Guest Column: Celebrate National Heart Health Month with Michigan's Top Ten Foods for Your Ticker

Apple with heart shapeBy Michigan foodie Amy Cunningham
Is it a coincidence that Valentine's Day falls within National Heart Health Month?  After doing some research on some of the most heart healthy foods, I'm beginning to think it is no coincidence at all.  And as Michiganders, we have plenty of locally grown foods to incorporate into a heart-healthy diet. Let's show 'em some love.
Sliced red appleApples
The old adage rings true for many; apples just might keep the doc away. Researchers propose that the antioxidant flavnoid compounds in apples (quercetin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin and kaempferol, to name a few) are significant in preventing LDL (bad) cholesterol from triggering the buildup of plaque in arteries and reducing inflammation. Apples are also loaded with pectin, a soluble fiber that aids in lowering cholesterol. And it doesn't hurt that apples come in plenty of tasty varieties! Is there any more reason to want Michigan apples on your grocery list?
blueberries in bucketBlueberries
Don't let these little guys fool you; they can do big things toward better heart health! High amounts of fiber, carotenoids, and flavonoids are what set blueberries apart from the rest of the fruit family. According to a study of 72 middle-aged individuals published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating berries is associated with increased amounts of HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as lowered blood pressure. Throw these Michigan goodies in a smoothie, add 'em to your oatmeal or snack on them fresh, and enjoy them as much as the fact that Michigan leads the nation in blueberry production!
Asparagus is one of many vegetables that promotes good heart health. Thanks to folate, a B complex vitamin, asparagus is one of the best veggies for a healthy cardiovascular system. In fact, one cup of asparagus contains 66% of the recommended daily allowance of folate. Folate regulates the amino acid homocysteine, a significant risk factor of heart disease when levels are high. Let's all say thanks to this delicious stalk for helping our hearts and tasting so good in the process. And while we're at it, let's thank Michigan's asparagus farmers. Michigan is third in the nation in asparagus production, producing up to 25 million pounds annually. Yum!
pile of potatoesPotatoes
Many people have written potatoes off as just another carbohydrate to avoid. Shame! Potatoes are a great source of nutrients for only about 110 calories per spud. Potatoes contain loads of fiber, and vitamins B6 and C. They're also rich in potassium and phytochemicals, which work to maintain healthy blood pressure. Learn about Michigan's potato industry and get your hands on a few recipes ">here.
pouring red wineRed wine
Valentine's day or not, if the month of February gives you the chance to celebrate with wine, choose red! Red wine (like other types of alcohol) contains polyphenols that keep blood vessels flexible and reduce the opportunity for plaque build-up.  And because our state is blessed with 2,650 acres of thriving wine vineyards, set your heart on a bottle of Michigan wine this month (and every month!).
pouring milkDairy
Research shows the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which includes consuming two to three servings of dairy and eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables, may help in lowering blood pressure. It's suggested that three minerals found in dairy foods-calcium, potassium and magnesium-are significant in healthy blood pressure maintenance. Research has also shown that regular consumption of yogurt may deter gum disease, which can increase the risk of heart disease when left unchecked. Help yourself to a serving of cheese, yogurt or fresh glass of Michigan milk for a heart-healthy and nutrient-rich diet brought to you by Michigan's more than 1,800 licensed Grade A  dairy farmers.
steak on saladLean meats
Meats like chicken, turkey, pork and lean beef play a role in maintaining overall health and keeping the heart in good shape. The protein and healthy fats in these meats make them an essential part of a balanced diet, especially considering meat today is much leaner than just 20 years ago. In years past, it has been argued that beef is not conducive to a heart-healthy diet. Today, studies provide evidence that beef is not detrimental to cholesterol and heart health, as it was once thought. In fact, in a study comparing individuals who consumed 4 ounces of lean beef each day to those who limited red meat consumption saw that both diets slashed LDL (bad) cholesterol by 10 percent. 
Try these cuts of lean Michigan-raised protein in your own diet (Be sure to consider healthy cooking methods like grilling or broiling - and don't overload on salt!): 
  • Beef - round, sirloin, tenderloin and extra lean ground beef 
  • Chicken and turkey - breast meat without skin
  • Pork - leg, shoulder and tenderloin
Whole grain loaf of breadWhole grains
Those who eat a diet rich in whole grains tend to be leaner and at lower risk of heart disease than those who do not. Whole grains are made up of antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols that help protect against coronary disease, and the fiber in whole grains is associated with lower risk of heart disease and lower levels of LDL cholesterol. Incorporate whole grains like whole wheat breads, cereals and oatmeal into your diet for just one more ally in your quest for heart health. Find healthy wheat recipes from the Michigan Wheat Program, representing Michigan's more than 8,000 wheat farmers across the state.
Pile of kidney beansBeans
Beans are another means of maintaining good heart health. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that as little as a half cup of cooked pinto beans a day may lower cholesterol. Because beans contain plenty of soluble fiber, they bind cholesterol and inhibit its absorption. Beans also boast a variety of flavonoids, which restrict the adhesion of platelets in the blood, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Michigan produces several classes of dry beans, like Pinto beans, and leads the nation in the production of dry black beans, dry cranberry beans and dry small red beans. Try some heart healthy recipes from the Michigan Bean Commission.
zoye soybean oilHealthy fats and oils
Lest we forget another team player in the quest for superb heart health: healthy fats! Healthy fats and oils are an important part of a heart healthy diet. Try Michigan-made Zoye soybean oil for a healthy alternative to traditional vegetable oil. Zoye 100% soybean oil is free of trans fats and cholesterol and is low in saturated fats. Zoye is also high in polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been credited as being part of a healthy diet. You can find Zoye at Meijer and ">other local retailers. Learn more about soy's role in heart health
So there you have it, a Michigan guide for eating heart healthy this month and throughout the year. Keeping that ticker in good condition can be delicious, fun, and local! 

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