Ah, summertime. A time of lolling about, eating fresh foods, taking some time away to spend it solo or with someone you fancy. Time for family get-aways. Puttering around in the garden. Late night games on the deck under cheesy patio lanterns. Trips out to the cottage/chalet/cabin/camp. Refreshing dips in a lake or river, maybe even an ocean. A daily nap in the hammock. Long days and sunshine. Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhh... Am I right?
Through the Traditional Chinese Medicine lens, summer is the season of the heart. In today's #mondayhealthbasics blog post, we will look at how Holistic Nutrition can best support your ever-lovin heart.
It is interesting to note that while the heart is the main organ of the summer, the small intestine is the second organ we should be focusing on, according to the teachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine. And this makes all the sense in the world! To me, it underscores the importance of looking after gut health when it comes to your heart. Let me explain.
I think it is safe to say that at the root of most if not all chronic diseases, there is inflammation. Think cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, CFS, MS, ALS, etc. When there is inflammation happening, there is a major component of this taking place in the gut. As your intestinal wall is only one cell thick, any kind of chronic inflammatory state is having a severe impact on your gut. (Here's a good primer on inflammation, if you want to understand it.)
An inflammatory response is regulated by your immune system. If the estimation is that 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, you can see how inflammation has a pretty big impact on this part of the body. Where there is inflammation happening in any other part of the body, rest assured there is inflammation taking place in the gut. As cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol all count an inflammatory component, it is imperative that we look after the gut, in order to love up the heart.
How best to reduce inflammation then, via diet? Let's look at some of the ways. Click on some of these items to read further, if you're interested.
- eat fermented foods in order to reduce inflammation in the gut
- eat loads of veg, pulses and beans to feed those bugs in the gut in order that they may stick around to help reduce inflammation. Concentrate on berries, apples, cabbage, potatoes, avocado, sweet potatoes, lentils, split peas, beans, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli.
- Eat your Essential Fatty Acids to help lower inflammation. Concentrate on wild-caught fish from the ocean, avocados, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, pastured beef and bison, walnuts, olive oil, pastured eggs.
- reduce prepared and packaged foods, and opt for more real food
- drastically reduce or eliminate refined carbs (think baked goods, breads, GF and non!) as simple carbs are quickly converted to sugars, which contribute to increased inflammation
When it comes to heart health, there are many nutrients that are essential to maintaining vitality, good circulation and supporting this hard working muscle. Magnesium is top most in my favourite minerals for the heart: it is an essential mineral here as it helps keep a normal heart rhythm, and helps regulate blood pressure. It is also integral in helping mitigate inflammation! (Look for Mg)
Vitamin K2 is a relative newcomer to the field of nutrition. This important vitamin helps bust clots, and helps keep calcium out of your blood vessels, reducing the calcification or 'hardening' of the arteries. (Look for K2)
If you do consume products from animals, I encourage you to reach for those listed below, as they are more nutrient-dense than their vegetable counter-parts in some of those all-important nutrients like K2.
VITAMINS & MINERALS – plant sources
- Eat dark leafy greens (Mg)
- pumpkin seeds, almonds, all nuts and seeds, peanuts (Mg, A/P)
- avocado, seaweed (Mg)
- figs, dried apricots, dates, raisins (Mg)
- dried beans, legumes (Mg)
- buckwheat, millet, brown rice (Mg)
- sauerkraut, natto (K2)
- olive oil, onions, purple cabbage; eat the rainbow! (A/P)
- sea salt, dark chocolate, molasses (Mg, A/P)
- berries, citrus fruit, apples, kiwi, pears (A/P)
VITAMINS & MINERALS – animal sources
- dairy products like butter and cheese from grass-fed animals (Mg, K2, A/P)
- wild-caught fish, especially sardines (Mg, A/P)
- eat your yolks! (Mg, K2, A/P)
- meat and animal products from beef, bison and chicken raised on pasture (Mg, K2, A/P)
THE FAT OF THE MATTER
It is also imperative you consume good fats in order to reduce inflammation and best fuel your body, protecting that lil beautiful heart of yours. Saturated fats are heart protective, and assist in regulating blood pressure as well. The fat that surrounds your heart is made of saturated fat – it is on this energy store that your heart draws when in times of stress.
The EFAs mentioned earlier assist in regulating heart rhythm, and reducing inflammation. Reach for these happy fats every day.
While I love a good meal, I think it's important to also take that awareness of heart health to the rest of your day. As your heart is the centre of joy and love, it is good practice to cultivate it on the daily! This seeking of joy and love will be of great benefit to your heart, and will also work for you in helping to reduce stress.
Don't want to add to the stress of it all, but yes it's true, stress is not so good for your lil ole heart my friend. How best to support your heart then, and reduce stress? Read on for some good ideas, and suggest some more in the comments section below.
- Prioritize fun! Play games, go to movies, comedy shows, go dancing, buy season's theatre tickets, go out for a game of cards, get a pet
- start a gratitude practice
- get involved in something that is important to you, in order to connect. Volunteer somewhere!
- good exercise to get the blood pumping. Move and groove friend.
- A walk a day
- sleep like a champ
Your blood is made up of 50% water just about. In order to help it flow well and unimpeded through the vessels in your body, you best stay hydrated! Adding other goodies to your water like I mentioned a few blog posts back will add in some all-important electrolytes, further helping support heart health. Starting your morning with a glass of lemon water would also be a lovely heart-loving thing to do.
THE COLES NOTES VERSION
Eat lots of veggies, especially greens. Have avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Seek out fish from the ocean (wild-caught!) a few times a week. Consume dairy and animal products from animals raised on pasture, especially eggs. Cook with butter. JERF. Have some ferments. Eat berries. Have so much fun. Go play or dance or walk or climb a tree. Make sure to laugh. Drink lots of water. Sleep like a champ.
Now go find that hammock, it's calling your name.