February is LOVE month! Have you thought about how you can *LOVE* yourself more this month? That’s right, we think everyone here can use a little bit more self love and care this month! Obviously, we encourage you to stay healthy and fit through taking any of our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, or Yoga classes. Our staff and members are all here to support your fitness journey. Come to a class if you haven’t in a while and get a boost of self-love!

Exercise aside, let’s talk about our *DIET* for a minute. Heart disease accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide. Diet is a major factor in heart health and can greatly impact your risk of heart disease. Certain foods can influence blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Simply put, we all need to commit to eating better this year. Here are 7 superfoods that you should be incorporating in your diet this year to maximize your heart health. We have compiled this list with some basic facts (the more you know!), some ideas on how to apply it to your routine and the main take-a-way to remember (you if remember nothing else).

1. Leafy green vegetables
About: Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. One analysis of eight studies found that increasing leafy green vegetable intake was associated with up to a 16% lower incidence of heart disease.

Apply: Try ordering a veggie option as a side dish or as an alternative to french fries when you go out to restaurant. Usually chefs can make boring veggies tastes great (what’s their secret?) and sometimes things will naturally taste better when you don’t have to prepare it or wash the dishes too.

Summary: Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K and nitrates, which can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function. Studies show that a higher intake of leafy greens is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

2. Whole grains
About: Whole grains include all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain: germ, endosperm and bran. Common types of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa. Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fiber, which may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease.

Apply: When going to a restaurant or your favorite poke place, be sure to select brown rice over white rice. If you’re not ready to commit that far: do a half white and half brown OR white rice and half salad! Small step counts.

Summary: Studies show that eating whole grains is associated with lower cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.

3. Berries
About: Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are jam-packed with important nutrients that play a central role in heart health. Berries are also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease. Berries can be a satisfying snack or delicious low-calorie dessert.

Apply: Try adding a few different types to your diet to take advantage of their unique health benefits. Wash your fruits and put them in a tupperware for the week. You can easily sprinkle them in your yogurt or cereal in the morning or quickly grab them on your way to a BJJ class at GBCM in the evening (yup, we squeezed that in your routine too!)

Summary: Berries are rich in antioxidants and protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation. Eating them can reduce multiple risk factors for heart disease.

4. Fatty Fish and Fish Oil
About: Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits. Studies showed that eating fish over the long term was linked to lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure.

Apply: Try to go with the fish option whenever it’s available. We get that sushi is too expensive on the daily, so how about poke? If you don’t eat much seafood, fish oil is another option for getting your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Other omega-3 supplements like krill oil or algal oil are popular alternatives.

Summary: Fatty fish and fish oil are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.

5. Garlic
About: Garlic lovers, rejoice! Many people don’t even know that garlic is great for them. For centuries, garlic has been used as a natural remedy to treat a variety of ailments. In recent years, research has confirmed its potent medicinal properties and found that garlic can even help improve heart health. In one study, taking garlic extract in doses of 600–1,500 mg daily for 24 weeks was as effective as a common prescription drug at reducing blood pressure.

Apply: Love garlic but hate the work of peeling them? For your convenience, look for freshly peeled garlic, chopped garlic, individually peeled and wrapped garlic, even frozen minced garlic in your grocery store and make cooking with garlic a breeze. Be sure to consume garlic raw, or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking. This allows for the formation of allicin, maximizing its potential health benefits. Great cure for RingWorm and Staph!

Summary: Garlic and its components have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. They may also help inhibit blood clot formation.

6. Olive Oil
About: A staple in the Mediterranean diet, the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil are well documented. Olive oil is packed with antioxidants, which can relieve inflammation and decrease the risk of chronic disease. It’s also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, and many studies have associated it with improvements in heart health.

Apply: Take advantage of the many benefits of olive oil by drizzling it over cooked dishes or adding it to vinaigrettes and sauces. Olive oil should be the ONE type of oil you buy if you had to pick just one.

Summary: Olive oil is high in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. It has been associated with lower blood pressure and heart disease risk.

7. Dark Chocolate
About: Just in time for Valentine’s day, here’s the deal with chocolate: “Dark” chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. Several studies have associated eating chocolate with a lower risk of heart disease. One large study showed that those who ate chocolate at least five times per week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-chocolate eaters. Another study found that eating chocolate at least twice per week was associated with a 32% lower risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries.

Apply: Chocolate can be high in sugar and calories, which can negate many of its health-promoting properties. Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

Summary: Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants like flavonoids. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

The Bottom Line
As new evidence emerges, the link between diet and heart disease grows stronger. What you put on your plate can influence just about every aspect of heart health, from blood pressure and inflammation to cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help keep your heart in good shape and minimize your risk of heart disease.

We hope this article gives you some ideas on how to improve your diet and that you will continue on your fitness journey at GBCM. We’re here to help and support you!