Heart disease kills more people worldwide than any other disease. We are learning more about how to prevent heart disease, and this begins with healthy eating and exercise.
A growing number of studies show that what you eat and drink can protect your body against many diseases, including heart disease. In fact, as many as 70% of heart disease cases could be prevented by eating the right foods.
Foods that are good for your heart don’t have to be boring or bland. Many of the foods mentioned below can be included in your diet in varied and interesting ways.
One secret is to mix and match the types of vegetables, fish, whole grains and other items you eat daily to give yourself a good variety. With that, here are some of the foods you should eat for a healthier heart.
Scientists have proved that eating a bowl of oats every day can help prevent heart attacks. The soluble fiber in oats helps to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. In simple terms, the soluble fiber (beta glucan) binds some of the cholesterol in the digestive tract. It also helps trigger the liver to pull the LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream for excretion.
Apart from the fiber, oats also contain plant lignans, which protect against heart disease. A daily dose of oats also helps to combat high blood pressure. It’s also a rich source of magnesium, which relaxes the blood vessels.
It’s better to go for coarse or steel-cut oats rather than instant oats, which contain a higher amount of sugar. Oats are low in calories and slow digestion, which makes you feel full longer. This can help you reduce weight.
Obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes are known to increase the risk of heart disease. Just 3 grams of soluble fiber daily as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may help to reduce the risk of heart disease. When it comes to adding oats to your diet, another great way to eat it is in a smoothie.
17. Wild Salmon
Salmon and other fatty fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure, lower the risk of an irregular heartbeat and reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis). High blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke or heart failure.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish – preferably oily fish – per week as part of a heart-healthy diet. This helps lower your triglyceride levels, which are associated with high LDL (bad) cholesterol. Salmon also contains important levels of selenium, an antioxidant that helps protect the heart.
Farm-raised salmon may contain pesticides, insecticides and color-enhancing chemicals. Wild salmon eat other fish whereas farm-raised salmon are fed on other foods. Farmed salmon contains more omega-6 fatty acids than wild salmon, which can counteract the beneficial effects of the omega-3 fatty acids.
Therefore, eating wild salmon is a much healthier option. Wild salmon also offer better flavor and texture than farm-raised fish. Grilled, baked or broiled, salmon is a tasty fish. You can eat it in a salad, in a wrap, on a bagel or grill it in foil with some veggies. Salmon also pairs well with eggs in a scramble.
If you want to increase the number of healthy fats in your diet, avocado is a major source because it is packed with monounsaturated fat. These fats can help to lower LDL levels and increase HDL levels. They also allow for the absorption of carotenoids such as lycopene and beta-cartone, which are essential for a healthy heart.
Avocados are full of powerful antioxidants and many vitamins like vitamins C, E, K and B as well as minerals such as magnesium and potassium. They also contain phytosterols, which help reduce cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory.
A 50g serving (a quarter of an avocado) contains about 6g of total fat – and this is healthy fat. There are so many versatile ways to enjoy avocado, from topping it with chili sauce and eating it with a spoon or eating it on toast in the morning. Use fresh avocados and whip up a delicious guacamole or add it to a salad.
Once study even found that eating half a medium Hass avocado with a burger rather than eating the burger alone, can curb inflammation – a risk factor associated with heart disease. Adding the avocado neutralized Interleukin 6, a protein that is a measure of inflammation.
15. Extra-virgin Olive Oil
A study that looked at the incidents of heart disease around the globe found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet had less risk of heart attacks and strokes. Olive oil is an essential component of the Mediterranean diet.
Eating about 23 grams (two tablespoons) of olive oil each day is supposed to lower the risk of heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat it contains. This fat helps to keep arteries clear so the heart gets enough oxygen and nutrients. Olive oil is also rich in polyphenols that work as antioxidants to protect the cells in the body.
Look for the extra-virgin varieties because they are the least processed. Use it instead of butter when cooking. You can sprinkle it on your salads or use it on green vegetables instead of butter. Make a pesto with it and serve it with pasta, or dip whole-grain bread in olive oil.
Remember that olive oil is high in calories and that two tablespoons a day is enough. It’s best to store your olive oil in a dark, cool spot in a tightly sealed container. Keeping it in the refrigerator will turn it cloudy and thick, although it does return to normal if you leave it standing for a while at room temperature.
14. Broccoli, spinach and kale
You can’t go wrong with eating green, leafy vegetables when it comes to your health, particularly the health of your heart. Eating two-and-a-half servings of these veggies each day can reduce your risk of heart disease.
A new study has found that insufficient levels of vitamin K, found in these green veggies, can affect the heart structure. The left ventricle can become enlarged to an unhealthy degree. Leafy green vegetables are also full of fiber and contain many vitamins and minerals. Most green veggies are high in carotenoids, which act as antioxidants.
Sulforaphane is found in all brassicas but concentrated in broccoli. It may be able to prevent buildup and inflammation in the arteries. Rats that were given a broccoli extract in a study were found to experience significant benefits to their hearts, including better blood-pumping ability.
Spinach has more protein, fiber and vitamin A than kale. Kale has more vitamins K and C, is lower in calories and contains more flavonoids. Both contain omega-3 fatty acids. Toss baby spinach into a salad, add it to a wrap or to smoothies, sauces and soups. Kale is quite bitter and peppery – bake it into yummy kale chips or blend it with other greens for a milder flavor.
This tiny seed has been around for centuries and was first cultivated in Babylon in 3000 B.C. Flaxseed has all kinds of health benefits and a little sprinkle of it on your oats in the morning can do wonders for your heart.
The seeds contain omega-3 essential fatty acids shown to have heart-healthy effects. They also contain more lignans than other plant foods. Lignans are known to have antioxidant properties as well as soluble and insoluble fibers. Flaxseed appears to have significant blood pressure lowering abilities, too. ‘
Several studies have suggested that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed help prevent hardening of arteries and stop plaque being deposited in the arteries. Eating flaxseed daily helps to lower cholesterol levels.
In a study of menopausal women, those who ate four tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day for a year showed a decrease in LDL cholesterol.
Reducing inflammation due to the buildup of plaque in the arteries may be another way flaxseed helps prevent strokes and heart attacks. Ground flaxseed should be your first choice. Every time you have yogurt, a smoothie or oats, stir in some flaxseed. One to two tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day is sufficient.
Walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and add fiber to the diet. People tend to avoid nuts because of their high-fat content, but studies show people who eat nuts daily are leaner than those who don’t. Leaner people are a lower risk for heart disease. Raw, unprocessed nuts are worth incorporating into any heart-protective diet. Salted nuts should be avoided.
Eating almonds lowers your LDL cholesterol and increases your likelihood of losing weight. Walnuts can help to keep your arteries clear.
One study suggested that people who regularly eat a variety of nuts were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who rarely, if ever, eat nuts. The participants in this study ate one 28-gram serving of nuts at least five times a week.
Nuts may be beneficial, but they are high in calories, so they should be eaten in moderation. They need to be consumed in small portions to replace other protein-rich foods rather than being added to the diet.
A recent study suggested that it may be more beneficial to the heart to get protein from nuts and seeds than animal sources.
All berries, such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, have anti-inflammatory properties. Blackberries and blueberries are especially good because they contain resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, and flavonoids, another antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease.
In a 2013 study, women between the ages of 25 and 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries per week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack. Flavonoids are believed to decrease blood pressure and dilate the blood vessels.
Blackberries are rich in polyphenols, which may help prevent heart disease. They also contain fiber, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Blueberries contain a high level of compounds that help your blood flow smoothly through the arteries. They are also low in fat and a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Strawberries are also packed with vitamin C and are an excellent source of folate, which is also believed to protect the heart. Raspberries are low in fat and rich in polyphenols, vitamin C and manganese. Don’t forget about cranberries which increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Put berries in your oatmeal, in yogurt or in a smoothie for a delicious treat, or just eat them by the handful.
Legumes such as red and black kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas are full of omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber. They are also a great source of protein without the unhealthy fat and contain many vitamins and minerals.
Eat a serving of legumes a day to significantly lower LDL cholesterol and reduce risks of heart disease.
Several studies have shown that chickpeas can help reduce LDL cholesterol and insulin levels. Lentil sprouts have the same effect. Soybeans also reduce a number of risk factors for heart disease, including lowering blood pressure and reducing LDL cholesterol.
These foods store well in the cupboard, are extremely versatile and can be added to a multitude of dishes. The tinned varieties make quick and easy additions to meals, but make sure to grab the non-salted variety. They have a low glycemic index, which means they make you feel full for longer.
These foods tend to be underrated but they are an excellent source of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Most of all, they have proven benefits for heart health. Add them to your soups, salads and casseroles to transform them into satisfying, hearty meals.
9. Dark Chocolate
Several studies have indicated that products of the cacao plant, including dark chocolate, may be beneficial to the heart. They show that people who eat dark chocolate have lower blood pressure, better blood circulation and lower LDL cholesterol. This only applies to dark chocolate that contains at least 60-70% cocoa.
The higher the percentage of cocoa the more flavonoids the chocolate contains. The flavonoids help with inflammation, clotting and relax the arteries, increasing blood flow. Arteries remain flexible and white blood cells no longer stick to the walls of the blood vessels.
Milk chocolate and other candy bars do not have the same effects because the polyphenols in dark chocolate are removed during processing. You also need to make sure the dark chocolate does not contain any saturated-fat additives.
Dark chocolate should be eaten in moderation. To avoid consuming too many calories, limit your intake to one square of dark chocolate daily. Eating chocolate that contains too much sugar is counterproductive. You can also add unsweetened cocoa powder to oatmeal or make a cocoa drink if you don’t like the bitter taste of dark chocolate.
8. Citrus fruits
Many of us already include citrus fruits in our diets, especially during cold and flu season, because of their high vitamin C content. But citrus has a number of another impressive health benefits, including the health of your heart.
They contain high quantities of flavonoids that lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation of the arteries and the risk of stroke caused by clots. Citrus also contains a plant chemical (hesperidin) that improves blood flow to the heart. and fiber, potassium, folate and B vitamins. Just one orange contains more than 60 types of antioxidants and nearly 200 phytochemicals.
Studies show consuming citrus fruits can be beneficial for those with diets rich in fat, which puts them at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
Beware of drinking too much citrus juice, as it can contain a high amount of sugar. You also need to be aware that if you’re taking statins to lower your cholesterol or certain blood pressure medications, grapefruit products can interfere with their action.
Citrus fruits can be consumed anywhere, any time, which makes them a great healthy snack to eat just as they are. They can also be used in many ways – limes, for instance, make a great flavor addition to many dishes.
There’s a tendency to think of potatoes as a bad starch and that eating them makes you put on weight. Eating heavily salted French fries or dousing potatoes with butter or cream is obviously not good for your heart and will make you gain weight. The way they are cooked does matter, but potatoes can have benefits for your heart.
Potatoes are high in fiber and rich in potassium, which can lower blood pressure. They are also low in fat and relatively low in calories, although they do contain more than some other vegetables.
One study suggested that eating potatoes every day could lower blood pressure as much as oatmeal. Patients ate 6-8 small potatoes twice a day for a month and their systolic and diastolic blood pressure dropped. The potatoes used in the study were purple ones the size of a golf ball, and they were microwaved. This was a small study, and the skin of purple potatoes may contain more antioxidants than white potatoes.
The potassium content of all potatoes does play a role in lowering blood pressure, so eat them boiled without any butter and they will be a beneficial food in your heart-healthy diet.
6. Green tea
Green tea has become more popular in the West due to its significant health benefits. It has long been used in Asia for its medicinal benefits. Green tea differs from black tea in that it is not fermented before drying. The fermentation process decreases the beneficial effects.
Studies have found that people who green tea daily reduce their risks of cardiovascular disease. The effect is believed to come from the antioxidants known as catechins that have multiple cardio benefits.
Green tea improves the function of the endothelial cells. When these cells are not functioning properly, this plays a major role in the clogging of the arteries.
Lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease may be as easy as making green tea a regular part of your life. Most studies have found that it significantly lowers LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In these studies, capsules containing catechins, the active polyphenols in green tea, were used.
Be aware that green tea contains oxalate, which can cause kidney stones. Drinking more than five cups a day may have more risks than benefits. But drinking even one cup a day has heart-health benefits such as improving blood flow around the body due to relaxing the arteries.
Pomegranates have traditionally been used in many cultures for medicinal purposes. Ruby-red pomegranates contain many antioxidants. These include polyphenols and anthocyanins, which promote heart function and help prevent the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries.
In one study, a daily dose of pomegranate juice for three months caused improvement in blood flow to the heart and lowered blood pressure.
When blood pressure is too high, the heart has to work harder to circulate blood and can become weaker as a result. Scientists have found that the oxidation of LDL leads to the formation of plaque inside the arteries. The potent antioxidants in pomegranates work against this oxidation.
Pomegranates are also a good source of vitamin K, vitamins B6, B5 and E, folate and potassium.
Some research has shown that a daily half-glass of pomegranate juice as part of a healthy diet is safe. An 8-ounce serving contains about 150 calories. Other research shows that even drinking just 2 ounces of pomegranate juice has a beneficial effect.
Be aware that pomegranate can interfere with cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering medications, and may affect the way blood thinners work. Be sure to check with your doctor if you’re on prescription medications for these conditions.
Tomatoes are packed with nutritional value and rich in antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin A and C, potassium and beta-carotene. Vitamin B6 and folate reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with higher risk of heart disease. Potassium is well-known to lower blood pressure. The niacin in tomatoes can lower elevated blood cholesterol levels.
Lycopene is the bright-red carotene that gives tomatoes their color. This antioxidant has many heart-healthy effects. Oxidized LDL causes plaque in the coronary arteries that can cause a heart attack, and lycopene helps prevent this. Eating tomatoes can also help to decrease inflammatory markers associated with heart attack and stroke, especially in overweight people.
Some studies show eating tomatoes can have the greatest benefit after early heart disease has developed, so it is never too late to make some changes to your diet. Tomatoes are low in sugar and calories. They can be added to the diet in countless different ways, such as including them in salads, soups, casseroles and omelettes.
Lycopene supplements can be taken, but there’s no substitute for eating fresh tomatoes. Eating just one tomato a day has many beneficial effects on the heart.
3. Red wine
Too much alcohol can have a very negative effect on the body, but drinking a small amount of red wine is believed to lower the risk of heart disease. (Drinking more than one or two glasses a day has the opposite effect).
It is believed that the polyphenols and resveratrol found in red wine create the beneficial effect. Some research suggests that any type of alcohol in moderation has the same effect, and other studies found little evidence the resveratrol in red wine can be linked with any real heart benefits. Scientists are still researching the connection between red wine and heart health to learn more.
The fact that red wine is widely regarded as healthy for your heart does not provide an excuse to consume large amounts. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is unhealthy, especially when you get older and your body becomes less able to metabolize the alcohol.
The resveratrol found in red wine can also be obtained from non-alcohol sources such as grapes and natural peanut butter. However, having a glass of red wine a day does not have any harmful effects and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy it as part of a healthy diet.
From a nutritional standpoint, soybeans are important to the cultures that focus on plant-based diets. In many Asian countries, soybeans and foods made from them, such as tofu, soymilk, tempeh and miso are a staple.
In Western countries, soy foods have become increasingly popular due to the exploration of Asian cuisine and as a substitute for meat and dairy products in a plant-based diet. The evidence from various studies suggests that it is not so much adding soy to a diet that reduces risks of heart disease, but eating it instead of other unhealthy foods.
Soy products such as soy milk and tofu are a way to add protein to the diet without adding unhealthy fat. Studies found that people who consumed 50 grams of soy protein a day instead of dairy products had reduced levels of LDL cholesterol. Soy milk, for instance, can help decrease LDL cholesterol because it’s high in isoflavones.
Soy milk also contains niacin, which helps boost circulation. Soybeans are high in fiber and isoflavones. A tablespoon and a half of soybean oil a day may be used to replace saturated fat to reduce the risks of heart disease. Soy’s protein, fatty acid and isoflavone content may work toward improving heart health when soy foods are included in the diet.
1. Chia seeds
The chia plant is a member of the mint family and originates from Mexico and South America. The seeds of this plant were consumed by the Aztecs, and now the Western world is discovering their benefits.
Chia seeds may be small, but don’t underestimate their health benefits. They are full of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and protein. They have been found to help reduce plaque buildup and bad cholesterol as well as lower blood pressure and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Chia seeds become gelatinous when mixed with a liquid, which is why they are now found in many drinks. These drinks keep you full longer and can help you resist snacking between meals. This can help you maintain your weight, and a healthy weight means a healthy heart. They have a mild taste, so they can be added to foods without changing the flavor.
Sprinkle them on yogurt or on a salad. Add them to a smoothie or to your oatmeal in the morning. They can even be used as a baking substitute for egg. Be sure to drink plenty of water when consuming chia seeds, and don’t consume more than two tablespoons of seeds daily.