Heart Nutrition

Heart Healthy Diets - Antioxidative and Protective Nutrition

Let’s talk about diets that are good for a healthy heart. A heart-healthy diet is important for managing blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, stroke and other health risks.

We all know that certain foods are better for your heart than others. Salmon and other fatty fish such as sardines are heart-healthy superstars. They contain omega-3 fatty acids shown in studies to lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) as well as decrease triglycerides. The American Heart Association recommends to eat fish at least twice a week.

Oatmeal is another common food associated with a healthy heart. Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber which can lower cholesterol.

Avocados and olive oil are both rich in monounsaturated fats that may lower heart disease risk factors.

Potatoes and tomatoes are high in heart-healthy potassium and are also a good source of the antioxidant lycopene.

Blueberries and strawberries are also examples of foods that promote heart health. According to a study in 2013, women aged 25 through 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less. Berries are high-flavonoids foods which boost heart health and decrease blood pressure.

Then there’s green tea – a study found that people who drank four or more cups of green tea daily had a 20% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke compared with people who "seldom" imbibed the beverage.

My personal favorites for heart health? Chocolate and red wine! Dark chocolate (not milk chocolate, but chocolate with 60-70% cocoa) contains flavonoids called polyphenols, which may help blood pressure, clotting and inflammation. And even medical professionals now claim that a glass of red (not white) wine a day can keep the doctor away.

In addition to these foods that are deemed heart-healthy, certain diet plans are also considered very good for heart-health. The following six are highly regarded and were included in a recent U.S. News & World Report in which a panel of health professionals identified the best diets for heart health.


In another 10-year study, diets rich in this nutrient were linked to a 17–26% lower risk of heart disease.

Lycopene is an antioxidant in the carotenoid family.

Antioxidants protect your body from damage caused by compounds known as free radicals.

When free radical levels outnumber antioxidant levels, they can create oxidative stress in your body. This stress is linked to certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s (Source).

Lycopene may also help lower your risk of developing or prematurely dying from heart disease (Source).

That’s in part because it may reduce heart disease risk factors. More specifically, it may reduce free-radical damage, total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increase “good” HDL cholesterol (Trusted Source)

High blood levels of lycopene may also add years to the lives of people with metabolic syndrome — a combination of health conditions that can lead to heart disease.

Over a 10-year period, researchers noted that individuals with metabolic disease who had the highest blood lycopene levels had up to a 39% lower risk of dying prematurely (Source).

In another 10-year study, diets rich in this nutrient were linked to a 17–26% lower risk of heart disease. A recent review further associates high blood levels of lycopene with a 31% lower risk of stroke (Source)

Lycopene’s protective effects appear particularly beneficial to those with low blood antioxidant levels or high levels of oxidative stress. This includes older adults and people who smoke or have diabetes or heart disease (Trusted Source).

Research shows that lycopene’s antioxidant properties can help keep free radical levels in balance, protecting your body against some of these conditions (Source).

In addition, test-tube and animal studies show that lycopene may protect your body against damage caused by pesticides, herbicides, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and certain types of fungi

Lycopene is considered an effective singlet oxygen quencher in the carotenoids group (Kong et al., 2010; Viuda-Martos et al., 2014). It is a much more potent antioxidant than alpha-tocopherol (10 × more potent) or beta-carotene (twice as potent) (Kim et al., 2010; Kong et al., 2010). Lycopene modulates also the production of antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase and catalase (Böhm, 2012; Pereira et al., 2017). Lycopene can also scavenge peroxynitrite, resulting oxidized lycopene products (Pisoschi and Pop, 2015).

Oxidative stress causes endothelial dysfunction due to uncoupling of the nitric oxide synthase and oxidative injury of the endothelial cells (Mozos and Luca, 2017). Both are associated with inflammation. By reducing oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species, lycopene increases the bioavailability of nitric oxide (NO), improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation and reduces protein, lipids, DNA, and mitochondrial damage (Hollman et al., 2011; Naz et al., 2014; Nakamura et al., 2017; Abdel-Daim et al., 2018).

Endothelial NO enables vasodilation, inhibits platelet functions, and adhesion and transmigration of white blood cells, and reduces smooth muscle cell proliferation (Opatrilova et al., 2017). Watermelon supplementation, due to L-citrulline content, increases plasma L-arginine, enabling NO production (Figueroa et al., 2017), because NO is synthesized from L-arginine by NO synthase in virtually all cell types (Jobgen et al., 2006). Lycopene supplementation improved endothelial mediated vasodilation in cardiovascular disease patients, but not in healthy controls (Gajendragadkar et al., 2014), suggesting the importance of lycopene in secondary cardiovascular prevention (Costa-Rodrigues et al., 2018).

In summary, lycopene scavenges both reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, increases the production of antioxidant enzymes and protects the endothelial cells from oxidative damage.

Anti-inflammatory effect

Inflammation is related to atherosclerosis, arterial stiffness, and major cardiovascular events. The anti-inflammatory role of lycopene was demonstrated by several studies (Hung et al., 2008; Kim et al., 2010; Xu et al., 2012; He et al., 2016). Hung et al. revealed that lycopene can inhibit TNF-alpha induced NF-kappa B activation, expression of intracellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), and interaction between monocytes and endothelial cells, which might explain the cardiovascular benefits of lycopene (Hung et al., 2008). In a different study with Korean women, lycopene levels were found to correlate with cytokines, but no correlation with acute phase reactants was found, probably due to lycopene's inhibitory effect on the formation of oxidized LDL (Kim et al., 2010). Xu et al. found an inverse association of lycopene with vascular cell adhesion protein 1 (VCAM-1), which enable adhesion of monocytes to the endothelial cells, but could not verify any association between serum lycopene concentration and atherosclerosis in their study as suggested by earlier studies (Xu et al., 2012). In the same context, Gianetti et al. reported no significant correlations between plasma lycopene and soluble adhesion molecules (Gianetti et al., 2002). Lycopene obtained from red guava exerts several anti-inflammatory effects besides modulation of inflammatory mediators, such as inhibition of leukocyte mobilization, stabilization of mast cells, and inhibition of genes which expression is involved in inflammation (Vasconcelos et al., 2017).

Lycopene can also reduce the secretion of metalloproteinases by macrophages and inhibit T lymphocyte activation (Thies et al., 2017). Recently, lycopene was found as an effective antiglycation agent, able to reduce the synthesis of advanced glycation end-products (AGE), downregulating the expression of their receptors (RAGE), which further contributes to vessel protection (Tabrez et al., 2015; Thies et al., 2017).

Tomato products reduced oxidative stress related to postprandial lipemia and the associated inflammatory reaction in a study including normal weight participants (Burton-Freeman et al., 2012). He et al. reported the benefits of lycopene in preventing transplant vasculopathy, demonstrating that intimal hyperplasia and smooth muscle cell proliferation were reduced by the administration of lycopene and the infiltration of inflammatory cells in allograft vessels was reduced in an animal model (He et al., 2016). Lycopene can ameliorate allograft atherosclerosis via downregulating Rho-associated kinases and regulating the expression of key factors through NO/cGMP pathways (He et al., 2016). On the other hand, the benefits of the tomato-rich diet were not directly related to the anti-inflammatory effect according to a randomized study including 103 apparently healthy volunteers, after 300 g tomatoes daily for 1 month or placebo (Blum et al., 2007).

Watermelon was shown to reduce levels of inflammation by downregulation of the proinflammatory mediator cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), impairing prostaglandin E2 and I2 production, which reduces the progression of cardiovascular disorders (Sellers et al., 2010; Hong et al., 2015). Watermelon powder supplementation exerts an anti-inflammatory effect similar to COX-2 inhibitors or conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Hong et al., 2015).

High mobility group box 1 (HMGB1), a non-histone DNA binding protein, produced by necrotic and immune cells, exposed to pro-inflammatory signals, has an important pro-inflammatory effect by attracting and activating inflammatory cells and mediators and binding to RAGE and toll-like receptors, related to fatal outcomes (Lee et al., 2012). Lee et al. demonstrated that lycopene inhibits adhesion molecules expression, which impair HMGB1—induced monocyte adhesion and transmigration (Lee et al., 2012). Lycopene has been also shown to inhibit lipopolysaccharide-induced HMGB1 release and HMGB1-mediated secretion of TNF-alpha and secretory phospholipase A2 (Lee et al., 2012).

Oxysterols, the result of cholesterol auto-oxidation, accumulate in the subendothelial arterial layer, exerting oxidative and pro-inflammatory roles and favoring the atherosclerotic process (Palozza et al., 2011). Lycopene impairs oxysterol-induced pro-inflammatory cytokines production in human macrophages and oxysterol-induced ROS production, limiting the formation of atherosclerotic plaque (Palozza et al., 2011).

Lycopene exerts a cardioprotective effect against atrazine induced cardiac injury due to its anti-inflammatory effect, by blocking the NF-kappa B pathway and NO production (Li et al., 2017).

Considering the mentioned anti-inflammatory mechanisms (Figure


3), including decrease of adhesion molecules, pro-inflammatory cytokines, inhibition of leukocyte migration and genes involved in inflammation, impaired monocyte-endothelium interaction, T lymphocytes activation and synthesis of AGE and RAGE and downregulation of cyclooxygenase 2, lycopene can be useful in the therapy for vascular inflammatory disorders.


Your heart is a strong muscle that pumps blood to your body. A normal, healthy adult heart is about the size of your clenched fist. Just like an engine makes a car go, the heart keeps your body running. The heart has two sides, each with a top chamber (atrium) and a bottom chamber (ventricle). The right side pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. The left side receives blood rich with oxygen from the lungs and pumps it through arteries throughout the body. An electrical system in the heart controls the heart rate (heartbeat or pulse) and coordinates the contraction of the heart's top and bottom chambers.

How Your Heart Changes with Age

People age 65 and older are much more likely than younger people to suffer a heart attack, to have a stroke, or to develop coronary heart disease (commonly called heart disease) and heart failure. Heart disease is also a major cause of disability, limiting the activity and eroding the quality of life of millions of older people.

Aging can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels. For example, as you get older, your heart can't beat as fast during physical activity or times of stress as it did when you were younger. However, the number of heartbeats per minute (heart rate) at rest does not change significantly with normal aging.

Changes that happen with age may increase a person's risk of heart disease. A major cause of heart disease is the buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of arteries over many years. The good news is there are things you can do to delay, lower, or possibly avoid or reverse your risk.

The most common aging change is increased stiffness of the large arteries, called arteriosclerosis (ahr-teer-ee-o-skluh-roh-sis), or hardening of the arteries. This causes high blood pressure, or hypertension, which becomes more common as we age.

High blood pressure and other risk factors, including advancing age, increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis (ath-uh-roh-skluh-roh-sis). Because there are several modifiable risk factors for atherosclerosis, it is not necessarily a normal part of aging. Plaque builds up inside the walls of your arteries and, over time, hardens and narrows your arteries, which limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body. Oxygen and blood nutrients are supplied to the heart muscle through the coronary arteries. Heart disease develops when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, reducing blood flow to your heart muscle. Over time, the heart muscle can become weakened and/or damaged, resulting in heart failure. Heart damage can be caused by heart attacks, long-standing hypertension and diabetes, and chronic heavy alcohol use.