Nutrition: Four of the best foods that can help boost your heart health
It's often claimed that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest, particularly in terms of lowering the risk of heart disease (and there's plenty of science backing this up). Along with cholesterol-lowering olive oil and lots of oily fish, tomatoes are a key feature. They're packed with antioxidants and vitamins A and C but it's their high contents of lycopene – the substance that gives them their red colour – that gives them an extra edge in the heart-health boosting stakes. Research has associated lycopene with lowering 'bad' cholesterol, and reducing inflammation and blood pressure.
Only the quality dark stuff with high cocoa content (we're not talking sugar-loaded Dairy Milks) benefits heart health. A modest serving of proper dark chocolate every now and then could certainly count as a heart-healthy choice. As Dr Hazel Wallace, aka 'The Food Medic', notes: "Unknown to many, cacao is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world because of its rich source of nutrients known as polyphenols, packed with antioxidants. Cacao has also been shown to reduce the amount of both LDL (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease."
Almonds are an especially good choice when it comes to hearts, as they're loaded with thiamine, a B vitamin that helps with cardiovascular function, plus linoleic acid which aids in maintaining normal blood cholesterol levels. A 2015 study published on behalf of the American Heart Association found that people who snack on a handful of almonds (as opposed to a high-carb snack with equivalent calories) had reduced belly fat and waist circumferences – two things associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Flaxseed – along with similar things like chia seeds and hemp – is a super-simple way to give your daily diet an extra healthy kick (sprinkle on your breakfast bowl, in smoothies, or even to add texture in soups and salads). Speaking on behalf of UK milled seed and nut producer Linwoods (linwoodshealthfoods.com), Dr Wallace adds: "Flaxseed is a heart-health super food, full of fibre which helps lower cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids which can help improve your good cholesterol."