The nutritional advice covering how to maintain a healthy heart and cardiovascular system sits very well with both a vegan and vegetarian diet. But within the foods that we might be advised to eat, there are some that stand out as having really great benefits.
Spinach – Homocysteine is an amino acid produced naturally in the human body usually in response to eating protein. Raised levels are linked with narrowing of the arteries and thus increased blood pressure. Folate, found in spinach (and other dark green vegetables) can help reduce homocysteine levels.
Beetroot – research shows that drinking 250ml of beetroot juice daily supplies a healthy dose of nitrates that can help counteract hypertension. High blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease as the increased speed of blood through a weakened artery can lead to aneurysm, or a bulge, in the aorta.
Kiwi fruit – Vitamin C is a major component of collagen and contributes to elasticity of the arteries combatting hardening. Kiwi, peppers, kale, sweet potato and citrus are all useful sources of vitamin C.
Garlic – Polysulfides, found in garlic, help increase flexibility of blood vessels, which can help guard against high blood pressure. Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties and so can protect against atherosclerosis, a process in which fats build up in the arteries forming hard plaques.
Nuts – you may be surprised to know that cholesterol levels can be improved by eating 30g of nuts daily. The two main types of cholesterol are both required ideally in the right ratio. The low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, delivers cholesterol to where it is needed whilst another high density version (HDL) mops up the excess. Nuts contain a good balance of fibre and fats that help keep a favourable ratio. Almonds with their skin on are ideal as are hazelnuts, Brazil and walnuts.
Extra virgin olive oil – cholesterol is a fat and as such is more prone to being damaged by free radicals. Olive oil contains antioxidants in the form of vitamin E and phenolic acid that help protect the cholesterol.
Oats – a rich source of beta-glucan, a fibre that binds to cholesterol in the intestines and prevent reabsorption into the blood. Just 3g daily can reduce both total and LDL cholesterol by 5-10% and so one oatcake offers around 1g whilst a small bowl of porridge serves up well over the 3g daily dose.
Tomato puree – tomatoes contain lycopene, a carotenoid with antioxidant capabilities offering some protection to damaged arteries and may also inhibit inflammation of the arterial wall. Lycopene is more easily absorbed after heating and so ketchup or tomatopaste are useful additions to the diet.