By Ellie Kempton, Simply Nourished Nutrition
3 THINGS EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE HEART
As I itemize the different organs throughout the body, the one that humbles me on a soul level is the heart. We talk about it all the time related to our emotions and yet we forget how tirelessly it works on our behalf [on a deep clinical level]. I whole-heartedly believe both the emotional and clinical aspects of the heart deserve our daily attention in order to really unlock our potential. And here’s why...
At an emotional level, heart health is crucial for the unlocking your capacity to experience joy + freedom. You’ll be delighted to know this form of heart health can be addressed with intentional lifestyle design. Yes! You heard me. Taking care of yourself with self-care and daily love is a form of nourishment to your heart. If it’s going to beat on your behalf, you best give it some TLC. It’s quite easy to know if your heart is in trouble on an emotional level. It hurts. Am I right?
On a deep clinical level, heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women in America, and even worse, heart disease still kills more women than all cancers combined. But, stop. Pause... and take a deep sigh of relief... why? Because the risk factors leading to heart disease are preventable 90% of the time. The thing to be aware of though is that clinical heart issues are harder to spot. Many times you don’t “feel" them at all.
According to one of the leading voices in heart health, the most common symptoms you will experience if your heart is struggling are:
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
- Other symptoms like: breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness
- Labs from your physician indicating risk factors [to include suboptimal lipid status and/or high inflammation markers]
Every one of these indicators needs to be addressed with immediacy by a physician. If you’re not experiencing any of these then it’s time to think about prevention and protection [sooner as opposed to later]:
Listed below are my TOP 3 suggestions for you as a woman who deserves a heart filled to the brim with joy AND nurtured on a deep biochemical level.
Both sides of heart health unlock your need to know about YOUR heart and how to protect it with food + lifestyle design:
DITCH THE DAMAGING FOODS
- Foods high in refined sodium: Refined Sodium is easy to spot and eliminate because it is used in almost all processed foods as a preservative. By ditching processed foods you’re ditching refined sodium. Here’s why this is important: high sodium intake tends to spike your blood pressure, harm your kidneys, and greatly increases your risk of developing heart disease. The best form of sodium is in Sea Salt that you add, by hand, to your foods. Embrace the beauty and therapy of the beautiful speckled appearance of real Sea Salt. The speckling indicates balanced minerals with same taste appeal too.
- Low Quality Saturated Fat: Allow all of your saturated fats to come from a high quality source that you can recognize. For instance if it is an animal-based saturated fat: make sure it is raised in a clean environment and not fed any source of antibiotics or hormones. Plant based saturated fats [which include coconut oil] also deserve a spot on your plate as long as they are not listed as "refined."
- Sugar: I’m sure you were expecting to hear sugar is troublesome but here’s how it impacts the heart... added sugars are linked with higher blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, playing a key role in the development of heart disease. Sneaky added sugars can be found on a food label in the form of: corn sweetener or corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, or words ending in –“ose" [dextrose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, maltose]. Keep your eyes peeled! The goal is to keep sugar [in packaged form] below 30 g / day. Natural sugars from fruit, starchy vegetables, legumes and grains have hearty amounts of fiber to offset most negative impact on your heart.
- What is 1 processed food you could potentially ditch this week [containing more than 500 mg sodium per serving]
- Search your cupboards, do you have foods with fat listed as “refined?” If so, simply replace with an “unrefined" or “virgin” variety
- Take inventory of 1 days’ worth of [packaged] sugar consumption keeping in mind that every 5 g = 1 tsp.
FEAST ON HEART PROTECTIVE FOODS
- Cruciferous vegetables: a prominent study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a strong correlation between cruciferous vegetables and positive cardiovascular health. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and you guessed it: BRUSSELS SPROUTS!! Click HERE to indulge in some of the benefits, uses, and selecting/storing techniques for Brussels!
- Feast on Fiber: this nutrient alone can optimize lipids and decrease inflammation- 2 gifts of love you can give back to your heart. Fiber is easy to find in foods that don’t come in packages. A few of my favorite high fiber staples include: flax, asparagus, oats, beans, and walnuts [all of which also have our next heart nourishing nutrient: omega 3]. If you happen to be consuming a food from a package, take a quick look at the amount of fiber and be sure to choose products with the most fiber if the food is also high in sugar. The fiber will dampen the negative impact of the sugar.
- Hone in on Healthy Fats: Isn’t it such a relief to have solid research behind the assertion that healthy fats promote decreased inflammation and support the heart? Seeking out foods high in omega 3 [a highly anti-inflammatory + heart protective fat] is going to be your most invaluable strategy in proactively supporting the heart. Here are a few to add to your grocery list this week, seafood, avocados, seeds, and healthy oils build up your levels of omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory and VERY heart protective.
- Opt for Antioxidants: Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress; which, in turn combats chronic inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Vitamin E and Coenzyme Q 10 (CoQ10) are two antioxidants that work together in the body to optimize LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk for developing or worsening heart disease. Vitamin E can be found in foods like sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, avocado, peanuts, and asparagus. CoQ10 can be found in vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower. These can also be found in supplement form [both of which need to be taken only under care of a healthcare provider].
- Spice it up: Herbs and spices are wonderful ways to not only make your food taste great but they can also lend cardio protective benefits! Garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, basil and hot chili spices like cayenne and paprika pump up the flavor in your food while targeting inflammation and optimizing blood sugar. The simple addition of cinnamon to your daily coffee is a perfect place to start.
- How many times do you normally consume cruciferous veg weekly? _______ Double it this week!
- Count up the amount of grams of fiber you consumed today. Aim for 35-50 g
- What are 3 omega 3 rich foods from the list above that you enjoy the most? ___________ [Is it on your shopping list?]
- As you cook this week, consider cooking with a blend of Mexican, Indian or other ethnic spices. What is your favorite ethnicity of food?
SWEAT + SAVOR SELF CARE [nourishing the emotional side of heart health - which inevitably trickles down to optimize the clinical side]
- Sweat: Cardiovascular health depends on a cardiovascular stimulus such as walking, running, cycling, or anything that makes that beautiful heart of yours pump. Even a 10 min burst of cardio will do your heart some good. Remember, it’s a muscle intended to work on your behalf. Let it do it’s job!
- Carve out time daily for a non food-related reward. Bathing, walking in nature, napping and deep breathing are just a few to consider integrating into your life. This 10 minute [or maybe even a little more] “indulgence” could be the most nourishing “food” you consume all day!
- Laugh! No, I mean it! The power of laughter is contagious and intoxicating. Allow yourself to indulge in comedy; whether, it be time with your family or watching a silly movie cuddled up by the fire. Allowing yourself to experience this simple + accessible escape from emotional turmoil or angst may just be one of the most therapeutic things you experience.
- Reframe setbacks. Allow yourself to shift perspective when you don’t accomplish your goals in the way you expected. Sometimes the “failure” is just the nudge you needed to change course and pursue the true passions of your heart or see a problem in new light. Allow setbacks to be your teacher not your master!
- YOUR TURN:
- How often do you break a sweat each week? _______
- What are you planning to reward yourself with today? ___________ [non food-related]
- The popular show Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has me laughing in seconds. Give it a try OR be sure to indulge in some other form of comedy today.
- What was your biggest challenge today? __________________. What did it teach you for next time? __________
At the end of the day, the heart on both an emotional and clinical level is designed to keep you alive on so many levels. Every beat is the echo of an opportunity the heart is giving you to be your best. Love it back daily with food as medicine and intentional lifestyle design.