9 “Bad for You” Foods That Are Actually Heart-Healthy
Most people think they have a pretty clear idea of how to eat for their heart, but the advice on heart-healthy foods isn’t as clear-cut as you’d think. You’ve been told for decades to cut fat and avoid cholesterol, and pick out the cereal boxes boasting “heart-healthy whole grains.” The American Heart Association (AHA) wants you to think that butter, steak, and bacon are the recipe for heart attacks, but it’s hard to trust diet advice from an organization that once stamped their seal of approval on Pop-Tarts and Coco Puffs.
The truth is, most people are completely confused when it comes to heart-healthy foods. The same questionable research from the 1960s is still used to push dietary fat-shaming today, even while modern science supports a shift. The right fats (and that doesn’t mean canola oil) can help lower blood pressure, reduce weight and improve cholesterol, all important factors in protecting your heart health.
Put away your egg-white omelette, and celebrate National Heart Month by learning why these nine often-vilified fatty foods are some of the best heart-healthy foods you can eat, according to actual science.
Believe it or not, grass-fed butter is one of the healthiest foods you can eat on a low-carb diet. Butter from cows fed real grass contains cancer-fighting CLA and metabolism-boosting fatty acids like the powerful anti-inflammatory butyrate. It also possesses several nutrients that protect against heart disease, like vitamins A, D, E, K2, and iodine, lecithin, and selenium. Though you may think saturated fat clogs arteries, research shows that arterial plaque is mostly unsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.
Related: Why Butter Is Good for You
Just like butter, coconut oil is often vilified for its saturated fat content. Unlike polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in canola, vegetable and corn oil, to name a few), saturated fat is an incredibly stable fat. Why does that matter? Unstable fats are prone to oxidation. When you consume damaged, oxidized fats, it leads to the production of free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage and body-wide inflammation, which in turn can lead to heart disease. Coconut oil is packed with beneficial lauric acid and mid-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which raise your good cholesterol, and decreases risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Read why coconut oil is better than vegetable oil here.
Real lard is extremely high in monounsaturated fats, which increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol), and reduce LDL and triglycerides. They also support cardiovascular health by reducing oxidation and inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and decrease blood clotting, all factors that protect your heart against disease. An extra plus, lard is a surprising source of vitamin D, with over 1000 IU in one tablespoon.
Eggs, especially the nutrient-dense yolk, have been demonized for decades as high-cholesterol foods, but they’re actually a heart-healthy food. Read why the government and AHA finally called a truce on cholesterol in foods, then dig in to enjoy the heart-healthy omega-3s and antioxidants in this nutrient-packed food.
Red meat is another favorite scapegoat for heart disease, but that’s only if you’re eating grain-fed, commercial meat. Grass-fed beef has a completely different nutritional profile and is one of the best sources of healthy fats like omega-3s, CLA, TVA and saturated fats. Eating grass-fed meat boosts your antioxidants, and provides coenzyme-q10. CoQ-10 is actually used to treat heart failure, and a lack of it is associated with cardiovascular disease.
Rejoice: Chocolate is a heart-healthy food (provided you’re eating quality dark chocolate). Those who regularly eat chocolate tend to show improved markers for cardiovascular health and a lower risk of heart attacks. Chocolate also protects against atrial fibrillation, which raises a person’s risk of heart failure, stroke, dementia, and death.
Cacao’s superpowers come from polyphenols, which defend the heart against coronary heart disease by increasing HDL, protecting nitric oxide, lowering blood pressure, and preventing blood clots.
Good coffee = good performance, with bonus points for butter. Another heart-healthy food, coffee is high in antioxidants, with many of the same polyphenol benefits as chocolate. Science shows your risk of cardiovascular disease or heart failure is lowest at about 4 servings of coffee a day. Cheers to that!
Related: 5 Reasons Coffee Helps You Live Longer
In search of a heart-healthy snack? Try cashews. A handful of cashews or other tree nuts can lower LDL cholesterol lower blood pressure, and may improve good cholesterol in diabetic populations. Their scientific name Anacardium is even derived from the Greek “kardía” or heart, (although they’re named from the way the nut grows). Because nuts come with a high risk of mold contamination and can oxidize easily, buy high-quality cashews — never raw — and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Before you get too excited, take this one with a grain of (curing) salts. Bad bacon (low quality, factory-farmed or burnt) is a dietary source of inflammatory denatured proteins and cancerous nitrosamines, and is far from Bulletproof. Done right, however, the ideal bacon earns its place on this heart-healthy food list.
Carefully prepared Bulletproof Bacon swaps nitrosamines for nitric oxide, which essentially helps relax your cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and triglycerides, preventing blood clots and plaque. It’s also high in monounsaturated and saturated fats, bringing the same benefits as the heart-healthy fats above.
It wasn’t too long ago that the avocado was considered a waistline-robbing diet bomb. In fact, according to the FDA’s outdated health guidelines, avocados still can’t wear a “healthy” food label (while fat-free pudding can). This adorably trendy heart-healthy food is packed with monounsaturated fats, and minerals like magnesium, potassium and vitamin k, an antioxidant that helps prevent calcification of artery walls. They also may help maintain cholesterol levels.
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