March 04th 2005 - “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The heart takes on a mystical quality for most of us for good reasons. Not only is it crucial to our health, daily performance and life, it is the seat of emotion and the divining rod between body and spirit. Many of us claim to act for the sake of our heart, but how many of us are truly connected to what we feel in our internal depth? Given its importance to life itself and the emotional energy we attach to our hearts, most of us have difficulty actually “knowing our heart”.
On one level, heart disease can result when we harden ourselves to our true feelings. Ultimately, we paralyze our true self. Individuals with heart disease usually have a tendency to give adequate attention to their intellect, and too little attention to their emotions and what they feel.
Since we are complicated beings made of many different layers, I believe that matters of the heart should be approached holistically by addressing physical (diet and exercise), emotional and spiritual needs. I make a conscious effort to intertwine these factors in assisting someone in the healing process. The focus of this article will be primarily on nutrition, or nourishment, for the heart from food. What we eat, how we eat and what we feel and think when we eat can influence each aspect of our being, especially our heart. Conversely, our heart can play a role in our food choices and style of eating. Therefore, food and nutrition play an integral role in our heart health.
What foods are important for a healthy heart?
In general, my approach to health through eating is through whole foods. The goal is to get as many nutrients from nature as possible. My cornerstone belief is that we need to eat according to nature and our body’s physiology in order to feel a sense of well-being and prevent us from disease. It is essential to integrate appropriate food choices and perspectives on eating into a way of life. Your motivation to make these changes, both small and big, is key to your successful outcome.
Eat a Nutritional Rainbow of Vegetables, Especially the Green Ones
The heart energy center is often referred to as being green- or rose-colored. Foods, which are green in color, such as vegetables, are very harmonious for the heart energy. Examples of excellent green vegetable choices would be the following: spinach, collards, kale, dandelion, mustard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard. Although I give special attention to the green vegetables, essentially all vegetables are beneficial for the heart and consuming a variety is key. Deeper, darker colors of vegetables tend to have higher levels of phytonutrients (“plant” nutrients) – for example, spinach has more vitamin A than than iceberg lettuce. Most people eat too few vegetables daily, usually between 2-3 servings. Ideally, you would want to increase this amount to as much as 10 servings a day. Keep in mind that a serving is probably smaller than you think (1 cup of raw vegetables, ½ cup of cooked vegetables). Organic produce would be my first choice.
From a scientific viewpoint, there are several reasons why vegetables are amazing foods for the heart.
When you substitute vegetables for other foods like those containing high-fat and high-sugar, you reduce the number of calories per bite. They contain high amounts of fiber, which can lead to feelings of fullness.
Select vegetables contain various levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (see section on fats below).
Vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants such as carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene), vitamin C, folate, iron, potassium, calcium and vitamin K.
Vegetables contain appreciable amounts of soluble fiber, which bind cholesterol particles in the intestine and remove them from the body. Additionally, some of them may contain substances called phytosterols, which compete with cholesterol for absorption in the body.
Enhance the Quality of Your Fat Intake
In the past decade, fats have received a bad reputation in the nutrition community. However, it is being increasingly realized that fat is not as bad as some once thought and that the type of fat is more important than the amount of fat you eat. Saturated fats, which come from animals (e.g., meat, cheese, dairy), are not healthy to use on a regular basis since they increase both good (LDL) and bad (HDL) cholesterol levels in the blood. Trans fat (also known as “partially hydrogenated oils”), which is found primarily in baked goods and shelf-stable food products, are detrimental to the body since they increase the bad cholesterol in the blood.
Unsaturated fats from the omega-3 family are one of the healthiest oils to use for the heart. Leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, flaxseed and hempseed oils and fish contain various amounts of these fatty acids. These good fats help to regulate inflammation in the body. They can also reduce blood thickness and stickiness, to help keep it moving, and lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One point of caution is that oils high in omega-3s should not be used in cooking as they are highly prone to breaking down to produce toxic substances. Olive oil, and other highly monounsaturated oils, are more stable under cooking conditions than omega-3 fats.
Two tasty ways to get good fats into your diet is almond milk and ground flaxseeds. Almond milk can be made by soaking ½ cup of almonds in a pint of water overnight. Blend the mixture in a blender with ½ teaspoon vanilla for two minutes. Store the resulting almond milk in the refrigerator for two to three days maximum. Flaxseeds can be ground before you’re ready to eat them. You can add them to salads, vegetables, or cereal. Flaxseed oil can be used to make dressings.
How to eat
There are some basic principles to keep in mind when preparing a meal and when eating for yourself and your heart:
Be sure that all food is prepared with gratitude and love. It has been shown that water that had love infused into it reacted differently in a biochemical way compared to water without love.
Chewing your food at least 25 times is also essential for assisting in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Avoid eating when you are under stress and relax before and during eating. Stress constricts blood vessels and prevents the blood from reaching the digestive organs.
Avoid consuming excess quantities of food as this can overload the digestive process and lead to symptoms like “heart”burn. Also, avoid eating too many different foods in one meal.
Try not to eat before bedtime as to allow time for the digestive system to rest.
© 2002 By Deanna Minich, Ph.D.
Deanna Minich, PhD, CNS
Port Orchard, WA
Port Orchard, WA 98367