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)

8 simple ways to lower cholesterol with food

I often have patients who are in need of extra help with cholesterol management.  There are many simple nutritional habits which can be adopted to either prevent high cholesterol or lower it after it has been diagnosed.  To learn more about cholesterol and its function, as well as how it can affect your heart health here is a great overview of the basics:

Here are 8 simple way to lower cholesterol through your diet:

Cholesterol Lowering Checklist

□ Eat 25 raw almonds per day (mix with walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds for variety).

□ Eat 2 tablespoons of olive oil per day.

□ Eat 4 servings of viscous (soluble) fibre per day from oats, barley, other whole grains, beans, eggplant, okra, squash, sweet potato, apples, pears, oranges, bananas, berries.

□ Eat 1 teaspoon of ground flaxseed per day.

□ Eat ½ to 1 clove of raw garlic per day.

□ Eat 3 meals of fish per week.

□ Eat 1 meal with soy protein such as tofu, modified soy protein, and unsweetened soy milk per week.

□ Eat red meat only 1 time per week.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Saturated fats such as red meat, butter, dairy products, pre-packaged meals and snacks, fried foods, bakery items.
  • Refined sugar from sweetened fruit juices, candy, other desserts.
  • Unfiltered coffee, soft drinks, alcohol. 

Heart Healthy Snacks:

  • Raw vegetables and hummus or bean dip.
  • Spread almond butter on a whole grain pita and wrap a banana into it.
  • Vegetable soup with beans or barley.
  • Fruit smoothie made with unsweetened soy milk, berries, and a tablespoon of almond butter.
  • Bowl of oatmeal with fruit, cinnamon, and unsweetened soy milk.
  • Stewed apples and peaches: chop up fruit, add a little water, and cinnamon and boil in a pot.
  • Make your own trail mix of nuts, seeds and raisins.

Here’s a super cool slideshow of how to lower cholesterol through diet:

February is Heart Month

Last February I wrote an article for the Bloor West Village SNAP Newspaper for the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s annual Heart month to raise awareness about heart health.  Below I’d like to share that article as well as a great slide show about foods that can improve your heart health. 

Heart month is about promoting healthy living to prevent heart disease as well as raising money for research into treatments for heart disease. 

Although there are factors contributing to heart disease such as family history which you cannot change, there are many factors which you are in control of such as diet, exercise, stress level, weight, alcohol and tobacco intake. Be proactive when it comes to heart health by regularly visiting your primary health care provider to screen for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes which are all key risk factors for having a heart attack or stroke in the future.  Forming a partnership with your primary health care provider to implement lifestyle changes now is a wise investment for a healthy heart in the future.

Naturopathic Doctors work with other health care providers in offering evidence-based lifestyle interventions for preventing heart disease by utilizing clinical nutrition, exercise prescription, botanical medicine, and stress reduction techniques making them an ideal choice for people looking to improve their heart health.

Here are 3 simple ways to improve your heart health:

  1. Get up and move! Walking, swimming or dancing for 30 minutes five times a week will not only reduce stress and make you feel good, but will exercise your heart muscle to increase its strength and efficiency in pumping blood to your vital organs.
  2. Increase your fibre intake. Eating oatmeal for breakfast or snacking on a handful of almonds has been shown to significantly lower your cholesterol and blood pressure; both important for a healthy heart.
  3. Choose to practice stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing or yoga instead of reaching for a glass of wine or a cigarette when you feel anxious. Receiving a massage treatment is also an effective way to unwind after a workday and will keep your blood pressure low.

Take charge of your health and make the changes necessary for a healthy heart during the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Heart month this February.  For more information on Heart month visit

This is a great slide show I found showcasing heart healthy foods! The only thing I would change is to choose smaller fish such as anchovies and sardines to get your omega-3 fatty acids from instead of tuna which can bioaccumulate mercury.