Dietary Discoveries for
a Healthier Heart
Part II: soy, seafood, phytochemicals,
fiber, and garlic
February is Heart Health Month, the perfect time to pay attention
to your ticker. The statistics on heart disease are sobering:
It is the number one killer of men and women in the United States,
and each year an estimated 750,000 Americans die of cardiac conditions.
But we're far from helpless. Researchers are confirming more and
more links between the foods we eat and the health of our heart.
In Part I, we
discussed how a deficiency in antioxidant vitamins or folate may
increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Now we will explore
several other dietary measures that show promise for improving
your heart's health.
Soybeans. Research indicates that the regular consumption
of soy products can help reduce your cholesterol. While maintaining
your good (HDL) cholesterol, soy decreases both total and bad
(LDL) cholesterol by about 10 percent. It also aids in the prevention
of blood clots and arterial plaque -- both of which may set the
stage for a subsequent heart attack. Based on this evidence, in
October 1999 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave
approval for certain soy products to make the claim that they
reduce the risk of heart disease. Tofu, tempeh, soy milk, texturized
soy protein, and whole soybeans are among these products.
Seafood. Studies suggest that consuming one or two servings
of seafood a week may help prevent the occurrence of blood clots,
irregular heart rhythms, and sudden cardiac death. Although evidence
is strongest in people with coronary heart disease, one large
study yielded impressive results in healthy individuals as well.
The U.S. Physicians' Health Study, which followed more than 20,000
male physicians, found that those who ate fish at least once a
week were less likely to die of a sudden heart attack than those
who ate fish less than once a month, regardless of a history of
heart disease. The active ingredients appear to be the omega-3
fatty acids contained in seafood. The long-term safety of fish
oil supplements, however, still remains in question.
Phytochemicals. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources
of phytochemicals, plant substances that protect against heart
disease. When consumed in adequate amounts -- five or more servings
a day -- many phytochemicals exhibit antioxidant properties, much
as vitamins do. In addition, phytochemicals appear to play an
important role in preventing the buildup of fatty deposits inside
your blood vessels. The table below lists food sources for certain
Soybeans, tofu, other soy products
Tomatoes, grapefruit, red peppers
Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy
Onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, chives
Carrots, apricots, peaches, cantaloupe,
yams, dark-green leafy vegetables
Cherries, citrus fruit peel, dill, caraway
Most fruits and vegetables, wine, tea
Fiber. People who eat a lot of fiber -- 25 to 35 grams
per day -- may reduce their risk of heart attack by 36 percent,
according to a report published in the Journal of the American
Medical Association (JAMA) . One explanation is soluble fiber's
cholesterol-lowering effect, which is strongest in people who
already have high cholesterol. Several studies have shown that
a daily serving of oat bran or oatmeal can reduce total cholesterol
levels by about 3 percent. Other good sources of soluble fiber
include barley, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Garlic. One freshly chopped clove of garlic a day seems
to help reduce blood pressure and a tendency toward blood clots,
according to early research. Studies also indicate that garlic
consumption may lower bad (LDL) cholesterol up to 9 percent, and
may slightly boost good (HDL) cholesterol.
Consult with your health care provider before taking food supplements
or making major dietary changes. Then discover more foods for
a healthier heart.
For more information on heart-healthy foods, refer to the following
Rx.magazine feature articles:
for a Healthier Heart, Part I
Soy Power: The
Benefit of the Bean
Want Heart Health?
Elizabeth Smoots, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., is a board-certified
family physician in Seattle, Washington. A fellow of the American
Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Smoots specializes in prevention
and primary care medicine.