February is American Heart Month and Dr. Amy wanted to share some ways to keep your heart healthy—vegetables!
Vegetables are packed with nutrients that not only support your heart health but also support your overall health, too. Our vegetables are grown regeneratively with a focus on nutrient density because we know that healthy soils create healthy plants, which create healthy people.
When it comes to heart health, magnesium is my absolute favorite. It is involved in hundreds of reactions in the body, including the formation of ATP (which is energy!). Not having enough magnesium is not only unhealthy for plants, but it’s also unhealthy for people and is, unfortunately, becoming more common due to soil depletion, food processing, and the use of medications (like proton pump inhibitors and diuretics).
Magnesium is required to form glutathione in the human body, which is often called the “master antioxidant” because it is found in almost every cell in the body, helping to protect against damage. Magnesium, calcium, and potassium also play really important roles in helping to maintain a normal heart rhythm, and nerve and muscle function. Low magnesium levels, meanwhile, have been associated with glucose intolerance and diabetes and can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
It’s so important to point out that heart health and metabolic health go hand in hand. That’s why Dr. Amy often refers to it as “cardiometabolic” health. Balanced blood sugar is essential to heart health as it helps to maintain healthy triglyceride levels and reduce damage to nerves and blood vessels.
Top Five Heart-Healthy Vegetables
Dr. Amy Sapola put together a list of the “Top 5 Heart Healthy Vegetables” that help support cardiometabolic health!
- Greens (like spinach, swiss chard, kale, and so forth): Studies show that higher intakes of leafy greens are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Greens are a great source of magnesium, vitamin K, folate, and nitrates.
- Garlic: When prepared correctly, garlic contains allicin, which studies show helps to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
- Beets and beet greens: They’re a good source of nitrates, fiber, and antioxidants. Nitrates have been shown to help improve blood flow and possibly lower blood pressure.
- Broccoli sprouts: These are a good source of CoQ10, which may help to reduce blood pressure and help those with congestive heart failure. Broccoli sprouts also may help lower cholesterol.
- Jerusalem artichokes: This veggie contains soluble fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol. Jerusalem artichokes make a great potato substitute because they are lower on the glycemic index (meaning they do not cause your blood sugar to go up as much) but are still really satisfying and support a healthy gut microbiome.
If there’s something on this list that isn't on the list of your favorites, that's okay. The best vegetables for health are the ones you’ll eat and enjoy. The key to heart health is not only what you eat but how you’re eating it.
Role of Stress
You might be surprised to learn that stress while eating negatively affects your cardiometabolic health and digestion. Here’s how: when we eat in a stressed state (regardless if it’s something that actually is happening or we’re thinking about something stressful), our sympathetic nervous system is dominating what’s going on within the body. This is the “run from the tiger” safety response system, but here’s the problem. This system can’t tell the difference between the actual tiger you need to run from and the stressful day you had at work or that you are experiencing stress from watching the news.
The chronic stress that is often experienced throughout the day causes our bodies to experience elevated blood sugar due to elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) and to not secrete all of the digestive enzymes you need to properly digest food.
Rest. Relax. Digest.
To properly rest and digest, it’s important that we shift into a parasympathetic state: one where our body is relaxed and we feel safe and calm. The best way to do this is to:
- Turn off all distractions (this includes the TV, social media, and stressful conversations).
- Take three deep breaths.
- Take a moment to look at and feel grateful for the beautiful vegetables you are able to eat.
These simple steps can help to reduce stress and will allow you to digest your food more effectively. When you are in the rest and digest state, your body can enjoy a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure, and secret the enzymes it needs to in order to optimize digestion and utilize the heart-healthy nutrients in your vegetables.
So, when you slow down, take a few deep breaths, and then savor and enjoy more vegetables at each meal, you are well on your way to improved heart health.