If you think a heart attack can’t happen to you, think again. The recent news of celebrity trainer Bob Harper surviving a heart attack shook the fitness community. E! Online reported that the 51-year-old devoted CrossFitter just switched, per the recommendation of his doctors, to walking and following the Mediterranean Diet, a plan that relies heavily on plants, some seafood, and a bit of poultry and dairy.
Seeing a guy like Harper get hit with a heart attack can make guys with a family history of heart problems a little extra nervous. But a lean, fit physique isn’t a direct reflection of what’s going on in your arteries. “Would you put the wrong fuel in a supercar, counting on it to run well because it looks good?” asks David Katz, MD, MPH, Founder of True Health Initiative. “The human body is a remarkable machine, but it, too, depends on the right fuel to run long and well.”
Fortunately, the same foods that keep arteries clear can also fuel workouts without tasting like cardboard. “Eat close to nature and predominantly plant foods and you can’t go too far wrong,” Katz says, explaining that this is the diet mantra to keep in mind if you want to prevent a heart attack.
While most edible plants in their lower-processed versions offer heart-attack protection, here are the foods that top the list.
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One cup of black beans contains nearly five grams of soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract and removes cholesterol from the body. Black beans are also rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant that helps protect the heart. “Beans figure prominently in all of the Blue Zone diets,” Katz says, meaning diets in regions of the world where heart disease affects just a small fraction of people as compared to those on the standard American diet. So in place of meat from the burrito bar, opt for black beans. Toss beans into salads and breakfast scrambles, or make your own quinoa patties.
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Canned tomato paste, juice, and sauce deliver the most lycopene, an antioxidant that has long been studied for its heart health benefits, including reducing inflammation and possibly lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, and affecting fats in the blood. While raw tomatoes are also good for you, oil and heat make it easier for your body to absorb lycopene. Other essential nutrients in tomatoes support heart health, and it may be this precise combination that delivers the goods. So go ahead and slather whole-grain pasta with marinara sauce, request extra pizza sauce, or drink a Bloody Mary to get more lycopene in your diet.
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