At a minimum, keeping your body healthy requires some basics: complete nutrition, adequate exercise, plenty of water, and sufficient daily rest. But what do we mean, exactly, by complete nutrition? Basically, that means complete protein (containing all eight essential amino acids), sufficient carbohydrates for calories, and an assortment of fats, including the essential fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
We also require certain vitamins and minerals, in varying amounts. Some, such as calcium and iron, are used by the body to form crucial structures, such as healthy bone or functional red blood cells. Others, such as zinc or selenium, are important metallic components that the body uses to create sophisticated proteins, including many important immune system proteins. Of course, amino acids from protein are used to build muscle, among other things.
Blood Sugar Basics
Carbohydrates, which include everything from simple sugar molecules to complex carbs, such as those found in whole grains. Generally speaking, complex carbohydrates from plant foods are better for you than simple sugars. That’s because sugar enters the bloodstream rapidly, and causes sharp spikes in insulin, which are often followed by rapid crashes in blood sugar levels.
Complex carbs on the other hand are broken down slowly, releasing their energy in the form of glucose in a slow steady manner. Eating complex carbs enables you to avoid the wild oscillations in insulin and blood sugar that can leave you feeling hungry and tired after eating sugary foods or beverages.
You may have noticed the term “essential,” used to describe certain nutrients. In this context, essential has a specific meaning: An essential nutrient is one which we must have to survive, and cannot make in the body. Thus, it must come directly from the diet. While there are many amino acids, only eight are essential. Many others can be cobbled together within the body from other components, including the essential amino acids already obtained by eating sources of complete protein.
Heart-Specific Vitamins and Minerals
Various vitamins and minerals are also essential. As noted, zinc and selenium are two metallic elements that the body must have to function properly, and must obtain on a fairly regular basis from the diet. Other essential vitamins and minerals include everything from vitamin C, the B vitamins, and vitamin D, to minerals such as iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and trace minerals, such as copper, iodine, molybdenum, and sulfur.
Among these a few are particularly important for cardiovascular health, primarily because they are involved in activities such as maintaining blood vessels (e.g. vitamins B2, B3, B5, vitamin C, etc.), generating new blood cells (e.g. iron, copper, zinc), and regulating blood pressure (e.g. calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and magnesium), and blood clotting (e.g. vitamin K).
Sodium, Magnesium and Potassium
Dietary salt (sodium chloride) supplies the essential nutrients, chloride and sodium. But, of course, too much salt in the diet has been implicated in high blood pressure (hypertension). Research suggests that small reductions in one’s intake of sodium from salt can yield significant reductions in blood pressure among people with elevated blood pressure. But what often gets overlooked is that other nutrients, such as potassium and magnesium, may counter-balance the blood pressure-promoting effects of sodium in the diet.
Fortunately, people who consume plenty of plant foods are likely to get plenty of potassium in the diet. Good sources of this element include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Magnesium is also crucial for blood pressure regulation and many other important functions. Get it from green vegetables like spinach and broccoli, legumes, cashews, sunflower seeds, and whole-wheat products. And finally, vitamin K, which plays an important role in blood’s ability to clot and repair wounds, is present in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach.
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