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Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. They are vital for maintaining a healthy circulation and preventing various cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis. However, over time, arteries can become clogged with plaque, a sticky substance made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances. Plaque can narrow the arteries, reduce blood flow, and increase the risk of blood clots. This can lead to serious complications and even death.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to prevent and reverse arterial plaque buildup.
One of the most effective ways is to eat foods that have artery-cleansing properties. These foods can help remove plaque, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and protect the arteries from oxidative damage.
In this post, we will explore 12 of the most potent artery-cleansing foods and the science behind them.
Cheese may seem like an unlikely candidate for artery health, given its high fat and sodium content. However, not all cheeses are created equal. Some cheeses, especially those made from grass-fed milk, contain high levels of vitamin K2, a vital nutrient that plays a pivotal role in preventing arterial calcification. Calcification is the process by which calcium deposits harden in the arteries, making them stiff and brittle. Vitamin K2 helps prevent this by ensuring that calcium is kept out of the arteries and directed to the bones and teeth, where it belongs. One study found that people who consumed the most vitamin K2 had a 52% lower risk of severe calcification, a 41% lower risk of coronary heart disease, and a 57% lower risk of dying from any cause.
One of the best sources of vitamin K2 is Münster cheese, a soft cheese made from cow’s milk that originates from France. Münster cheese contains about 72.3 micrograms of vitamin K2 per ounce, which is more than any other cheese. Other good sources of vitamin K2 include Gouda, Brie, Edam, and Cheddar cheeses. By adding cheese to your diet, you can reap the benefits of vitamin K2 and protect your arteries from calcification.
Olive oil is one of the staples of the Mediterranean diet, which is widely regarded as one of the healthiest diets in the world. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, improving the ratio of cholesterol in the blood. This can help prevent plaque formation and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, olive oil also contains other beneficial compounds that can protect the arteries from oxidative damage and inflammation. These compounds are called polyphenols, and they are found in high concentrations in extra virgin olive oil, the highest quality and least processed type of olive oil.
Polyphenols are antioxidants that can scavenge free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage the cells and tissues of the body. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which can contribute to plaque buildup and arterial damage. Polyphenols can also modulate the expression of genes and proteins involved in inflammation, which can trigger plaque rupture and clot formation. One study found that consuming 30 ml of extra virgin olive oil per day for 3 weeks reduced oxidative stress and inflammation markers in healthy volunteers. Another study found that olive oil polyphenols improved endothelial function, which is the ability of the inner lining of the arteries to dilate and contract in response to blood flow. Endothelial dysfunction is a precursor of atherosclerosis and can impair blood circulation.
To get the most out of olive oil, choose extra virgin olive oil that is cold-pressed, unrefined, and organic. Look for a dark glass bottle that protects the oil from light exposure, and check the harvest date to ensure freshness. Use olive oil for salad dressings, dips, marinades, and low-heat cooking, or drizzle it over cooked vegetables, fish, or bread.
Egg yolks are often demonized for their high cholesterol content, but they are actually beneficial for artery health. Like cheese, egg yolks are a good source of vitamin K2, which can prevent arterial calcification. Egg yolks also contain other nutrients that can support cardiovascular health, such as protein, choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Protein can help lower blood pressure and regulate blood sugar, choline can lower homocysteine levels (a risk factor for heart disease), and lutein and zeaxanthin can protect the eyes and the arteries from oxidative stress.
One study found that eating one egg per day for 12 weeks did not increase LDL cholesterol or affect endothelial function in healthy adults. Another study found that eating two eggs per day for 6 weeks improved HDL cholesterol and antioxidant status in people with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease. Moreover, a meta-analysis of 17 studies found no association between egg consumption and coronary heart disease or stroke.
Eggs are a versatile and nutritious food that can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Choose organic, free-range eggs that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and avoid frying them in unhealthy oils. Instead, boil, poach, scramble, or bake them, and pair them with vegetables, whole grains, or lean meats.
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. It has a sticky, slimy texture and a strong, pungent smell that may not appeal to everyone. However, natto is a powerhouse of artery-cleansing nutrients, especially vitamin K2. Natto contains the highest amount of vitamin K2 of any food, with about 1100 micrograms per 100 grams. This is because natto is fermented by a specific strain of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis natto, which produces vitamin K2 as a by-product. Vitamin K2, as we have seen, can prevent arterial calcification and lower the risk of heart disease.
Natto also contains other beneficial compounds, such as nattokinase, a proteolytic enzyme that can dissolve blood clots and improve blood flow. Nattokinase can also lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation, and prevent oxidative stress. Additionally, natto is a good source of protein, fiber, iron, calcium, and probiotics, which can support digestive health and immunity.
Natto can be eaten as a breakfast dish, mixed with rice, soy sauce, and green onions, or added to soups, salads, or sandwiches. You can also take natto supplements that contain vitamin K2 and nattokinase, but consult your doctor before doing so, especially if you are on blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder.
Chicken and Pork
Meat is often blamed for causing heart disease, but the truth is more nuanced. While processed meats, such as bacon, ham, sausages, and salami, are linked to increased risk of heart disease and stroke, lean meats, such as chicken and pork, can be part of a healthy diet. This is because chicken and pork contain higher amounts of vitamin K2 compared to other meats, such as beef and lamb. Vitamin K2, as we have learned, can prevent arterial calcification and protect the heart. One study found that chicken and pork accounted for 22% and 20% of vitamin K2 intake, respectively, in a Dutch population. Another study found that chicken and pork liver were among the best sources of vitamin K2 in animal foods.
Chicken and pork also provide high-quality protein, which can help lower blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, and preserve muscle mass. They also contain other nutrients, such as iron, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins, which can support various bodily functions. However, not all chicken and pork products are equal. To get the most benefits, choose organic, grass-fed, and hormone-free meat, and avoid frying or charring it, as this can create harmful compounds, such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, that can damage the arteries. Instead, grill, roast, bake, or stew the meat, and use herbs, spices, and marinades to enhance the flavor.
Salmon is one of the best foods for artery health, thanks to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce on its own, and must obtain from food. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce the inflammation that can trigger plaque buildup and rupture in the arteries. Omega-3s can also lower triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood that can contribute to plaque formation. Moreover, omega-3s can improve endothelial function, prevent blood clots, and lower blood pressure.
Salmon is particularly rich in two types of omega-3s, called EPA and DHA, which are more readily absorbed and utilized by the body than plant-based omega-3s, such as ALA. Salmon contains about 1.5 grams of EPA and DHA per 100 grams, which is more than any other fish. Salmon also provides high-quality protein, vitamin D, selenium, and astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that gives salmon its pink color and protects the arteries from oxidative damage.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented cabbage dishes that originate from Germany and Korea, respectively. They are both excellent sources of vitamin K2, which can prevent arterial calcification and lower the risk of heart disease. Sauerkraut and kimchi contain about 15 and 10 micrograms of vitamin K2 per 100 grams, respectively. This is because the fermentation process increases the vitamin K2 content of the cabbage, as well as the bioavailability of other nutrients, such as vitamin C, iron, and probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can improve digestive health, immunity, and metabolism. They can also lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, and prevent oxidative stress.
Sauerkraut and kimchi can be eaten as side dishes, salads, or snacks, or added to soups, sandwiches, or stir-fries. They can also be made at home with fresh cabbage, salt, and water, and optionally, other ingredients, such as carrots, garlic, ginger, or chili peppers. However, be careful not to consume too much salt, as this can raise blood pressure and negate the benefits of these foods.
Walnuts are one of the most nutritious nuts, offering a plethora of artery-protective compounds. Walnuts are high in vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that can prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaque in the arteries. Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower inflammation and improve endothelial function. Moreover, walnuts are rich in polyphenols, which can scavenge free radicals and modulate gene expression and enzyme activity related to cardiovascular health.
One study found that eating 43 grams of walnuts per day for 8 weeks lowered total and LDL cholesterol, improved endothelial function, and reduced oxidative stress in healthy adults. Another study found that eating 30 grams of walnuts per day for 6 months lowered blood pressure, improved blood flow, and reduced arterial stiffness in people with high cardiovascular risk. Walnuts can also improve cognitive function, mood, and sleep quality, which can indirectly affect heart health.
Walnuts can be eaten raw, roasted, or soaked, or added to salads, oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies, or baked goods. However, be mindful of the portion size, as walnuts are high in calories and fat, and can cause weight gain if consumed in excess.
Flaxseeds and Chia Seeds
Flaxseeds and chia seeds are tiny but mighty seeds that can cleanse the arteries and support cardiovascular health. They are both excellent sources of fiber, which can lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and prevent constipation. They also provide high-quality protein, which can help lower blood pressure and preserve muscle mass. Additionally, they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and improve blood flow.
Flaxseeds and chia seeds also contain lignans, phytoestrogens that can modulate hormone levels and protect against certain cancers. Lignans can also lower blood pressure, improve lipid profile, and prevent oxidative stress. One study found that consuming 30 grams of flaxseeds per day for 6 months lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10 and 7 mmHg, respectively, in people with hypertension. Another study found that consuming 25 grams of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks lowered blood pressure, inflammation, and oxidative stress in people with type 2 diabetes.
Flaxseeds and chia seeds can be easily incorporated into the diet, as they have a mild, nutty flavor and a crunchy texture. They can be sprinkled over salads, soups, cereals, or yogurt, or blended into smoothies, juices, or sauces. They can also be used as egg substitutes in baking, or mixed with water to form a gel that can be used as a thickener or binder. However, be sure to grind flaxseeds before consuming them, as whole flaxseeds can pass through the digestive tract undigested and reduce their bioavailability.
Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, and arugula, are among the healthiest foods on the planet, offering a plethora of nutrients and antioxidants that can benefit the arteries and the heart. Leafy greens are high in vitamin K1, which can help prevent arterial calcification by activating a protein called matrix Gla protein, which inhibits calcium deposition in the arteries. One study found that people who consumed the most vitamin K1 had a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease and a 16% lower risk of dying from any cause.
Leafy greens also contain other beneficial compounds, such as nitrate, folate, carotenoids, and flavonoids. Nitrate can lower blood pressure and improve endothelial function by increasing the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that relaxes and dilates the blood vessels. Folate can lower homocysteine levels, which can damage the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease. Carotenoids and flavonoids are antioxidants that can protect the arteries from oxidative stress and inflammation.
Leafy greens can be eaten raw, cooked, or juiced, or added to salads, sandwiches, wraps, soups, or stir-fries. They can also be blended into smoothies, pesto, or dips, or baked into chips or crackers. However, be careful not to overcook them, as this can reduce their nutrient content and antioxidant activity.
Avocados are creamy, delicious fruits that can cleanse the arteries and support cardiovascular health. Avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, which can lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, improving the ratio of cholesterol in the blood. This can help prevent plaque formation and reduce the risk of heart disease. Avocados also contain antioxidants, such as vitamin E, glutathione, and lutein, which can protect the arteries from oxidative damage and inflammation.
Avocados also provide other nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, and fiber, which can lower blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, and prevent constipation. They also contain phytosterols, plant compounds that can lower cholesterol absorption in the intestines. One study found that eating one avocado per day for 5 weeks lowered total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and oxidative stress markers in overweight and obese adults. Another study found that eating half an avocado with a hamburger reduced the postprandial inflammatory and endothelial responses compared to eating a hamburger alone.
Avocados can be eaten as a snack, sliced, or mashed, or added to salads, sandwiches, wraps, or tacos. They can also be blended into smoothies, guacamole, or hummus, or used as a substitute for butter, cream, or mayonnaise. However, be mindful of the portion size, as avocados are high in calories and fat, and can cause weight gain if consumed in excess.
Dark chocolate is a decadent treat that can also cleanse the arteries and support cardiovascular health. Dark chocolate is made from cocoa, which is rich in flavanols and polyphenols, antioxidants that can protect the arteries from oxidative damage and inflammation. Flavanols and polyphenols can also lower blood pressure, improve endothelial function, prevent blood clots, and lower insulin resistance.
Dark chocolate also contains other beneficial compounds, such as magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc, which can support various bodily functions. However, not all dark chocolate is created equal. To get the most benefits, choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids, and avoid those that contain added sugar, milk, or artificial ingredients. One study found that consuming 50 grams of dark chocolate per day for 15 days lowered blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced oxidative stress in healthy volunteers. Another study found that consuming 40 grams of dark chocolate per day for 14 days improved endothelial function and lowered inflammation in people with peripheral artery disease.
Dark chocolate can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. However, be careful not to overindulge, as dark chocolate is high in calories and fat, and can cause weight gain if consumed in excess.
Incorporating several artery-protective foods into a balanced diet is essential for overall cardiovascular health. By eating foods that can cleanse the arteries, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and prevent oxidative stress, you can improve your blood circulation, lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, and enhance your quality of life. However, eating these foods alone is not enough. You also need to avoid foods that can harm the arteries, such as processed meats, fried foods, trans fats, refined sugars, and salt. Additionally, you need to adopt other healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercising regularly, managing stress, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. By doing so, you can keep your arteries and your heart in optimal condition.