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Nutritional Superfoods for a Heart-Healthy and Diabetes-Free Life

Jolina D. Santos, MD

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Nutritional Superfoods for a Heart-Healthy and Diabetes-Free Life

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a superfood “offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value.”

One remarkable feature of superfoods is that they are packed with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Medical News Today notes that antioxidants lessen—or even reverse—the effects of free radicals associated with heart disease. Plus, they contain very few calories, helping decrease inflammation, which is linked to diabetes.

Heart disease and diabetes

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 17.9 million people die each year from cardiovascular diseases or heart-related conditions, or roughly 31% of all deaths worldwide. WHO also ranked diabetes as the seventh leading cause of death in 2016, where the disease directly caused about 1.6 million deaths.

WHO emphasizes that heart conditions and diabetes can be avoided or delayed with a proper diet. But what should this proper diet contain? Read on for 10 of the most potent superfoods that fight against heart diseases and diabetes.

1. Nuts

Nuts are rich in fiber and protein. They are low in sodium and contain various nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins that help lower blood pressure. They are also known to reduce inflammation and decrease blood sugar.

Research suggests that nuts could play a role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes through weight maintenance and improved heart function.

2. Berries

Berries are one of the healthiest foods as they are low in calories but high in fiber, Vitamin C, and antioxidants. Berries have proven incredible health benefits, which include lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

Berries like acai berries, blueberries, goji berries, raspberries, cranberries, and tart cherries have high levels of flavonoids that reduce the risk of a sudden heart attack. Goji berries, in particular, are used to help treat diabetes and high blood pressure.

They are also ideal for a diabetic diet since they are low on the glycemic index. Foods that are high on the glycemic index markedly increase blood sugar, while foods that are low raise blood sugar to a minimal degree.

3. Chia Seeds

In contrast to their tiny size, chia seeds are loaded with essential nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, iron, and calcium. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, help raise “good” cholesterol that protects against heart attack and stroke.

Meanwhile, the viscous fiber in chia seeds can lower blood sugar levels by slowing down the rate at which food moves through the gut. They have also been shown to help reduce blood pressure and inflammation. Such is supported by studies linking chia seeds to improvement in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

4. Leafy greens

Spinach, kale, and collard greens are some leafy greens rich in vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins A, C, and E, iron, calcium, and potassium.

These superfoods also contain a high amount of nitrates and Vitamin K, which help moderate blood pressure and improve heart function. Not surprisingly, a higher intake of leafy greens is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.

5. Beans

Plant-based proteins found in beans contain zero cholesterol, less saturated fat, and more fiber.

A study by the Harvard Medical School uncovered that diets rich in beans result in low levels of harmful cholesterol. Another study recommends frequent consumption of beans as they help prevent type 2 diabetes in older adults.

Overall, beans and other legumes benefit cardiovascular health because they are high in micronutrients but low on the glycemic index.

6. Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in Vitamin C, fiber, and iron with few carbohydrates, making it an essential food item in regulating blood sugar levels. Eating broccoli sprouts, in particular, lowers insulin levels and protects against cellular damage.

Moreover, broccoli is a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, sometimes referred to as “eye vitamins” since they prevent eye diseases.

7. Tomatoes

Lycopene, an antioxidant dominant in tomatoes, has been known to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Tomatoes have Vitamins C and K, potassium, and folate, so no matter how you like them—puréed, raw, or in a sauce— you are taking these vital nutrients in.

8. Salmon

Salmon has omega-3 fatty acids, known to reduce the risk of abnormal heartbeats and decrease cholesterol levels.

Experts stress that eating at least two servings of fish a week—especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids—tends to reduce the risk of heart disease. Specifically, salmon consumption slows down the growth of arterial plaque, which often results in clogged arteries.

9. Tea

Tea is widely known as a great source of antioxidants. In particular, green tea contains catechins, which are antioxidants that are anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic. Some studies have also pointed out that green tea may have an anti-arthritic effect by suppressing overall inflammation.

10. Grapes and wine

Grapes are rich in resveratrol, a plant compound that acts as an antioxidant. Resveratrol, which is present in the skins of red grapes, helps fight eye conditions caused by poorly controlled diabetes.

One study has shown that resveratrol can also regulate blood sugar levels, prevent inflammation, and diminish diabetic hypertension. Since wine equally contains antioxidants, there is evidence that suggests that drinking wine helps prevent diabetes and lower blood sugar levels.

Healthy meal plan

A heart-healthy diet and a sugar-conscious meal plan are vital elements in keeping health complications at bay, and superfoods like the ones mentioned above can essentially help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep your heart functioning right.

Citations:

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/superfoods/
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/303079#what_are_superfoods
https://www.who.int/health-topics/cardiovascular-diseases/#tab=tab_1
https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707743/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5785370/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926888/
https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/to-lower-heart-disease-risk-swap-beef-for-beans
https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(17)30106-1/fulltext
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22537070/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614
https://www.touchendocrinology.com/diabetes/journal-articles/resveratrol-for-the-management-of-diabetes-and-its-downstream-pathologies/

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Dr. Jolina began her journey as a health care professional when she took her medical degree in one of the most prestigious med schools in the Philippines. With a solid foundation, the Thomasian took her residency training in internal medicine at Capitol Medical Center. Deciding her calling was to help treat people suffering from diabetes, she took her clinical fellowship at the Institute for Studies on Diabetes Foundation, Inc (ISDFI). To further her studies, she proceeded to take her Master of Science in Diabetology at UERM-ISDFI and is currently completing her thesis. Apart from serving as a consultant for the For Your Sweetheart website, Dr. Jolina is a visiting faculty at the ISDFI and is currently practicing in Quezon City.

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