Heart problems are still the No. 1 killer of Americans. We know that exercise can make a tremendous 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 beneficial for your heart health are not as boring as you may think.
5. Coldwater Fish
Eating certain fish can benefit heart health. Cold-water fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring have extra fat, called omega-3 fatty acid, which strengthens the heart. Omega-3s lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, keeping blood flowing and preventing irregular heartbeat and plaque buildup in arteries. To benefit, the American Heart Association suggests consuming fatty fish twice a week or using omega-3 dietary supplements.
4. Dark Chocolate
Believe it or not, dark chocolate is good for your heart. But hold on, not just any chocolate bar- it needs to be 60 to 70 percent cacao. Why? Well, you see, according to Australian researchers, flavonoid-rich dark chocolate reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by improving blood pressure. In other words, flavonoids make blood vessels supple, promoting steady blood flow.
In fact, a study published in the 2012 edition of the British Medical Journal found that amongst participants with high blood pressure- those who indulged in dark chocolate daily were more likely to achieve reduced blood pressure levels.
As they say, “All luxuries should be consumed in moderation”. So don’t go trading your dinner for a chocolate bar. Just a few squares or roughly 1 ounce of rich dark chocolate a day is enough. Plus, eating quality dark chocolate may reduce nonfatal heart attacks and strokes in those at higher risk, as seen in a 2012 study. However, there’s a catch- sorry milk chocolate lovers, you won’t enjoy these health benefits.
Avocados may be high in fat and calories, but it’s not all bad news. Most of the fat in avocados is the “good” kind – monounsaturated fat. This type of fat is actually beneficial for your heart health, as it can lower harmful LDL cholesterol and maintain levels of good HDL cholesterol.
According to Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian and nutrition editor with the Mayo Clinic, eating avocados has an anti-inflammatory effect that can help prevent atherosclerosis. These fruits are also high in antioxidants and potassium, making them a nutritious choice.
By incorporating avocado slices to your salad or swapping butter with mashed avocado spread, you can give your heart health a boost. Just remember to be mindful of portion sizes, as avocados are still relatively high in calories.
2. Citrus Fruits
Incorporating citrus fruits into your diet can work wonders for your heart health. Not only are they a hidden source of soluble fiber, but they’re also rich in vitamin C – an essential nutrient that combats heart-damaging free radicals. For those suffering from high blood pressure, potassium-rich oranges and grapefruits can help balance out sodium levels. And the flavonoids found in these juicy fruits have been shown to lower the risk of ischemic stroke. But beware if you’re taking cholesterol-lowering statins, as grapefruit can interfere with the medication. So go ahead and enjoy a half-grapefruit for breakfast or snack on an orange during a long meeting – your heart will thank you!
Oatmeal’s high soluble fiber content is notorious for soaking up excess cholesterol in your body, promoting heart health by keeping cholesterol levels safe. It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract, drawing out cholesterol so it can’t be absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, incorporating oatmeal or barley into your diet can have significant cholesterol benefits.
If you’ve developed a distaste for your mother’s oatmeal, don’t worry! You only need one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal or a cup of cooked barley to glean these advantages. Add ground nutmeg, cinnamon, crushed walnuts, and fresh berries for a delicious upgrade that also boosts your soluble fiber intake. Avoid instant oatmeal, as it often packs in sugar. Instead, opt for quick-cooking oats or old-fashioned oats. Keep your heart happy– start your day with a bowl of oatmeal!