When it comes to heart disease most people know they should eat less fried food, cut back on meat, reduce their sugar intake, and increase the amount of vegetables they eat. And, these are all important ways to help prevent heart disease.
Now, new research in the journal Atherosclerosis found that some vegetables are better than others in preventing heart disease. Researchers found that those vegetables with a high lutein content were particularly beneficial in reducing heart disease and even treating the condition after it has formed.
Lutein is a pigment that gives yellow-orange-red and green vegetables their rich color. It is one of over 700 different types of plant compounds known as carotenoids found in nature. Some carotenoids convert into vitamin A inside our bodies, helping to keep our skin, vision, and immune systems healthy. Lutein, like other carotenoids, are antioxidants that help destroy harmful free radicals linked to aging, inflammation, and disease.
Heart disease has been linked to inflammation for many years so it is really no surprise that those foods with compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects would have the greatest impact on the condition.
Considering heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, with an estimated 17.3 million people dying of the condition every year, anything that offers hope to those suffering from the disease is worth considering, particularly when the only side-effects are other health benefits like improved eyesight and a stronger immune system.
Earlier research identified in the medical journal Mediators of Inflammation found that people who ate a diet high in lutein had a much lower risk of stroke.
Food Sources of Lutein
Lutein is found is primarily found in dark green or yellow-orange vegetables like kale, spinach, parsley, avocado, cantaloupes, carrots, broccoli, peas, and lettuce. Some grains like kamut and freekeh, both of which are ancient grains, also contain relatively high amounts of lutein.
But eating foods rich in lutein is not enough to reap the rewards it offers. Lutein is lipophilic, which means it binds to fat for absorption into the bloodstream. To benefit from the lutein you ingest it is best to eat it alongside some healthy fat in your diet. Ideally, choose avocado because it contains both lutein and fat to boost the nutrient’s absorption. While foods like orange, kiwi, grapefruit, and sweet potato all contain moderate levels of lutein, it is highly absorbable from these sources.
Periodically a conflicting study arises that reports no heart- or artery-protective effects of carotenoids but as the scientists in the Mediators of Inflammation study pointed out, these studies typically use synthetic carotenoids that are usually taken without food. Natural carotenoids, like other nutrients, are far more effective than their laboratory-made synthetic counterparts, and the nutrients are always best absorbed with food.
A rapidly growing body of research is confirming that lutein is a potent weapon against heart disease and narrowing or hardening of arteries, in particular. As an added bonus, eating more of these foods will likely reduce your risk of age-related vision loss and the eye disease macular degeneration. Those are far superior side-effects than those listed for the most commonly used drugs for heart disease known as ACE inhibitors.
The side-effects of these drugs include: fatigue, coughing, itchy skin, rash, dizziness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, neck or tongue swelling, weakness, and shortness of breath. Of course you should consult your physician before discontinuing or reducing any prescribed medications.