The lining of your blood vessels, called the endothelium, provides a Teflon-like coating that helps blood flow smoothly through veins, arteries, and capillaries, says Ralph Felder, MD, PhD, a cardiologist at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and inflammation all can create nicks in the endothelium. These encourage a buildup of arterial plaque, and can lead to decreased blood flow to the heart, brain, and other organs. What you eat — and don't eat — has a monumental impact on the health of this vital blood-vessel lining. As Felder writes in The Bonus Years Diet (Putnam Adult, 2007), a breakthrough study found that when consumed together and in the specific quantities detailed below, the following foods actually act like a powerful drug and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 76 percent and add 6.4 years to a man's life and 4.6 years to a woman's life — all by protecting the endothelium.
Cook with garlic.
Flavor your meals with one garlic clove (cooked or raw) daily and your chance of developing cardiovascular disease drops by 25 percent. That's because garlic inhibits the cholesterol production in the liver, much the way statin drugs do. Garlic specifically lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and may help to usher this bad form of cholesterol out of the body.
Drink red wine.
Sipping 5 ounces of red wine daily lowers LDL, raises the good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and prevents LDL oxidation and the formation of dangerous blood clots. Added together, the benefits of red wine's protective antioxidants slash cardiovascular disease risk by 32 percent. (Women, take note: Alcohol, including wine, has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. However, research shows that up to 5 ounces of red wine daily is safe, Felder says. Because it increases estrogen levels, “more than that can lead to health problems for women.”)
Eat fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidant- and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables lower blood pressure, and “the lower the blood pressure, the better the endothelium is able to dilate the arteries to keep blood flowing smoothly,” Felder says. Eating 4 cups of fruits and veggies daily lowers your cardiovascular disease risk by 21 percent. Different types of produce offer different benefits — so aim for variety to receive the full spectrum of antioxidants and phytochemicals, the special chemicals found in plants that reduce inflammation and protect against disease.