folate; magnesium; potassium; calcium; fiber.[12]  Looks like Popeye had the right idea!


Consumption of ½ – 1½ avocados a day may help to maintain normal serum total cholesterol. More evidence that good fat is good[13]!


Rich in resveratrol, studies have shown that adults who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol may be less likely to develop heart disease than those who do not drink at all or are heavy drinkers.[14]Cheers to that!


In humans, flavanol-rich cocoa counteracts lipid peroxidation and, therefore, lowers the plasma level.[15] Just make sure to stick to the real stuff and go as close to 100% cacao as you can find!

Now, what’s the best way to get moving in order to ensure a healthy heart?

Step one is to ask yourself what you actually enjoy. Engaging in something fun is the single most important factor in determining whether or not you’ll stay with it for the long haul. As long as you get some regular cardiovascular activity as well as bone-building strength work, you’ll round out the equation perfectly in terms of setting yourself up for a lifetime of a healthy heart!


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: awareness and treatment of uncontrolled hypertension among adults—United States, 2003–2010.MMWR. 2012;61(35):703-9.

[2] Stamler J, Stamler R, Neaton JD. Blood pressure, systolic and diastolic, and cardiovascular risks. US population data. Arch Intern Med. 1993;153:598-615. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital signs: awareness and treatment of uncontrolled hypertension among adults—United States, 2003–2010.MMWR. 2012;61(35):703-9.

[3] Kochanek KD, Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Miniño AM, Kung HC. Deaths: final data for 2009[PDF-500K]. Nat Vital Stat Rep. 2011;60(3).

[4] “Avoid These Foods for a Healthier Heart – Harvard Health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

[5] Stephenson, Nell. “Top 10 Paleo Foods for Heart Health | The Paleo Diet.” The Paleo Diet. N.p., 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

[6] “The Role of Fish Oil in Arrhythmia Prevention”, Anand RG, Alkadri M, Lavie CJ, Milani RV. Mar-Apr 2008

[7] “Daily Blueberry Consumption Improves Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness in Postmenopausal Women with Pre- and Stage 1-Hypertension: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial”, Sarah A. Johnson, PhD, RD, CSO, Arturo Figueroa, MD, PhD, FACSM, Negin Navaei, Alexei Wong, PhD, Roy Kalfon, MS, Lauren T. Ormsbee, MS, Rafaela G. Feresin, MS, Marcus L. Elam, MS, Shirin Hooshmand, PhD, Mark E. Payton, PhD, Bahram H. Arjmandi, PhD, RD, October, 2014

[8] Woollard KJ, Loryman CJ, Meredith E, et al. Effects of oral vitamin C on monocyte: endothelial cell adhesion in healthy subjects. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2002 Jun 28;294(5):1161-8.

[9] Cooper R, Morre DJ, Morre DM. Medicinal benefits of green tea: Part I. Review of noncancer health benefits. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11(3):521-8.

[10] Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2003;43(1):1-18. Tomatoes and cardiovascular health. Willcox JK1, Catignani GL, Lazarus S.

[11] Lecerf JM. Fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Nutrition Reviews. 2009;67:273.

[12] Ursula Arens, dietetician at the British Dietetic Association, Kathleen Zelman, WebMD director of nutrition. U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. British Heart Foundation. British Dietetic Association. The Journal of the American Medical Association , July 23/30, 2003.

[13] Influence of avocados on serum cholesterol.[Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1960]

[14] Brien SE, Ronksley PE, Turner BJ, Mukamal KJ, Ghali WA. Effect of alcohol consumption on biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies. BMJ. 2011;342:d636.

[15] Wiswedel I, Hirsch D, Kropf S, Gruening M, Pfister E, Schewe T, Sies H. Flavanol-rich cocoa drink lowers plasma F(2)-isoprostane concentrations in humans. Free Radic Biol Med. 2004; 37: 411–421.