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Healthy Eating

Which vegetables are best for your heart?

Although all vegetables are healthy, these are the ones that are the cream of the crop.

If you are at risk of or are currently suffering from heart disease, then you are dealing with the leading cause of death for adults in the United States. Poor heart health can stem from various things such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight or obese, and an unhealthy diet. If you are currently dealing with any of these issues, then you may suffer from heart attacks and coronary heart disease in the future. However, there are ways to turn your heart health around, and one of those ways includes a healthy diet.

A healthy diet consists of eating lots of vegetables, which are powerful foods packed with nutrients. And making sure you get adequate amounts of vegetables in your diet is one way to improve your heart health. According to The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, registered dietitians on our medical expert board, all vegetables are superstars when it comes to heart health. They suggest that research consistently shows that the more vegetables you consume, the lower your risk for heart disease and stroke will be. However, they were able to pick the best five for your heart, so keep reading to see what they are.

1. Tomatoes

Which vegetables are best for your heart?

The Nutrition Twins suggest that tomatoes are nutrient powerhouses as well as rich sources of heart-protective antioxidants. These include lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E.

“Research shows that the nutrients in tomatoes reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and homocysteine (a measure of inflammation and an independent risk factor for heart disease), and make the cells less ‘sticky,’ which keeps blood flowing more easily,” say The Nutrition Twins.

Furthermore, The Nutrition Twins state that many of the antioxidants in tomatoes, like lycopene and beta-carotene, become as much as four times more bioavailable when they’re cooked.

“So, although adding fresh tomatoes to salads, burritos, sandwiches, and wraps is great, don’t be afraid to add them to cooked meals like chili, stews, sauces, and cooked dishes or to eat them in tomato sauce, as well,” advise the Nutrition Twins.

Tomato nutrition facts

One small (2 2/5″ in diameter) tomato (91g) provides 16 calories, 0.8g of protein, 3.5g of carbohydrates, and 0.2g of fat. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and vitamin K. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.

Calories: 16
Fat: 0.2g
Sodium: 5mg
Carbohydrates: 3.5g
Fiber: 1.1g
Sugars: 2.4g
Protein: 0.8g
Vitamin C: 12.5mg
Vitamin K: 7.2mcg

Carbs: A small tomato (91g) contains 3.5 grams of carbs. Of the carbohydrates, 2.4 grams are from naturally occurring sugars, and 1.1 grams come from fiber. Tomatoes are considered a low glycemic index food.

Fats: Like most fruits and vegetables, tomatoes contain very little fat.

Protein: There is just under 1 gram of protein in a small, fresh tomato.

Vitamins and Minerals: Tomatoes are a great source of potassium and vitamin C. Several beneficial forms of vitamin A are also present in tomatoes, including lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.

Calories: One small tomato (91g) provides 16 calories, 73% of which come from carbs, 18% from protein, and 9% from fat.

2. Spinach

Which vegetables are best for your heart?

“Spinach hits it out of the ballpark when it comes to heart health,” say The Nutrition Twins. “High blood pressure puts the heart at risk, and spinach lowers blood pressure, thanks to its nitrates, which help make arteries less stiff and improve the function of the cells that line blood vessel walls.”

The Nutrition Twins say that this leafy green also promotes proper blood clotting. This is thanks to its hefty dose of vitamin K.

According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease.

Spinach nutrition facts

Three cups of spinach (85g) provide 20.4 calories, 2g of protein, 3g of carbohydrates, and zero fat. Spinach is a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.

Calories: 20.4
Fat: 0g
Sodium: 64.6 mg
Carbohydrates: 3g
Fiber: 2g
Sugars: 0g
Protein: 2g
Vitamin K: 410mcg
Vitamin C: 24mg
Potassium: 470mg

Carbs: Most of the carbohydrates in spinach are from fiber, making it a very filling vegetable. Along with other leafy greens, it may be considered a “free” food on a low-carbohydrate diet because it provides fiber while being low in calories.

Spinach also ranks close to zero on the glycemic index.2 This means that it will have minimal impact on your blood sugar levels.

Fats: There is no fat and no cholesterol in spinach. But adding a little fat to your spinach-containing meal may help your body absorb more of its beta-carotene—especially if the spinach is raw or in the form of a steamed puree.

Protein: There are 2 grams of protein in three cups of fresh spinach. That means spinach has almost as much protein as it does carbohydrates.

Vitamins and Minerals: Three cups of fresh spinach provide more than three times your daily vitamin K needs (340%). You also get roughly 25% of your recommended vitamin C intake and 10% of your suggested potassium intake from a three-cup serving of spinach.

Cooking spinach increases its concentration of vitamin A. You will get 64% of your daily value in a half-cup serving of boiled spinach.

Calories: There are approximately 20 calories in three cups of spinach, or just under 7 calories per cup. That makes its calorie count similar to that of kale, which provides 7.2 calories per cup (raw).

3. Brussels sprouts

Which vegetables are best for your heart?

They may not be everyone’s favorite veggie, but they are powerful heart protectors.

Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts may help to prevent clogged arteries, which the Nutrition Twins state is a large cause of heart attacks and strokes.

“Many of the heart-healthy benefits of Brussels sprouts are credited to their fiber, carotenoids, folate, fiber, and vitamin C, E, and K,” say The Nutrition Twins. “As well as their sulfur compounds, called glucosinolates, which have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities that help to protect cells against damage and that lower LDL cholesterol.”

Some suggestions for adding Brussels sprouts into your daily vegetable dosage include throwing them into salads and stir-frys, pasta, and rice dishes. You can also roast them in olive oil and garlic.

Brussels sprouts nutrition facts

One cup of boiled Brussels sprouts (156g) provides 56 calories, 4g of protein, 11g of carbohydrates, and 0.8g of fat. Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.

Calories: 56
Fat: 0.8g
Sodium: 16mg
Carbohydrates: 11g
Fiber: 4.1g
Sugars: 2.7g
Protein: 4g
Vitamin K: 219mcg
Vitamin C: 97mg
Folate: 93.6mcg

Carbs: Of the 11 grams of carbohydrates in a cup of cooked Brussels sprouts, a little over 4 grams are from fiber. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that helps keep you full, reduces cholesterol, regulates bowels, and helps stabilize blood sugar.

Brussels sprouts have a very low glycemic index, so they are a great choice for those on a low-carb diet or anyone who is watching their blood sugar.

Fats: Brussels sprouts contain negligible amounts of fat with a greater percentage coming from unsaturated fats than saturated fats.

Protein: With about 4 grams of protein per 1 cup cooked, Brussels sprouts are a decent source of plant-based protein, especially if you have multiple servings. However, Brussels sprouts are not a complete source of all the essential amino acids, so it is important to eat a variety of protein sources rather than relying on Brussels sprouts alone.

Vitamins and Minerals: Brussels sprouts are a source of the B-vitamins necessary for cellular energy production, including vitamin B6, thiamine, and folate. Brussels sprouts contain 24% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A, which is great for your eyes and internal organs.

Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K, providing over 100% of your daily value of each based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Vitamin K is linked to heart health and longevity and is responsible for blood clotting.4 Brussels sprouts also contain manganese, which helps with metabolizing carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol.

4. Asparagus

Which vegetables are best for your heart?

“Asparagus is a good source of folate, which lowers homocysteine, an amino acid that is linked to heart disease and stroke,” explain The Nutrition Twins.

Meanwhile, the asparagus’ potassium helps to lower high blood pressure, while its fiber content reduces LDL cholesterol and the risk for high blood pressure, and heart disease, according to research published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine.

“Plus, it contains flavonoids quercetin, isorhamnetin, and kaempferol, which also help to lower inflammation, as well as blood pressure, which damages the arteries and leads to heart disease,” says The Nutrition Twins.

If you want to add a couple of stalks into your dishes, try tossing chopped asparagus in frittatas, quiches, casseroles, and salads. You can also mix them in pasta dishes or soups. Or, you can try grilling or steaming them and adding a little drizzle of dressing.

Asparagus nutrition facts

One-half cup of cooked asparagus (90g) provides 20 calories, 2.2g of protein, 3.7g of carbohydrates, and 0.2g of fat. Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, and zinc. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.

Calories: 20
Fat: 0.2g
Sodium: 13mg
Carbohydrates: 3.7g
Fiber: 1.8g
Sugars: 1.2g
Protein: 2.2g
Vitamin K: 45.5mcg

Carbs: Asparagus is an excellent addition to any low-carb or ketogenic diet. Only a small portion of the carb content is from simple carbs (namely sugar), so it has little impact on blood sugar and a glycemic index (GI) of less than 15.

Asparagus also offers a healthy dose of dietary fiber, the indigestible carbs that help regulate digestion, blood sugar, and fat absorption in the body. Most of the fiber in asparagus is insoluble, meaning that it draws water from the intestines to soften stools and ease them from the digestive tract.

Fat: Asparagus is virtually fat-free, with only scant amounts of healthy polyunsaturated fats. These essential fatty acids are important for brain function and cell growth.

Of course, many popular asparagus preparations and toppings (like butter and Hollandaise sauce) add fat and calories. As an alternative, drizzle spears with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil for flavor and more healthy fats.

Protein: At 2.2 grams per half-cup serving, asparagus doesn’t offer a lot of protein. But it’s enough to help meet some of your daily nutritional needs.

On average, adults should eat around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams per pound) per day. This amounts to 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man and 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.

Vitamins and Minerals: Asparagus can account for a significant portion of your daily nutritional needs. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, the amount of each vitamin offered in a serving of asparagus as a percentage of reference daily intakes (RDI) break down as follows:

Vitamin K: 51% of the RDI
Folate (vitamin B9): 34% of the RDI
Thiamine (vitamin B1): 13% of the RDI
Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 11% of the RDI

Asparagus also provides some vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, and phosphorus.

Calories: One-half cup of cooked asparagus (90g) provides 20 calories, 57% of which come from carbs, 36% from protein, and 7% from fat.

5. Onions

Which vegetables are best for your heart?

According to The Nutrition Twins, onions are a good source of sulfur-rich phytochemicals. These phytochemicals reduce cholesterol levels and break down blood clots. This may lower your risk for both heart disease and stroke.

“Onions’ powerful antioxidants, including quercetin, also fight against the chronic inflammation that is associated with all diseases, including heart disease, and they also decrease triglycerides and cholesterol,” say The Nutrition Twins. “Quercetin has also been found to significantly reduce blood pressure.”

Looking to incorporate more onions into your meals? Use onions for the base of a dish or soup. Or, add them to sandwiches, pizza, salad, casseroles, burgers, and tacos. You can even get creative and pickle them.

Onion nutrition facts

One medium-sized onion (110g) provides 44 calories, 1.2g of protein, 10.3g of carbohydrates, and 0.1g of fat. Onions are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, folate, and manganese. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a raw onion measuring approximately 2.5 inches in diameter.

Calories: 44
Fat: 0.1g
Sodium: 4.4mg
Carbohydrates: 10.3g
Fiber: 1.9g
Sugars: 4.7g
Protein: 1.2g
Potassium: 161mg
Vitamin C: 8.1mg
Folate: 20.9mcg
Manganese: 0.1mg
Vitamin B6: 0.1mg

Carbs: One medium onion contains just over 10 grams of carbohydrates. Of these, 4.7 grams are sugar and 1.9 grams are fiber. Onions have a low glycemic index rating, between 10 and 15.3 This means that they have minimal impact on blood sugar levels.

Fats: On their own, onions contain minimal fat. That said, they are often prepared with added fat: sautéed in olive oil or butter, covered in salad dressing, or breaded and deep-fried. All of these can increase the amount of fat in your dish.

Protein: Onions aren’t high in protein at just over 1 gram per serving. If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, use onions to add flavor and nutrients to higher protein food sources, such as eggs or lean meat.

Vitamins and Minerals: Onions provide a variety of nutrients, notably vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. You’ll also get a little calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, selenium, choline, and other vitamins and minerals when consuming onion.

Calories: A medium-sized onion that is 2.5 inches in diameter (110 grams) supplies around 44 calories. A thin slice of onion (9 grams) provides approximately 3.6 calories while a thick slice (about a quarter-inch thick, or 38 grams) is just over 15 calories.

Source: Eatthis/Verywellfit!

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