The red heart is one of the most popular emojis out there. Last year, it was used the most often on Instagram; second on Twitter (behind face with tears of joy); and in the top five on Facebook. Yet when it comes to our health, we don't always show our heart the love it deserves.
Nearly one in three Americans (30 percent) has high blood pressure. If left untreated, the condition can damage the circulatory and increase the risk for heart attack, stroke and a long list of other diseases. While high blood pressure can't be cured, it can be managed. A review of 98 studies and nearly 8,000 people found that you can significantly drive down blood pressure numbers by exercising and eating well. In fact, adding these three foods to your diet is a great place to start.
Superfood 1: Garlic
Garlic is a kitchen staple that does more than add flavor to dishes. Some research shows that it may help manage blood pressure, thanks to its high content of an active compound, allicin. Fresh garlic cloves (chopped or minced), as well as garlic powder, both offer benefits. And here's one delicious way to enjoy everyone's favorite aromatic. I nixed the unnecessary extras (aka butter, white bread and cheese) and played up the breathtaking bulb. You may want to consider serving with a mint, though.
Superfood 2: Spinach
Spinach is a well-known superfood, and it makes an appearance here because it contains three blood-pressure lowering ingredients: potassium, magnesium and folate. Not to mention, spinach is low-calorie and brimming with fiber, which is a win-win for your health and waistline. I love the gorgeous green because there are so many delicious ways to enjoy it: Toss fresh baby spinach leaves in salads or layer leaves on sandwiches. Wilt spinach leaves into a pot of simmering soup before serving or add a handful of baby leaves into smoothies to amp up the nutrition without affecting the taste (I swear). Or try whipping up these mouthwatering (and Popeye-approved) Pumpkin-Spinach Meatballs!
Superfood 3: Banana
You probably already know that bananas are a terrific source of potassium — one medium banana has 425mg of this important mineral that plays a role in managing blood pressure. That's because potassium is like the anti-sodium. When potassium is low, the body retains extra sodium, and sodium draws water into the blood, raising the pressure on the arterial walls.
On the other hand, when you eat a potassium-rich diet, the body becomes more efficient at getting rid of excess sodium (and the extra water, too, which in turn lowers your pressure). Bananas are also incredibly convenient. You can easily stash them in your bag for a quick snack or blend them into virtually any fruit smoothie to enhance its creaminess, natural sweetness, and, of course, potassium content. My kids love them as the star ingredient in this dairy-free chocolate Rocky Road ice cream! One more blood-pressure-lowering perk: This ice cream also contains unsweetened cocoa powder, another superfood that can help manage blood pressure thanks to its high flavanol content. It's the ultimate superfood sundae!
For healthy tips, follow Joy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and check out her cookbook "Joy's Simple Food Remedies: Tasty Cures for Whatever's Ailing You." Watch her on NBC's Health+Happiness every weekend.