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Are there "superfoods" for heart health? from the March 2014 Harvard Heart Letter

Myth or reality: eating certain superfoods can strengthen the heart and protect against heart attack and stroke? It's mostly just myth and wishful thinking, reports the March 2014 Harvard Heart Letter.

There's no question that some foods are rich in nutrients that may help keep arteries clear and the heartbeat stable. It's great to eat them. But what's really important is eating a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods that deliver all of the nutrients needed to keep the heart healthy, not just those in a few so-called superfoods.

"It's really about the whole package—the combination of nutrients and micronutrients that occur together in different foods that improve the overall quality of your diet," says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The Harvard Heart Letter asked Dr. Hu and two other nutrition experts from the Harvard School of Public Health—Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology, and Dr. Teresa Fung, adjunct professor of nutrition—for their suggestions for heart healthy fare. Here's what one day's menu looked like:

Start the day with a bowl of oatmeal and some orange wedges. Enjoy a hearty bowl of bean soup for lunch. Grab a handful of peanuts for a midafternoon snack. For dinner, tuck into some grilled salmon and spinach salad drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil. In the mood to splurge on some slightly more exotic selections? Try quinoa, kale, avocados, berries, and dark chocolate.

Whole grains (especially steel-cut oats) and all types of beans contain fiber and other nutrients that help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They also take a long time to digest, which means are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar.

Fatty fish such as salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which lower heart rate and blood pressure and keep blood vessels flexible. "There's good evidence that people who eat more fish have a lower risk of dying from heart disease," says Dr. Mozaffarian, noting that the clearest benefit comes from preventing deaths caused by irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias.

What about fruits and vegetables? Almost all of them are super.

Read the full-length article: "Sizing up 'superfoods' for heart health"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Heart Letter

  • Sizing up 'superfoods' for heart health
  • Ask the doctor: Blood pressure drugs and potassium
  • Ask the doctor: Exercise versus pharmacologic stress testing
  • 5 Action Steps for Early Heart Failure
  • New techniques for treating atrial fibrillation
  • Borderline hypertension: When do you need treatment?
  • Understanding angioplasty: When you need it and when you may not
  • Stroke and migraine: What's the link?
  • Research we're watching: Vitamin supplements no help against heart disease
  • Research we're watching: Memory loss from statins unlikely
  • Research we're watching: Taking steps to avoid heart disease

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.