These days, you don't have to be a dietitian to know that certain foods will create some serious roadblocks on your arterial highways. Saturated fats and trans fats are two of the things that accelerate and magnify the inflammatory process. That chili-drenched hot dog doesn't just add to your lousy LDL cholesterol; it also stimulates your genes to produce more inflammatory proteins to make the tissue irritation a whole lot worse. Thankfully, the following foods are good not only because of the heart-healthy nutrients they deliver but because they have strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Fruits and vegetables. Many fruits and vegetables-specifically red grapes, cranberries, tomatoes, onions,and tomato juice-contain powerful antioxidants called flavonoids and carotenoids. Found in colorful foods, flavonoids and carotenoids are vitamin-like nonessential substances that seem to decrease inflammation by handcuffing those damaging oxygen free radicals and stimulating your body to take them out of your system through urine.
Garlic. While it is still being debated, we believe a clove a day can help thin your blood and lower your blood pressure. (Plus, it helps keep people away, to lower your stress level.) If you don't like the taste or the fact that coworkers shrink away when they pass you in the hall, you can also take garlic in pill form called allicin) at 400 milligrams a day (though the odor may still emerge through your sweat glands).
Olive oil. The "extra virgin" kind contains lots of healthy phytonutrients as well as monounsaturated fats, which help raise your good HDL cholesterol. Aim for 25 percent of your diet to come from healthy fats like those found in olive oil. That will reduce your RealAge by more than six years.
Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids (found in fish or the plants fish eat, like certain algae) are the handymen of your arterial system, because they can do a whole lot of fixing up. They reduce triglyceride levels in your blood (high triglycerides are a big cause of plaque buildup), and they help reduce the risk of arrhythmia after a heart attack. In addition, they decrease blood pressure and also make platelets less sticky, to reduce clotting. Aim for three portions of fish per week. Best choices: wild, line-caught salmon; mahi-mahi; catfish; flounder; tilapia; and whitefish.
Alcohol. If you don't have a problem with alcohol, having one alcoholic drink a night (4 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of spirits) for women-up to two for men-seems to have a beneficial effect on your heart by raising levels of that healthy HDL cholesterol. It also helps you to wind down, so your blood pressure can do the same. Our preference: red wine, because it also contains antioxidants.
Foods with magnesium. Foods like 100 percent whole-grain breads and cereals, soybeans, lima beans, avocado, beets and raisins help lower blood pressure and reduce arrhythmias by dilating (expanding) the arteries. Get 400 milligrams a day. A serving of lima beans contains about 100 milligrams, 1/2 cup of spinach contains 80 milligrams, twelve cashews contain 50 milligrams, thirty peanuts contain 50 milligrams.
Foods with soy protein. Getting 25 grams a day of soy protein in foods like tofu and other soybean products decreases your bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Stanols and sterols. Good plant cholesterol in foods like the spread Benecol or Take Control helps your arterial health by displacing the lousy cholesterol in your arteries.
Dark chocolate. Recent studies show that eating dark chocolate may lower blood pressure as effectively as the most common antihypertensive medications and may increase HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. Interesting fact: The Kuna Indians, who live on islands near Panama, have little age-related hypertension. They drink more than five cups of flavonoid-rich cocoa a day.
Excerpted from "YOU: Staying Young" by Michael F. Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. Copyright © 2007 by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Oz Works LLC, f/s/o Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.