What are Superfoods and which ones may be good for your heart?

Superfoods: Certain fruits, vegetables and nuts have been given superfood status. But are they as healthy and nutritious as some people claim? And which superfoods are best for our hearts? 

Newspapers and magazines are constantly promoting the latest superfood. But don't let the name fool you; superfood isn't a scientific label used by the experts. It's simply a marketing phrase.

This isn't to say that superfoods aren't nutritious – many of them are packed full of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy fibre. Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods and consuming a healthy amount of calories daily is the best diet for heart health1. Here are three superfoods that could protect your heart and help it to function more efficiently.

3: Berries

These small fruits can have big effects on your health. Berries are generally high in dietary fibre which helps aid digestion and lower the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood. Pound for pound, they're generally lower in sugar than larger fruits. Some berries are better for heart health than others, as they contain heart-protecting compounds as well as vitamins and minerals.

In recent times, Goji and Acai berries have been given the superfood label, causing their price to skyrocket. They're sourced from China and South America respectively and both contain heart-healthy antioxidants including polyphenols and anthocyanins. Acai berries are low in sugar and high in unsaturated fats while Goji berries are known for boosting levels of good cholesterol (HDL). 

2. Leafy Greens 

On their own, leafy greens are a desired taste. Kale, spinach and cabbage can taste bland and bitter but don't let this put you off – leafy greens are incredibly good for your heart! When it comes to vitamins and minerals, they're second to none. Eating just one handful of spinach will provide you with your daily recommended intake of vitamin K, helping to prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Leafy vegetables also contain nitrates which may helplower a person's chances of developing dangerous blood clots2. Nitrates are natural vasodilators. Vasodilators can make blood vessels expand, putting less pressure on the heart3. Compared with other superfoods, leafy greens are relatively accessible and inexpensive, and extremely versatile to use in meals. Try to include them in your diet as often as possible.

 1. Garlic

Unlike the other foods in this list, garlic has been eaten for centuries to specifically improve health. We know that garlic can help to lower cholesterol and decrease high blood pressure4. Consuming it might also protect against heart disease and atherosclerosis5. The gases within garlic, that are released when it's eaten, can make your breath smell but they could also be helping your body.

Hydrogen sulphide, a gas which gives garlic its unique pungency, can help relax the arteries6. This relaxation might lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, as your heart is under less pressure when pushing blood around the body. Like all superfoods, garlic contains vitamins and minerals as well as more unique compounds like allicin, which are thought to promote good heart health. Garlic is also very low in calories, making it our favourite superfood for heart health.

1 https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/food-trends-2016/do-not-follow-food-trends

2 https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/nitrate-rich-leafy-greens-good-for-the-heart/

3 https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/drug-cabinet/nitrates

4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC139960/

5 https://www.spandidos-publications.com/10.3892/etm.2019.8375?text=fulltext

6 https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/gases-garlic-may-be-good-your-body/