10 foods that love your heart

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February is NATIONAL HEART MONTH — the perfect time to reap the benefits of these …

"EAT WALNUTS EVERY DAY," was the surprising "prescription" Tuvana Bain, M.D., delivered at my annual checkup this year. Just back from a medical conference, she advised that eating a few handfuls of walnuts every day could significantly lower my levels of endothelin, a natural compound that causes inflammation of arteries and plaque buildup in blood vessels and contributes to heart disease, which is still the leading cause of death in the United States.

My doctor's unorthodox (but appealing) advice piqued my curiosity: What other foods should I be eating to keep my heart pumping? What makes a food especially heart-healthy? With the latest research to guide me, I came up with the ten best foods for your heart, then incorporated them into six recipes that I've made a regular part of my repertoire. (For a guide to finding more cardio-friendly foods, see "Anatomy of a Heart-Healthy Food," page 82.)
1. asparagus

Asparagus is high in saponin, a phytochemical that binds with bile acids and cholesterol, washing these fatty compounds from the body. One serving of asparagus does not contain an effective dose, but including saponin-rich foods like quinoa and alfalfa sprouts in your diet has a cumulative beneficial effect. Asparagus also contains anti-inflammatory nutrients like folate and vitamins C and D.
2. chocolate

Long considered a temptation to sin, chocolate has recently been elevated from a special-occasion treat to a daily staple. One impressive 2006 analysis at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania showed that eating about six ounces of dark chocolate per day significantly inhibited atherosclerosis and lowered low-density lipoprotein (so-called "bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides, raised high-density lipoprotein, and protected the lower-density lipoproteins from oxidation. The same report found that cocoa contains phenols — antiseptic, anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping fat-like substances from oxidizing in the bloodstream and clogging the arteries.
3. green tea

"Green tea has much less caffeine than black or oolong teas, making it more practical to drink with meals," advises nutritionist Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S., author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on the Planet (Fair Winds Press, 2007). All three teas contain antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, tannins, and flavonoids (organic compounds that help flush out carcinogens and fight cancer cells and mutation).
4. herring

Often upstaged by salmon, herring actually harbors some of the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease triglyceride levels and the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower the risk of arrhythmia, which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Fresh herring is even better: A three-ounce serving supplies about two grams of omega-3s.
5. oatmeal

The soluble fiber in oatmeal binds with low-density lipoproteins and expels them from the body. Oats are also a good source of protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, thiamin, folacin, and vitamin E, and they contain more healthy oils than other grains. Steel-cut oats, though not ideal for baking, are best for breakfast: They retain more nutrients than rolled oats.
6. oranges

Researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem reported in 2006 that the flavanones (a subcategory of flavonoids) in oranges decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. The researchers suggest people with high cholesterol should eat more oranges, grapefruit, and lemons before turning to a prescription statin drug. In fact, flavanones are so powerful, doctors caution statin patients against eating citrus fruits, especially grapefruit, since it may increase the effect of the drug.
7. papaya

This bright, coral-colored tropical fruit is a good source of digestive enzymes and potassium, says Bowden. "Because it helps maintain smooth-muscle contractions like the heartbeat, potassium is one of the top three heart nutrients, and papayas have more than bananas." A medium papaya has 781 milligrams compared with 371 mg in a medium banana.
8. dried plums

These wrinkly, naturally sweet treats, otherwise known as prunes, contain very high levels of antioxidants. In fact, USDA statistics cite a whopping 5,770 units per 100 g compared with 2,400 units for the same amount of blueberries. "Dried plums are also high in fiber, which has been shown to be a crucial component in longevity and preventing heart disease in numerous epidemiological studies," says Bowden. A half-cup or 3.5-ounce serving has roughly 25 percent of the daily requirement for fiber (approximately 25 g for an average-size woman) and only about 200 calories.
9. sweet potatoes

"The more color a vegetable has, the better. And sweet potatoes fill the bill because of the carotenoids — potent antioxidants — they contain," says Bowden. The same nutrient that protects the plant in nature by making it less vulnerable to the rays of the sun and by warding off predators (who don't like the taste) also shields our hearts from damage caused by free radicals, explains Bowden.
10. walnuts

In addition to their recently discovered endothelin-busting properties, walnuts also contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is similar to the one found in herring and salmon.

SEE RECIPES, PAGES 103 & 107

LEARN MORE: For our antioxidant-rich Green Tea — Poached Asian Chicken recipe, go to naturalhealthmag.com/10best.
Papaya, Black Bean & Corn Salad Serves 4 This side dish can be served at room temperature or chilled. On its own, it's the perfect lunch. Pair it with grilled seafood, chicken sausage, or a vegetable rice pilaf for dinner.

1 cup corn (about 2 ears)
2 cups papaya, diced (about ½ a medium-size fruit)
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon lemon rind (about one medium lemon)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about one lemon)
1½ tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper Mint leaves for garnish

1. If using fresh ears of corn, grill them on a hot nonstick grill pan for 1 to 2 minutes per side, allow to cool, stand them up on the wide end, and run a sharp knife down the length until all kernels are removed. If using frozen corn, rinse and pat dry. Saute briefly (2 to 3 minutes) in a nonstick skillet. Place in a 5-cup serving bowl.
2. Peel, seed, and dice the papaya into ¼-inch pieces. Add to corn.
3. Drain and rinse the black beans and add them to the bowl. Add the lemon rind and chopped mint.
4. Whisk together lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper, and pour over salad. Toss ingredients gently with two forks and serve immediately or chill for an hour or overnight.

Per serving: 207 calories, 6 g fat (0.6 g saturated), 33 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 10 g fiber, 374 mg sodium (17% Daily Value).
Herring with Orange & Fennel Serves 4 This refreshing salad gets a punch from the pickling juice and spices, yet most of the sugar is discarded when the pieces are drained and patted dry.

2 8-ounce jars of pickled herring tidbits
1 large fennel bulb (about 1 pound)
2 large navel or juice oranges
10 ounces of baby spinach

1. Drain the herring and discard the liquid. The drained herring should yield about 8 ounces of seafood. Cut the herring so each piece is about a ½-inch chunk. Place in a large salad bowl.
2. Trim and core the fennel bulb, then slice or shave it as thin as possible with a mandoline or sharp knife. Place fennel in bowl with herring.
3. Use a paring knife to remove the skin, pith, and outer membrane from the oranges. Then carefully cut each segment away from white membranes. Put them in the bowl with the herring and fennel, and squeeze all the juice from the remaining orange "skeletons" into the bowl.
4. Toss the ingredients together until everything is covered with the orange juice. Store in an airtight container and chill for at least an hour. Serve on beds of baby spinach.

Per serving: 237 calories, 10 g fat (1 g saturated), 28 g carbohydrates, 11 g protein, 7 g fiber, 649 mg sodium (28% Daily Value).
Spicy Mole Oatmeal Chili
Serves 8 to 10
By substituting cholesterol-busting rolled oats for fatty ground beef — and bumping up the anti-inflammatory quotient with chili powder and chipotles — this crowd-pleaser ensures second helpings.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (one large yellow onion)
½ cup diced carrots (two small carrots)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime or
with basil and garlic
2 15-5-ounce cans low-sodium dark-red kidney beans, drained
and rinsed
1 tablespoon best-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons chipotle sauce
½ cups rolled oats
7 ounces water
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot.
2. Cook onions and carrots until onions are translucent but not brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt.
3. Add tomatoes to the pot, then add rinsed beans.
4. Add cocoa and chili powder until the powders are completely incorporated into the mixture. Add chipotle.
5. Add the rolled outs and about half the water. Cook for about 5 minutes and add water as necessary. You want a thick consistency.
6. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes more, until oats break down. (It will actually start to look a little like ground turkey.)
7. Serve in individual bowls with a sprinkle of cheese on top.

Per serving: 243 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated), 29 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 7 g fiber, 540 mg sodium (24% Daily Value).
Asparagus & Walnut Bow-Tie Pasta
Serves 6

Toasted walnuts, olive oil, and freshly grated cheese create a flavorful sauce whose creamy texture belies its heart-healthy components.

¾ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 12-ounce package whole wheat or white bow-tie pasta
1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon sea salt Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons pasta cooking water
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1-inch pieces

1. Toast the walnuts in a dry sauté pan for 1 to 2 minutes, and set aside.
2. Prepare pasta according to package instructions.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a blender or food processor, combine ½ cup walnuts, lemon juice, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, sea salt, and pepper, then add the pasta cooking water. Blend to combine (sauce may still have small bits of nuts visible).
4. Add the asparagus to the boiling pasta during the last minute of cooking. Drain pasta and asparagus and toss with the sauce to coat. Garnish each serving with the reserved ½ cup of toasted walnuts.

Per serving: 331 calories, 14 g fat (2 g saturated), 45 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 6 g fiber, 134 mg sodium (6% Daily Value).
Dried Plum & Sweet Potato Roast
Serves 4
This dish works as a vegetarian meal when accompanied by sautéed leafy greens like kale or collards. It's also a great side dish for barbecued chicken or a turkey burger.

4 small sweet potatoes, depending on size
12 prunes
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Chop sweet potatoes into 1-inch, or prune-size, cubes (about 4 cups).
3. Place potatoes on a baking sheet with the prunes, coat with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for a half hour, until sweet potatoes are soft.

Per serving: 205 calories, 4 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 43 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 6 g fiber, 221 mg sodium (10% Daily Value).
Chocolate Soy Brownies
Serves 20

Everyone loves brownies. This recipe is about as healthy as a sweet treat can get while still tasting good. It's a perfect ending to a brown-bag lunch or an after-school snack. Expect a dense, cake-like brownie with a rich chocolate-orange flavor. 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour ½ cup soy flour 2 teaspoons baking soda 1 cup unrefined or demerara sugar ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder 8 dried plums (prunes) ½ cup Greek-style nonfat yogurt 1 cup nonfat soy milk or nonfat milk 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Rind of one orange (about 1½ tablespoons)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F and grease an 8 x 8? square pan or line with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking soda, sugar, and cocoa, and set aside.
3. In a food processor or blender, puree dried plums, then add yogurt, soy milk, oil, vanilla, and orange rind and blend until smooth. (Note: It's very important that the plums be completely pureed to ensure a smooth batter consistency.) Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring until well-combined.
4. Spoon the very thick batter into the greased pan, spread evenly, and bake for 25 minutes, or until the brownies spring back when touched.
5. Cool the brownies to room temperature before cutting into 20 squares.

Per serving: 97 calories, 2 g fat (0.4 g saturated), 19 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 2 g fiber, 134 mg sodium (6% Daily Value).
ANATOMY OF A HEART-HEALTHY FOOD
Colorful vegetables and fruits, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and spices offer combinations of these five cardio-boosting properties.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY Working similarly to the way aspirin does to reduce inflammation of tissues, natural anti-inflammatories tike folate and vitamins C and D are vital to heart health because low-grade inflammation of the arteries has been identified as a significant factor in degeneration of the cardiovascular system.

ANTIOXIDANTS Vitamins C and E and carotenoids such as vitamin A inhibit the oxidation of blood cells and the creation of damaging free radicals.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS This family of polyunsaturated fats such as ALA, EPA, and DHA has been shown in recent studies to decrease triglyceride levels and the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower the risk of arrhythmia. The FDA has given "qualified" support to their ability to fight heart disease and prevent heart attack.

POTASSIUM This alkali metal is critical to maintaining smooth-muscle contraction such as a regular heartbeat.

SOLUBLE FIBER Gel-like soluble fiber binds with liver bile and cholesterol, carrying them both out of the body.

PHOTO (COLOR): walnuts

PHOTO (COLOR): asparagus

PHOTO (COLOR): oranges

PHOTO (COLOR): papaya

PHOTO (COLOR): oatmeal

PHOTO (COLOR): herring

PHOTO (COLOR): chocolate

PHOTO (COLOR): sweet potatoes

PHOTO (COLOR): dried plums

PHOTO (COLOR): green tea

PHOTO (COLOR): PAPAYA, BLACK BEAN & CORN SALAD THE PAPAYA PROVIDES A MEGADOSE OF POTASSIUM, ESSENTIAL TO A HEALTHY HEARTBEAT (RECIPE ON PAGE 103).

PHOTO (COLOR): HERRING WITH ORANGE & FENNEL HERRING IS PACKED WITH OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS (RECIPE ON PAGE 103).

PHOTO (COLOR): SPICY MOLE OATMEAL CHILI SOLUBLE FIBER IN OATMEAL HELPS FLUSH OUT LDL CHOLESTEROL AND OTHER FATTY COMPOUNDS (RECIPE ON PAGE 107).

PHOTO (COLOR): ASPARAGUS & BOW-TIE PASTA SAPONIN-RICH ASPARAGUS HELPS RID THE BODY OF CHOLESTEROL (RECIPE ON PAGE 107).

PHOTO (COLOR): CHOCOLATE SOY BROWNIES COCOA HELPS CLEAR ARTERIES (RECIPE ON PAGE 107).

PHOTO (COLOR): DRIED PLUM & SWEET POTATO ROAST PLUMS AND POTATOES FIGHT FREE RADICALS (RECIPE ON PAGE 107).

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By Karen Kelly

Photography by Dasha Wright

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