Improving your heart health usually means cutting things out of your diet. That can leave you feeling deprived. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A new study found that adding more of specific types of food into your diet may lead to better heart health. The secret is focusing on substances called flavonoids, which are found in certain plant-based foods and drinks, including tea, apples, and even dark chocolate.
The study of more than 56,000 people living in Denmark was carried out over 23 years. Researchers found that those who ate the highest amounts of flavonoids had a 15% lower chance of dying from heart disease, compared to those who had the least amount of these substances in their diet. They also had a 17% lower risk of dying from any cause.
People in the study needed to get 500 mg of flavonoids in their diet every day to get the most heart protection. For example, you can get that amount in one day by drinking a cup of tea and eating a half-cup of blueberries, an apple, an orange, and a cup of broccoli.
One interesting finding was that people who smoked cigarettes or who had more than two alcoholic drinks a day benefitted the most from flavonoid-rich foods. That certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to quit smoking. And we all need to limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men, and one a day for women. Both habits can be very tough on your heart. But while you are trying to kick the habit or drink less alcohol, adding more flavonoids to your diet has been shown to help protect heart health.
This isn’t the first study to show a connection between flavonoids and better heart health. A study involving 1,658 people in Italy also showed that those who got the most flavonoids in their diet had the lowest risk of developing or dying from a heart problem.
Researchers aren’t sure why flavonoids are so good for the heart, but they think it improves the way blood vessels work. It also reduces inflammation, which is at the root of many heart attacks and strokes.
Inflammation means your body is fighting injury and illness. But when inflammation gets out of control, it can be very harmful causing the soft plaque in diseased blood vessels to rupture. When that happens, cholesterol and other substances block the flow of blood to your heart muscle or your brain. That’s when heart attacks and strokes can occur.
How to get more flavonoids into your diet? Eat more of these foods:
- Tea (both black and green)
- Dark chocolate (85% cacao or more)
- Citrus fruits
- Leafy greens
- Red wine
These positive health results don’t occur over night. It is the long-term use of flavonoids over time that seem to benefit patients most.
To really boost you heart health, be sure to exercise regularly, stay at a healthy weight, and reduce your stress. And ask your doctor about special tests that can give you extra information about the health of your heart and blood vessels. That can help to fix problems before they get too far along.