Happy heart week! Let’s have a heart-to-heart about your heart. Since we love you with all of our hearts, we want to raise awareness about cardiovascular health and the importance of exercising the most vital muscle in your bod this week. To kick us off, we’ll provide you with some information on what a healthy heart looks like, how you can keep your cholesterol levels low, and keep your heart healthy through your lifestyle.
What is a healthy heart?
Did you know your heart will beat about 2.5 billion times over your lifetime? It spends each beating second to supply your body with fuel (oxygen, hormones, compounds and essential cells) and clean up the waste products of your metabolism . Ensuring your heart is healthy essentially ensures your life is healthy (and, hopefully, longer). So how can you achieve this?
Simply said, a healthy heart is an active heart. Leading an active lifestyle already puts your heart in a pretty good spot. In addition, managing your risks for heart diseases–an umbrella term for various heart conditions–is vital for living a healthy, long life.
One of these heart diseases includes coronary artery disease (CAD), which is the most common type of heart disease in the United States . A result of CAD is coronary heart disease (CHD), which is the leading cause of heart attacks and deaths worldwide . It’s caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your heart and other parts of your body. This plaque is made of deposits of cholesterol and other substances in the artery, such as trans fats and saturated fats – read more about the difference between these below. As the plaque builds up, it causes those arteries to narrow over time, which can eventually block your blood flow and bring further complications. 
So.. the takeaway? Keep those undesired fats down, and lead an active lifestyle. While we’re not a gym (yet 😉) and can’t help with the latter, we CAN share some insights on how to keep your cholesterol level down, and our Plenny meals can play a role in that. Keep reading!
Understanding fats is vital to understanding cardiovascular health. While fats usually get a bad rep (sometimes deservedly so), there are also good ones out there!
Unsaturated fats are ‘healthy fats’, as they help reduce cholesterol levels. They come in two main forms; polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6) and monounsaturated (most vegetable oils). Compared to saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. This is also a pretty good way of differentiating them when you’re in doubt. 
Saturated fats, on the other hand, are considered the ‘bad fats’, as they have been linked to an increase in cholesterol levels in our blood. These are mainly found in animal products, with the exception of coconut oil, palm oil, and some kinds of margarine. 
Trans fats are a type of saturated fat, they are either naturally-occurring (in milk and meat products) or created artificially by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. These trans fats are bad for our health as they raise our bad cholesterol levels, and lower our good cholesterol levels.  What’s the difference? Well, keep reading!
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of lipid (a compound that is insoluble in water) which forms:
- Bile acids, these are critical for your digestion as it absorbs dietary fat and fat-soluble vitamins.
- Steroid compounds, such as estrogen.
- Cell membranes.
Because it is so necessary, your liver makes cholesterol and even adjusts the amounts it creates based on your typical diet. Cholesterol also comes from the food we eat, in particular animal products. Furthermore, there are different types of cholesterol: the two most common ones are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. As LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to all the cells in the body, it’s considered the “bad cholesterol” as it increases plaque buildup on arteries. HDL, the “good cholesterol”, carries cholesterol from the cells back to the liver for recycling or disposal, reducing the buildup of plaque. Maintaining the right cholesterol levels ensures a healthy lifestyle. 
To keep those levels in healthy ranges, here we have some dietary tips you can follow.
Foods that reduce cholesterol
There are specific nutrients and foods that can reduce cholesterol. These include omega-6, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, phytosterols, and nuts .
Below is a list of foods that contain these nutrients and have otherwise proven to reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
1. Oats 🌾
Oats are a great fiber source and fiber may benefit cardiovascular health by decreasing cholesterol or by influencing blood glucose . Furthermore, the nutrients that fiber-rich foods provide can also benefit your heart health. For example, oats also contain proteins (more than other grains), and vitamins and minerals, like manganese, phosphorus, copper, vitamin B1, and lots more . Other fiber-licious foods include barley, other whole grains, and beans which have also shown to reduce cholesterol.
2. High-fiber fruits and vegetables 🍇🍆
As mentioned above, fiber has shown to reduce cholesterol. There are fruits and vegetables that have a higher fiber content than others, and if lowering your cholesterol is your priority, you might want to substitute these with other fruits and veggies. Some examples of fibrous fruits are apples, grapes, citrus fruits, and berries. These are all high in pectin, which is a type of soluble fiber) .
Soy has been suspected to have a good impact on our heart health: scientific studies have shown that consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day can lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind!) by 5 to 6% .
4. Omega 3
Omega-3 lowers LDL cholesterol levels . Most commonly, it is found in fatty fish 🐟. Opting for fish instead of red meat or poultry will also limit your intake of the meat-deriving saturated fats, which boost LDL cholesterol levels. To be even more environment-friendly, you can opt for plant-based omega-3 sources, like ahiflower, primrose oil, algae oils, flaxseeds or chia seeds.
5. Vegetable oils
Vegetable oils, like sunflower oil, can help lower LDL cholesterol. Use them in moderation! Or as long as you're using them to replace animal-product fats, which boost LDL cholesterol, you’re good. 
Seeds are bursting with healthy nutrients which can benefit your cardiovascular health. For example, flaxseeds contain omega-3, fiber, and phytoestrogen, which are all good for your heart. 
7. Nuts 🥜
In a nutshell, you will find loads of fiber, phytosterols, protein, certain vitamins and minerals . Studies have implied that eating 2 ounces of nuts (about 57 grams, which equates to 56 large peanuts–yes we counted) a day can lower LDL by up to 5% . That’s just nuts.
8. Dark chocolate and wine 🍷😉
Yes, you read that right. You don’t have to give up your favorite to reduce your cholesterol, however, do consume both of these in moderation (i.e., don’t go loco on the cocoa).
Alcoholic beverages have been associated with profitable effects on your heart health because it may increase the production of protein in your liver, which promotes the transport of HDL from the liver to the bloodstream and back, collecting cholesterol from your body on its journey to recycle or dispose in the liver, like a tiny garbage collector. 
High percentage cocoa especially is good for your cardiovascular health because of the increased fiber and protein and decreased sugar (primarily found in low-cocoa and high milk chocolates). Again, reducing the number of animal products (ie. milk) will contribute to keeping your LDL cholesterol levels low.  Opt for dark chocolate options with a cocoa content of 75% or above.
Other things you can do for your heart
Now that we have covered some of the nutritional tips, we will quickly summarise some methods that you can apply in your life to help your cardiovascular health.
Exercise and move more
While a few workouts a week would be ideal for people, not everyone has or makes time for that. An easy way to get in exercise in your everyday life is to make smaller changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of driving and so on. Any exercise where you breathe a lot is good for your heart, as it conditions it. Your heart is a muscle, and as with other muscles, you can strengthen it by exercising it.
Try not to stress and do more of what you love
Not stressing is something Bob Marley has been the greatest advocate of, but realistically we all experience higher stress levels from time to time. Reducing that stress will reduce the strain on your heart, and benefit your cardiovascular health, as your blood pressure and heart rate will remain in control . Breathing deeply can help you relax if you are stressed, which is why meditation is so beneficial for us. Also, doing more of what you love ties into this. As long as you find time to be happy and relaxed you are likely to keep your heart happy.
Quitting smoking can be very difficult, but your heart will thank you for it. We’re sure that you’ve heard enough reasons why it's bad for you, but stopping (or at least reducing!) will reduce your risks of heart disease. 
Wash your hands!
Washing your hands multiple times a day is a great way to protect your health and with that your heart. Infections can be heavy on the heart and are easily avoided by keeping your hands clean.
Achieving and maintaining your ideal weight
Of course, there is no perfect weight that everyone should be achieving, but finding the weight that you feel most comfortable and healthy at will be beneficial to you. Maintaining that weight class can reduce your risk of heart disease and other health problems . If you need help with this, you can check out our weight loss and weight gain guides.
How we can help you
Surely, if you’re reading this blog you might have already heard about what Jimmy Joy does. Our shakes and bars contain a bunch of the ingredients we went over; our Plenny Shake Active and Plenny Bar V2.0 are rich in fiber-filled oatmeal, derivatives of soy, sunflower oil, and flaxseed. Best of all, they’re 100% vegan - meaning none of those undesired trans fats or LDL cholesterol from animal products. And besides, they’re stuffed with all sorts of healthy minerals and vitamins.
Our nutritious meals are an easy step toward a healthier and more plant-based diet, and your heart might just end up thanking you for it.
 Harvard Health (2020). Heart Health. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/heart-health
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Heart Disease Facts. From: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
 Oregon State University (2020). Coronary Heart Disease. From: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/coronary-heart-disease
 Oregon State University (2020). Cholesterol. From:
 Harvard Health (2019). 11 foods that lower cholesterol. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/11-foods-that-lower-cholesterol
 Cleveland Clinic (2019). 12 Heart-Health Foods to Work Into Your Diet. From: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/12-heart-healthy-foods-to-work-into-your-diet/
 UCI Health (2017). 7 powerful ways you can strengthen your heart. From: https://www.ucihealth.org/blog/2017/02/how-to-strengthen-heart
 Heart Foundation (n.d.). Keep your heart healthy. From: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/keep-your-heart-healthy
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