February is American Heart Month, and it’s a great time of year to evaluate our nutrition and lifestyle choices to ensure we’re taking proper care of our bodies and minds to reduce our risk of heart disease. While lifestyle habits such as exercise, stress management and the use of tobacco and alcohol are important, the following focuses on nutrition tips to keep your heart healthy, along with recent research on the connection between the microbiome, fermented foods and heart health.
General Heart Health Tips for Good Measure
We know a great starting point to heart health is to consume a plant-forward diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, with a balance of low-fat dairy and lean proteins. These foods provide healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, insoluble and soluble fiber, and antioxidants that all contribute to reducing or maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, and decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. In general, it is also recommended to limit consumption of foods high in saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) sodium per day (with an ideal limit of no more 1,500 mg per day) to reduce the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and prevent hypertension health-related issues, such as stroke, kidney disease, and more. Some tips to reduce sodium content include choosing less processed foods, looking for reduced-sodium labels, avoiding the salt shaker, and choosing herbs and salt substitutes for flavor when cooking.
How Gut Health and Heart Health are Related
Emerging research shows that the bacteria that make up our gut microbiome are connected to heart health, also known as the gut-heart axis.
The microbiome is our first line of defense for our body’s immune system, as 70-80 percent of our immune-producing cells are located in the gut. When the gut microbiome is in a state of imbalance, it may lead to inflammation, causing blood vessels to lose their elasticity and increasing the risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. In fact, studies show that those with cardiovascular disease have a less diverse microbiome and a decrease in beneficial butyrate-producing bacteria, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that has anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects. The decrease in diversity and SCFA production, along with an overabundance of bad bacteria and a poor diet, may also lead to high trimethylamine-N-oxide levels (TMAO) levels. TMAO is a known contributor to atherosclerosis and leads to a higher risk of major cardiovascular events.
How to Nourish Your Gut Health with Fermented Foods
Eating fermented foods that contain live and active probiotic cultures such as Lifeway Kefir and other fermented foods, including yogurt and kimchi, can help support cardiovascular health by balancing the gut microbiome and maintaining diversity. Lifeway Kefir is one of the most diverse fermented foods you will find. With 12 live and active probiotic cultures and 25-30 billion colony forming units (CFU) per 8-ounce serving, it contains more than double the strains than what is found in yogurt. Kefir may also have an extra edge over other fermented dairy products when it comes to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. During kefir’s long fermentation process, the probiotics produce peptides, which are being studied for their anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive benefits. Research has also shown that kefir has a higher antioxidant capacity as compared to non-fermented dairy products to reduce the risk of harmful free radicals. In addition, kefir’s live and active probiotic cultures have been shown to produce a greater reduction in lipid profiles and decrease inflammation to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Lifeway Oat is our cultured oat milk and a great option for those that wish to consume dairy-free fermented foods. It contains 10 live and active vegan probiotic cultures and 25-30 billion CFUs. Lifeway Oat is also made with organic, gluten-free oats, which means it contains something all oats have: beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fiber found in oats that have been shown to support heart health by reducing cholesterol in the blood.
How Lifeway Kefir and Lifeway Oat Support Heart Health Goals
Both Lifeway Kefir and Lifeway Oat are nutrient-rich probiotic powerhouses, that as part of a heart-healthy diet may support a healthy microbiome to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Whether you choose Lifeway Oat or Lifeway Kefir, try to incorporate one or two servings a day into your diet. Some easy tips include: pouring a cup over your favorite cereal, or fresh fruit and granola, mixing with overnight oats, blending in a fruit smoothie, or just drinking as is in a cold glass! Lifeway products and other fermented foods are versatile, and the options are limitless. Be sure to check out all our recipes to explore new options to enjoy.
You can find many resources on heart health, nutrition, and lifestyle tips at the American Heart Association. As always, remember to #LoveYourGuts every single day.
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Almeida C, Barata P, Fernandes R. The influence of gut microbiota in cardiovascular diseases-a brief review. Porto Biomed J. 2021 Jan 18;6(1):e106. doi: 10.1097/j.pbj.0000000000000106. PMID: 33490701; PMCID: PMC7817281.
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