February is National Heart Month and we’re embracing all the heart-healthy tips we can get. One of the overlooked ways to help out your heart is through the power of herbs and spices. If you’re already eating heart-friendly foods like salmon, walnuts, and berries, keep doing what you’re doing. But for additional heart help, look no further than herbs and spices. Here’s the roundup:
Cinnamon is a superstar spice that deserves a place in every heart-conscious kitchen. Research has indicated that it can reduce levels of total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while keeping “good” HDL cholesterol stable. With cinnamon, quality matters. Look for Ceylon ("true" cinnamon), which is much better for you than the cheaper ‘Cassia’ varieties offered by most grocery stores. To use: Sprinkle on a warm bowl of oatmeal or on a sweet potato.
Sleep Herbs — Chamomile and Lavender
One in three adults in the U.S. do not get enough sleep and are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease even if they're healthy and show no other symptoms. Chamomile and lavender are natural sleep-promoting herbs that can be found in teas, powders, and supplements. Inhaling the aroma of lavender essential oil or spraying a lavender mist on your pillowcase may also help you fall asleep faster.
Berberine is a bioactive compound that can be extracted from several different plants, including a group of shrubs called Berberis. According to research, it can lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol), while raising HDL (good cholesterol).
Garlic lover? Go for it. Italian food just isn’t the same without a hearty helping of garlic. It also lends a powerful punch to roasted asparagus, chili, burgers, and hummus. If you want to dial down inflammation in the body, adding fresh garlic to your meals is one flavorful way to go.
Olive leaf extract comes from the leaves of the olive plant. It contains a nutrient called oleuropein, which may contribute to the extract’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Researchers believe olive leaf extract can have positive effects on atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, which is the highest risk factor for heart disease.
To aid in lowering your heart rate, use thyme as a substitute for salt. When you bust out the sheet pan to bake your heart-healthy salmon and roasted veggies, add a sprinkling of fresh thyme before you pop them in the oven.
Inflammation-fighting turmeric is a spice that can be incorporated into your diet in so many wonderful ways — from zesty breakfast potatoes to creamy golden milk. When using turmeric in recipes, make sure to add a dash or two of ground black pepper, which will activate turmeric’s powerful compound, curcumin. Also, because turmeric is fat-soluble, make sure to take it with a healthy fat such as olives, nuts, avocado, or coconut.
Heart Health Starts in the Kitchen
Superfoods like nuts, seeds, and leafy greens aren’t the only heart helpers in the kitchen. Herbs and spices may also help improve some key risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Remember that any change may be subtle and gradual, so in the meantime, have fun spicing things up in the kitchen.
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