What is Heart and Vascular Health?
The cardiovascular system is composed of the heart and blood vessels. Its primary functions are to deliver oxygen and vital nutrition to cells throughout the body as well as aid in the removal of cellular waste products.
Heart health requires the heart beat with proper force and rhythm while vascular health is responsible for maintaining the proper blood pressure and delivery of oxygen and nutrients.
What affects Heart and Vascular Health?
The biggest challenge to heart and vascular health is the process of atherosclerosis - hardening of the artery walls and the build-up of arterial plaque. Therefore, heart and vascular health involves focusing on eliminating various risk factors associated with atherosclerosis. Risk factors are divided into two primary categories: major risk factors and other risk factors.
Risk Factors for Atherosclerosis
Major Risk Factors:
• Elevated blood cholesterol levels (especially LDL cholesterol)
• High blood pressure
• Physical inactivity
Other risk factors:
• Elevation of high sensitivity C-Reactive Protein
• Insulin resistance
• Low thyroid function
• Low antioxidant status
• Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids
• Increased platelet aggregation
• Increased fibrinogen formation
• Low levels of magnesium and/or potassium
• Elevated levels of homocysteine
• “Type A” personality
What dietary factors are important in Heart and Vascular Health?
Key dietary recommendations to promote heart and vascular health:
• Increase your intake of omega-3 oils by eating flaxseed oil, walnuts, and of cold-water fish.
• Increase the intake of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats by eating more nuts and seeds, including almonds, Brazil nuts, coconut, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame and sunflower seeds, and using a monounsaturated oil, such as olive or canola oil for cooking purposes.
• Eat five or more servings daily of a combination of vegetables and fruits, especially green, orange, and yellow vegetables; dark colored berries; and citrus fruits. Antioxidant compounds in these plant foods, such as carotenes, flavonoids, selenium, vitamin E, and vitamin C, are important in protecting against the development of atherosclerosis.
• Increase your intake of fiber. A diet high in fiber has been shown to be protective against atherosclerosis. Dietary fiber, particularly the soluble fiber found in legumes, fruit, and vegetables, is effective in lowering cholesterol levels.
• Limit the intake of refined carbohydrates (sugar and refined grains). Sugar and other refined carbohydrates are a significant factor in the development of atherosclerosis, inflammation, and insulin resistance.