Heart problems are still the No. 1 killer of Americans. We know that exercise can make a huge difference to our heart health, but our eating habits can also prevent heart disease, including strokes and heart attacks. Julie Zumpano, a dietitian in the Preventive Cardiology and Nutrition Program at Cleveland Clinic, says that “You can definitely reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating certain foods every day. There is a great variety of fruits and vegetables that are good for your heart”. Although there isn’t a cure-all food, we’ve found the best foods for heart health.
You already know you need to ditch salty, fried and processed foods to keep your heart healthy. You might not know the best foods for heart health —the ones that actually improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure and provide nutrients that act like little ninja warriors in your bloodstream. The top foods that are particularly beneficial for your heart health are not as boring as you may think.
5.) Coldwater Fish
Some types of fish are particularly beneficial for your heart health. Cold-water fish—think sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring—have an extra layer of fat to help them survive through frigid temperatures. While the thought of extra fat may send you running the other direction, your heart actually needs this fat, known as omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat, not only drop your bad LDL cholesterol, they help raise your good HDL cholesterol. You want that. The more HDL cholesterol you have in your body, the more protection your heart has. “Omega-3s have an anti-clotting effect, so they keep your blood flowing,” says Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD, Bickford Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont. The omega-3 fatty acids also lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up inside the arteries). The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least twice a week or taking omega-3 dietary supplements.
4.) Dark Chocolate
Yes, you read that right. Dark chocolate is good for your heart. You need chocolate that is at least 60 to 70 percent cacao so not the typical candy bars you find at the checkout at the grocery store. According to Australian researchers, dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids that can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by improving blood pressure. Flavonoids make blood vessels flexible, keeping blood flowing through steadily. The study, published in the 2012 edition of the “British Medical Journal,” found that among research participants who already had high blood pressure, those who ate dark chocolate on a daily basis were more likely to have reduced blood pressure level over time.
Don’t start skipping dinner and having a chocolate bar instead, however. All you need is a few squares each day, or roughly 1 ounce. In 2012, a study even showed that eating quality dark chocolate daily can help to reduce nonfatal heart attacks and stroke in people at high risk. Unfortunately, there aren’t any health benefits of the consumption of milk chocolate.
It’s true — avocados are high in fat and calories. But don’t let that fool you. The majority of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated fat—or “good fat”. Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian and nutrition editor with the Mayo Clinic, explains that these fats can actually protect your heart by lowering your harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol. They also maintain the good cholesterol level in your blood known as high-density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol. Adding a few avocado slices to your salad is a boost to your heart health. The consumption of avocados also has an anti-inflammatory effect so atherosclerosis can be prevented. They’re also high in antioxidants and potassium. So try to use mashed avocado as a spread instead of butter, add slices to a salad or blend it with some tomatoes. However, you should keep your portions modest as avocados are high in calories.
2.) Citrus Fruits
Having half a grapefruit for breakfast every morning or snacking on an orange while trying to keep your eyes open during your boss’ presentation does wonders for your heart. Citrus fruits are a hidden source of soluble fibre, but that’s not their only perk. You’ll get lots of vitamin C, a nutrient that combats heart-damaging free radicals. Plus, you’ll add potassium to your diet to balance out your sodium levels, so you can say bye-bye to high blood pressure. Oranges and grapefruits also contain high amounts of flavonoids which have been shown to lower the risk of ischemic stroke. Citrus fruits, especially red grapefruit, help to lower bad LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, if you’re taking cholesterol-lowering statins, the consumptions of grapefruit will interfere with the medication.
Oatmeal is notorious for its high soluble fibre content. This is the type of fibre that soaks up some of the excess cholesterol in your body and brings your cholesterol level back into a safe zone—which is essential for a healthy heart. “It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract and soaks up the cholesterol so it is eliminated from the body and not absorbed into the bloodstream,” says Lauren Graf, a registered dietician, and co-director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
If your mother force-fed you oatmeal as a child, you may despise it as an adult. However, it doesn’t have to be bland and boring. You only need one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal or a cup of cooked barley for the cholesterol benefits. Spruce it up with ground nutmeg, cinnamon, crushed walnuts and a handful of fresh berries. You’ll be sneaking in even more soluble fibre, making your heart especially happy. However, you should avoid eating instant oatmeal as it often contains sugar. Opt for quick-cooking oats or even old-fashioned oats.