Weekly Roundup: A Happy Heart

Last month, the World Health Organization bookmarked April 7 as World Health Day.  April 7 is also National Coffee Cake Day according to State Symbols USA but…I think we’ll place priority on the former. Each year, the World Health Organization celebrates April 7 to mark the anniversary of its founding and each year, a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of public health concern in the world. This year’s theme: high blood pressure.

High blood pressure wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I thought of current health issues, but then again, it's probably naivete like mine that prompted them to spotlight the grim reality that people with high blood pressure face today.  On their website, WHO outlines their objectives for World Health Day 2013:

  • to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of high blood pressure;
  • to provide information on how to prevent high blood pressure and related complications;
  • to encourage adults to check their blood pressure and to follow the advice of health-care professionals;
  • to encourage self-care to prevent high blood pressure;
  • to make blood pressure measurement affordable to all; and
  • to incite national and local authorities to create enabling environments for healthy behaviours.

Obviously, today isn't April 7 but high blood pressure is an ever-relevant issue that needs just as much attention today as it did one month ago.  We want to help the World Health Organization reach their ambitious goals. We feel it’s urgent and necessary because high blood pressure is alarmingly dangerous and prevalent. For example, did you know that one in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure, with the proportion increasing with age? The Mayo Clinic puts the gravity of high blood pressure in somber context: “High blood pressure (hypertension) can quietly damage your body for years before symptoms develop. Left uncontrolled, you may wind up with a disability, a poor quality of life or even a fatal heart attack.”

And yet, despite the magnitude of the problem, it seems that the best remedy most of us have is to simply eat less salt. We have something better for you than dry and bland dishes. You can actually avoid or reduce high blood pressure by choosing to eat certain types of foods that we already love and that, hopefully, you’ll soon come to love too.


From Life and Health:

Sunflower seeds: All nuts and legumes are heart-healthy, but sunflower seeds seem to be in a class of their own when it comes to blood pressure. They’re extremely high in vitamin E—just a handful and you’ve consumed 75% of your daily intake. They’re also rich in folic acid and protein and are a good source of fiber. Experts don’t know exactly how sunflower seeds lower blood pressure, but Spanish researchers conducted an experiment in which they discovered that during digestion, sunflower seeds release a peptide that inhibits the body’s production of an enzyme that’s known to raise blood pressure.


Sunflower Seed Hummus

Bananas: Bananas are among the most potassium-rich foods, and the amount of potassium in 1.5 to 2 bananas has been shown to drop blood pressure by 2 to 3 points, according to a report by Harvard Health. Potassium boosts kidney function, helping them flush sodium out of the body. Potassium also helps artery walls relax. If you don’t like bananas, raisins, prunes, and watermelon are also good sources of protein.


1-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

Potatoes: Potatoes, especially purple potatoes, contain antioxidants such as anthocyanins, carotenoids, and phenolic acids that reduce chronic inflammation linked with heart disease and stroke. In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers suggest that purple potatoes are an effective agent to reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke in people with high blood pressure—without weight gain. 


Crockpot Baked Potatoes (substitute russet potatoes for purple)

Spinach: Spinach has high content of potassium and low content of sodium. This composition of minerals is very beneficial for high blood pressure patients, as potassium lowers and sodium raises the blood pressure. Folate present in spinach contributes to hypertension reduction and relaxing blood vessels, maintaining proper blood flow

Roasted Tomato, Spinach, and Basil Spaghetti

Oats: A study published in the scientific journal Preventive Medicine in Managed Care showed that 73% of participants who ate oat cereal daily for 12 weeks were able to reduce or eliminate their need for blood pressure medication, at an average annual saving of $197.63 per patient. It was one of the first studies to quantify the cost savings of prescription drugs when using a dietary approach to help combat high blood pressure

Oat Burger

Beets: Beet juice has been a popular folk remedy for centuries, its primary focus being in disorders of the liver. Nowadays, they’re gaining recognition for the anticancer and heart health promoting properties. The pigment that gives beets their rich, purple-crimson color—betacyanin—is a powerful cancer-fighting agent while naturally occurring nitrates are thought to be responsible for its beneficial effects on the heart and vascular system.

Roasted Root Veggies

Dark chocolate: A new review from a science-based group in the U.K. called the Cochrane Collaboration found that compounds in cocoa called flavanols may help to reduce blood pressure. The review included 20 studies varying in length for 2 to 18 weeks, in which volunteers consumed dark chocolate or cocoa powder each day ranging from 3 to 100 grams. The results were small reductions in blood pressure that might seem modest in some perspective, but serves well in complementing other treatment options and contributes to the overall risk of cardiovascular disease.

Monkey Shake

More heart-healthy recipes from around the web:


Sunflower seeds

Sunflower Mac via The Post Punk Kitchen: “Sunflower seeds have a mellow nutty quality that fit right into a cheezy sauce. The backdrop of garlic and onion, with a hint of vegetable sweetness from carrots, and the rich toastiness from the sunflowers had me at the first creamy forkful. Bottom line: I really dug it! And from now on, I’ll have a canister of sunflower seeds standing proudly beside the cashews in my cupboard.”


Banana Pancakes via Ginger Mandy: “It still makes me happy to find super simple ways to turn some of my favorite milky, eggy, buttery foods into a vegan delight. I feel kind of ridiculous blogging this recipe because it is so obvious and easy, but I had no idea until recently that you can totally replace the egg in pancakes with a banana and yield a result that is still edible. If you’re wondering whether this still tastes like pancakes or if it tastes like a pancake recipe that is mildly acceptable for a vegan who knows they cannot have traditional pancakes, don’t worry. This has not turned pancakes into some weird rubbery space crepe. It’s pancakes.” 


Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Purple Potatoes via Just Homemade: “Purple potatoes it seems were among the first to be cultivated in the Peruvian Andes by the Incas, reserved as a special treat for the kings. What about its texture and taste? Some say they taste just like potatoes. I felt they taste quite purple, in a nice way, really. I don’t know if it was just me or the potatoes themselves. The texture is creamy with a velvety feel to the bite, a tad bit sweet with a skin thinner. Some even say it is subtly nutty with a grassy note, may be it just depends on the produce or the season. 


Orzo with Wilted Spinach via Vegan Dlites: “This recipe is a respectable nod to orzo as a side dish. I made this dish this afternoon for dinner with a vegetarian chicken cacciatore and toasted whole grain baguette. It's lemony fragrance really enhanced the cacciatore.” 

Berry Bliss Oat Squares via Oh She Glows: “I have been ogling this recipe on Susan’s blog for a long time now and I finally remembered to make them. They have no refined flour, no white sugar, no added fat, no soy, and can be made gluten-free too. I enjoy them with breakfast crumbled over oats, as an afternoon snack, or a light treat after dinner. So versatile! The wholesome flavours of the oats, maple, and berries really shine through and aren’t hidden by too much sweetener. They are rustic, yet elegant and simple. I like that.”  

Roasted Beet Salad via Lunch Box Bunch: “This elegant Roasted Beet Salad is dotted with buttery pecans, cannellini beans, a few dashes of spicy cayenne, shavings of spicy vegan pepperjack cheese, elegant pointy-fang spears of endive and bitter purple radicchio, plenty of savory greens and a thick, dark balsamic glaze dressing on top.” 

Dark chocolate
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie
s via Have Cake Will Travel: “These crispy-at-the-edges, chewy-inside cookies were among the first ones I made when I got into baking, after finding the recipe.

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Sarah Yoo

Sarah Yoo is the associate director of Life & Health but wears a few dozen hats as other this-and-thats, as is the norm in non-profit work. Her favorite part about working at Life & Health is meeting the people that Life & Health content has helped. Ultimately, Sarah dreams of doing humanitarian work in a developing country with her family.

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