Food is one of the many ways we can nourish and support health, wholeness, and healing in the body. If we talk specifically about heart disease and cardiovascular health, food has the power to profoundly shift and support healing from the damaging effects of the disease even with genetics at play. Several well-reviewed research studies, including those reported by the Harvard School of Public Health, report and demonstrate that over 80% of the instances of heart disease can be prevented, reduced, or even reversed by a combination of healthy lifestyle factors like stress management, hydration, exercise, and nutrition.
Of these factors, nutrition is perhaps the most critical as food supplies the nutrients that activate and drive the many biological pathways of repair and regeneration. Non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and other plant-based foods like beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes are potent medicine for heart health. The soluble fiber in beans, legumes, and many other fruits and vegetables actually absorbs and eliminates cholesterol from the body. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables offer an array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that mitigate the oxidative stress at the root of heart disease. Of particular note in the wide range of rainbow nutrition, leafy greens are incredibly nutrient-dense and full of chlorophyll, a powerful blood builder and cleanser. Chlorophyll mirrors the hemoglobin in our blood and increases oxygenation and nutrient delivery to our cells. In our blood, iron is the oxygen carrier in hemoglobin that gives our blood its red color; in leafy greens, the carrier is magnesium which supplies their deep green hues. Using these foods as a vital foundation in our overall diet provides the body with essential building blocks and offers a source of nutrition that is naturally healing.
One final key in supporting cardiovascular health and healing is the fat in our diets. Studies indicate that there is little difference between high-fat and low-fat diets in their ability to prevent heart disease. Rather, it is the type of fat in the diet that is the most powerful indicator. Diets high in processed and, in particular, trans-fats were linked with high rates of cardiovascular disease. The most heart-healthy diets included whole-food and high quality fats like extra virgin olive and coconut oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
So, I invite you to fill your plates with the best and most supportive bounty of the season: chard, celery, collards, cucumbers, kale, lettuces, onions, peppers, sprouts, tomatoes, and all manner of fresh herbs. Explore your local farmers markets and see what the local lands have to offer you. Taste, experiment, and have fun in the kitchen and on your plate!
Eating healthy, supportive food is a radical act of self-care and self-love. In so doing, we nourish our whole beings as we engage our emotional hearts and treat ourselves with loving care. With each meal, we choose to be empowered in our health and support the innate healing intelligence of the body. In preparing and sharing this food with those we love, we foster community and thoughtful connection. Now, that is food with heart!
Black Bean Hummus Collard Wrap (Serves 4-6)
1 batch prepared black bean hummus (recipe below)
4-6 large collard leaves
1 cucumber, cut into strips
1 bell pepper, cut into strips
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Prepare all vegetables and fillings. Prepare the collard leaves by cutting off the tale of the stalk (below the leaf) and softening the rib of the stalk (on the leaf) by pressing it with your palm and/or the broad side of a knife – the back of a spoon will also work and help give more leverage if you’re worried about using a knife near your hands. This will help the collard roll as a burrito-style wrap.
Take a prepared collard leaf top-side down. Generously apply a layer of black bean hummus, top with desired fillings and lots of fresh cilantro. Roll like a taco or burrito, depending on the size of the leaf. You may cut in half or dig in whole. Enjoy!
Soulful Tip: Collard leaves do not absorb moisture or easily breakdown like other leafy greens, so you can prepare these in advance for lunches during the week and they’ll maintain their freshness in the fridge.
Black Bean Hummus
1 can black beans, drained (or 1 cup black beans soaked and prepared)
1 clove garlic
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon (about 2-3 Tbsps.)
½ tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor until desired consistency is reached. May add more lemon juice or water to thin as needed.
This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Urban Times (Indianapolis).