20 Heart Healthy Foods You Must Include In Your Diet
Eating for heart health means making smart choices, like opting for fruits and vegetables, while cutting back on saturated fats and added sugars. These heart-healthy food choices can support your heart's well-being and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Your diet is a key factor in heart health and can significantly affect your risk of heart disease. The foods you choose can influence important heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, inflammation, and triglycerides. Here's a list of 20 foods that can help you maximize your heart health.
Almonds are highly nutritious, containing essential vitamins and minerals crucial for heart health. They are abundant in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as fiber, which are vital nutrients that can help protect against heart disease.
These healthy fats in almonds can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels, reducing plaque buildup and maintaining clear arteries. However, it's important to remember that almonds are calorie-dense, so it's advisable to consume them in moderation.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monosaturated fats, which can help reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease. Research indicates that avocados can help improve LDL cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and vascular function, all of which are vital for heart health.
Additionally, avocados are a good source of potassium, a key nutrient for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. You can enjoy the fruit on their own or blend them into guacamole, possibly with other heart-healthy foods like tomatoes. However, it's important to be cautious of portion sizes because avocados are calorie-dense.
3. Beans, Peas, Chickpeas, and Lentils
Beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils, referred to as pulses or legumes, have been found to have a significant impact on reducing levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. These foods are also rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidant polyphenols, all of which offer various beneficial effects on heart health and overall well-being.
Consuming beans and legumes doesn't just lower LDL cholesterol but also improves glycemic control and reduces blood pressure. Moreover, it may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially among people with diabetes.
Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, are loaded with essential nutrients that play a significant role in heart health. They are an abundant source of antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against inflammation and oxidative stress that can contribute to the development of heart disease.
Daily consumption of blueberries may potentially boost the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which aid in controlling blood pressure and blood clotting. Berries are also a great source of iron, fiber, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium, all while being low in fat.
5. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits like bergamots, lemons, grapefruit, limes, oranges, pomelos, and mandarins serve as an abundant source of flavonoids. A 2017 review in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that these flavonoids may reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Consider consuming citrus fruit in their whole form to benefit from the fiber they provide. You can also enjoy small portions of fresh-squeezed or 100% citrus juice. However, it's important to note that grapefruit products can potentially interfere with the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins and other medications, as cautioned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Another widely consumed beverage, coffee, may have a positive impact on heart health. According to a 2018 review in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, coffee consumption has been associated with reduced heart disease mortality.
It is generally considered safe to consume two to five cups of coffee (16 to 40 ounces) daily, with caffeine intakes of up to 400 mg per day, which is linked to the most significant beneficial effects across various health outcomes. It's worth noting that some individuals metabolize caffeine more slowly due to a genetic variant, which can potentially have adverse effects on heart health.
7. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate boasts a high amount of antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help improve heart heart. Moderate consumption of dark chocolate (less than six servings a week) has been associated with reduced risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.
However, it's important to note that while some studies suggest a connection, they may not fully consider other contributing factors. Furthermore, chocolate can be rich in sugar and calories, which can counteract its potential health benefits. Make sure to choose a dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%.
Edamame, often found in Asian cuisine, is an immature soybean. Like other soy items, edamame is rich in soy isoflavones, a flavonoid that may help lower cholesterol levels and boost heart health. Including soy protein in your diet may lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
If combined with other changes to diet and lifestyle, even slightly reducing your cholesterol levels can greatly impact your risk of heart disease. Edamame and other soy products are also a good source of other heart-healthy nutrients, including dietary fiber and antioxidants.
9. Fatty Fish and Fish Oil
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their potential benefits for heart health. Omega-3s in these fish might help protect against heart disease and slightly lower the risk of heart-related events and irregular heart rhythms.
Eating fish over the long term may help maintain lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and systolic blood pressure. If you're not a fan of seafood, you can also consider taking fish oil supplements to get your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
10. Garlic and Onions
Allium vegetables, such as garlic and onions, are known to lower inflammation in the body. They can also improve blood flow and circulation. Eating these vegetables regularly can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Garlic, in particular, contains allicin, a compound that is believed to have many therapeutic effects. It can also inhibit platelet development, which may prevent blood clotting and lower the risk of strokes. To get the most out of garlic, eat it raw or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking to maximize the benefits of allicin.
11. Green Tea
From improved insulin sensitivity to increased fat burning to cancer prevention, green tea offers an array of health benefits. Polyphenols and catechins found in green tea can act as antioxidants to avert cell damage, reduce inflammation, and protect the well-being of your heart.
Research has shown regular consumption of green tea increases leptin, an essential hormone that reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol and regulates our appetite. Green tea extract may also help improve glycemic control and maintain blood pressure levels.
12. Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, collard greens, and chard are known for their wealth of essential nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. In particular, they are high in vitamin K, which aids in protecting your arteries and promoting proper blood clotting.
They're also a great source of dietary nitrates, which help to open blood vessels to let oxygen-rich blood flow to your heart. They can further help lower blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness, and enhance the health of blood vessel linings. Eating more leafy greens is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
A cozy warm bowl of oatmeal keeps you full, prevents cravings, and maintains steady blood sugar levels, which is helpful for people with diabetes. Oats, with their soluble fiber, can also benefit your heart by lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and reducing the risk of heart disease.
For the healthiest choice, skip instant oatmeal, which can have added sugar, and opt for old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats. The best results come from using steel-cut or slow-cooked oats. If you're baking pancakes, muffins, or other treats, replace one-third of the flour with oats for added goodness.
14. Olive Oil
Olive oil, a healthy fat made from smashed olives, is rich in antioxidants, which play a crucial role in relieving inflammation and reducing the risk of chronic disease. It is also loaded with monosaturated fatty acids, which have been linked with improved heart health.
In addition to antioxidants, olive oil also contains a high amount of oleic acid, which can help prevent and even treat hypertension. For the best flavor, opt for cold-pressured olive oil and use it within six months. You can simply drizzle the oil over cooked meals or add it to sauces or vinaigrettes.
15. Some Seeds
Seeds like chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds are all excellent sources of heart-healthy nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Countless research has found that incorporating these seeds into your diet can improve various heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation, and triglycerides.
Chia seeds are packed with fiber, omega-3, and antioxidants. Eating them in moderation can lower LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and prevent blood clots. Hemp seeds, especially, are full of arginine, an amino acid that can lower inflammation markers in the blood.
Adding milled flaxseed to your diet may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and it can also benefit conditions like gut health and diabetes.
16. Sweet Potatoes
Eating potassium-rich sweet potatoes helps promote a healthy heart. Higher potassium intake allows you to excrete more sodium lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk for heart disease according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Try switching from white potatoes to sweet potatoes. They have a lower glycemic index, so they won't cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. Plus, they contain fiber, vitamin A, and lycopene. Enhance their natural sweetness with a dash of cinnamon and lime juice instead of sugary toppings.
Just one ounce (two tablespoons) of this nutrient-rich plant butter, made from ground sesame seeds, offers approximately three grams of fiber and five grams of plant protein. Other nutrients include zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, and manganese, in addition to antioxidants.
The phytosterols found in tahini are believed to improve artery health and lower blood cholesterol. Tahini serves as a perfect alternative for people with nut sensitivities or allergies. It forms an excellent base for creamy, dairy-free sauces and dressings.
Foods like tofu, which are rich in isoflavones, a soy plant compound similar to estrogen, might reduce the risk of heart disease, especially in younger and postmenopausal women, as suggested by the AHA. Tofu is also packed with heart-healthy minerals, fiber, and polyunsaturated fats.
To enjoy tofu, chop the firm variety, marinate it, and then grill or stir-fry, using less oil. You can also add tofu to soups for protein without adding too much fat.
Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a natural plant pigment that possesses powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help counteract harmful free radicals, preventing inflammation and oxidative damage, which can lead to various heart diseases.
Low blood levels of lycopene can contribute to an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke. Incorporating tomato products and lycopene supplements into your diet can positively affect blood pressure, blood lipids, and endothelial function. Cooked tomatoes and tomato products are easier for the body to absorb lycopene from compared to fresh tomatoes.
Walnuts are rich in fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, manganese, and copper. Studies suggest that adding a few servings of walnuts to your diet can offer protection against heart disease. Some types of tree nuts, especially walnuts, have strong evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease.
Moreover, these nuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), which has a positive impact on cardiovascular health. Previous research has demonstrated that nuts in general, and walnuts specifically, are linked to reduced risks of heart disease and stroke.
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