Berries for the heart

In keeping with February’s heart health themed posts, I thought I’d write a little about the benefits of my favourite fruits: BERRIES! Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and strawberries are well known for their rich colours that provide anti-oxidants and phytochemicals which protect against cell damage.  They are also good sources of nutrients such as vitamin C and fibre.  Another berry which is used traditionally by herbalists is called the hawthorn berry.

Hawthorn Berries: The latin name of this herb is Crataegus oxycanthus and the berries have been used traditionally as a heart tonic.  Hawthorn berries are nourishing to the heart because they are high in anti-oxidants called procyanadins.  Procyanadins have 3 key actions:

1. They specifically target tissues of the heart and blood vessels to strengthen them and reduce plaque build-up which can lead to a heart attack.

2. They mildly dilate the blood vessels making them larger and therefore helping to reduce blood pressure.

3. They also increases circulation to the coronary arteries which are the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle itself.

Hawthorn berries are a great heart tonic and are widely available as a powdered extract or herbal tincture.  However, like all natural remedies Hawthorn is not safe in all circumstances and is highly contraindicated if you are already taking beta-blockers (atenolol, propanolol and metoprolol are common for abnormal heart rhythm), calcium channel blockers (verapamil, nifedipine and diltiazem are common for high blood pressure), digoxin, nitrates (nitroglycerin for angina), and phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (viagra for erectile dysfunction).

Therefore it is very important to consult a medical practitioner prior to starting any new herbal therapy.

My favourite berry smoothie recipe:

1/2 cup frozen mixed berries

1/2 a banana or honey to sweeten

1 cup vanilla almond milk

1 tsp cinnamon

Blend all ingredients together for a quick, easy and delicious breakfast or snack! Other ingredients I add in for extra benefit are:

1 tsp fish oil (it just blends right in and gives you omega-3 fatty acids)

1 tsp ground flaxseed (for added omega-3 fatty acids as well as fibre)

1 scoop of protein powder (whey, soy and rice protein powders are widely available. Adding protein makes you feel full for longer and provides the building blocks to help your muscles recover after a workout)