The Top 12 Foods in a Heart Healthy Diet
People with high blood pressure or atherosclerosis rarely have any symptoms. They can go for a long time thinking their heart is fine. Then suddenly, they feel a sharp pain in their chest. If their doctor tells them that there’s a problem with their heart or cholesterol level, they’re likely to change their lifestyle. Unfortunately, a lifestyle change is usually not enough, and they’ll have to take medication. If only they had started paying attention to their cardiovascular health earlier…
In fact, if you make healthy changes early enough, you can improve your heart health. Start including the right foods in a heart-healthy diet now. We’ll tell you the top 12 foods that are good for your heart.
Which Foods are Good for Your Heart?
1. Fatty fish
Fatty fish (e.g., mackerel, herring, trout, or sardines) are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These vital fatty acids have immense benefits for your cardiovascular system. They can even help prevent heart disease.(1) Including these types of fish in your diet regularly can also reduce your cholesterol by increasing the “good” cholesterol (HDL).
Kale (and other green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard) is packed with vitamins and minerals. One of those is vitamin K, which is important for your heart health.(2) A meta-analysis including eight studies showed that the regular consumption of green leafy vegetables could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by almost 16%.(3)
Tomatoes produce a secondary metabolite called lycopene. This is an antioxidant that can reduce inflammation in the body.(4) Antioxidants have a powerful effect on reducing LDL cholesterol, which is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Lycopene-rich foods lower LDL levels and increase beneficial HDL cholesterol in the blood.
Studies show that eating avocados regularly can have a positive effect on your HDL cholesterol.(5) This is due to their high monounsaturated fat content.
Legumes are the real deal. These superfoods not only regulate your blood sugar and keep your digestion working smoothly, but they are also an important part of a heart-healthy diet. Lentils, beans, chickpeas, and other legumes reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol and also help decrease inflammation in your body.(6) Try to include legumes in your diet at least four times a week.
Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These are considered some of the healthiest foods you can eat; plus, they can help prevent cardiovascular disease.(7)
7. Whole Grain Foods
Fiber is a very important component in a heart-healthy diet. Whole grain products are high in fiber and, as a result, lower your LDL cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease.(8) Try to include whole grain foods in your diet on a daily basis, such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole grain pasta, or whole grain bread.
Walnuts are an excellent source of healthy micronutrients for your heart and brain.(9) However, don’t forget about other kinds of nuts like hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews, which also have a protective effect. Eat a handful of nuts each day for a healthy heart.
Like nuts, many types of seeds are great for your heart. These include flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds. High in antioxidants, these seeds improve your circulation while also reducing blood pressure and cholesterol.(10)
10. Olive oil
Olive oil is a staple food in the Mediterranean diet. There are plenty of reasons this is considered one of the healthiest foods in the world. The antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil protect your heart (look for extra virgin and cold-pressed).(11)
Olive oil should not be heated, which means don’t use it for sautéeing or frying. Drizzle it over tomatoes with mozzarella and basil or a crisp salad instead.
Garlic is another important part of a heart-healthy diet. The compound allicin lowers cholesterol and blood pressure; plus it has positive results in the treatment of atherosclerosis.(12)
12. Dark chocolate
No, you’re not dreaming. Chocolate with a high cocoa content (at least 70%) can protect your heart. Studies show that dark chocolate can reduce the risk of hardening of the arteries.(13) It’s all about the amount here; try to keep your intake moderate (~ 15g), considering the high fat and sugar content.
One of the best things you can do for your cardiovascular health is to eat a balanced diet loaded with a wide variety of healthy foods. Keep your heart strong by staying physically active and limiting alcohol consumption, animal fats and salt, and quitting smoking.