9 Heart-Healthy Foods to Incorporate into Your Diet
Eating a heart-healthy diet is simpler than you think. These 9 heart-healthy foods provide nutrients and fats that your heart needs to do its job correctly and maintain healthy functioning.
1. Whole Grains
Eating whole grains over refined, processed ones can have big benefits for your heart. Whole grains have higher fiber content, which can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. An analysis1 of 45 studies on whole grain consumption linked to heart health showed that people who consumed 3 or more servings of whole grains every day had, on average, a 22% lower risk of heart disease. Some easy-to-find whole grains include oats, brown rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, and rye. Try using whole wheat bread in a sandwich, or substituting brown rice for white rice in a recipe.
2. Leafy Greens
Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and chard are high in vitamin K, which helps to promote proper blood clotting and can help keep your arteries clean and flexible. Leafy greens have also been linked with lower blood pressure and healthy arterial function, thanks to their high concentration of dietary nitrates.
Avocados are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which is linked with reduced heart health risks. They are also high in potassium, another heart-healthy nutrient, providing nearly 30% of your daily potassium requirement in just one avocado. In a study2 of 45 obese test subjects, those who ate one or more avocado a day had significantly reduced LDL cholesterol. Another study3 of 17,567 people who regularly consumed avocados showed a 50% reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.
Beans or legumes are a good source of "resistant starch," a type of starch that resists digestion and acts more like soluble fiber. It feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut, which supports healthy digestive function. It also helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, which has positive effects on metabolic health. In a study4 of 16 people, consuming pinto beans helped lower blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels. Beans have also been linked with normal blood pressure, which may help reduce heart health risks.
5. Dark Chocolate
Yes, chocolate has heart-healthy benefits! Dark chocolate, that is. Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants, such as flavonoids, which could help the health of your heart. In one study,5 people who ate dark chocolate five times a week had a 57% reduced chance of coronary heart disease, while those who ate dark chocolate just two times a week had a 32% reduced risk of calcified plaque in the arteries. Keep in mind, however, that these studies may not account for other lifestyle factors that may have contributed to these results.
Almonds and walnuts are rich in nutrients that are linked with a healthier heart. Walnuts are high in fiber, copper, magnesium, and manganese, which may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the cardiac system. Almonds, like avocados, are high in monounsaturated fats and fiber, among a long list of other minerals. Both monounsaturated fats and fiber have been linked with lower risk of heart disease, as well as lower LDL cholesterol. Almonds are also high in calories, however, so watch your portions.
Like nuts, seeds are full of protein and minerals. Chia, sunflower, flax, and hemp seeds are all full of fiber and omega fatty acids, which are fantastic for your heart. Multiple studies have shown that seeds can help manage inflammation, blood pressure, and blood triglycerides. One study6 showed a connection between hemp seeds and reduced levels of cardiac inflammation, thanks to a mineral called arginine. Another showed a link between flax seeds and lowered blood pressure.
8. Green Tea
Green tea has been used as a medicinal tea for centuries, thanks to its high antioxidant content. Green tea is packed with polyphenols and catechins, which can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, important factors for metabolic health. Green tea has been linked with benefits for metabolism, blood sugar management, and more.
9. Fatty Fish and Omega-3s
Eating fatty fish, such as salmon, has been linked with heart health benefits, including reducing blood triglycerides and managing blood pressure. This is mostly thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Omega-3s are a type of unsaturated fatty acid known for their positive effects on managing inflammation in the body. By eating just two servings of fatty fish per week, you may be able to lower your heart health risks. Some of the seafood7 with high concentrations of omega-3s include:
- Atlantic mackerel
- Lake trout
- Light tuna
These nutritious foods are generally recommended for their heart health benefits. However, everyone's heart health needs are unique, so please check with your doctor before making any radical changes to your diet.
1. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies, 2016 Jun 14
3. Avocado Consumption Is Associated With Better Diet Quality and Nutrient Intake, and Lower Metabolic Syndrome Risk in US Adults: Results From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008, 2013 Jan 2;12:1. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-12-1.
4. Pinto Bean Consumption Reduces Biomarkers for Heart Disease Risk, 2007 Jun;26(3):243-9. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2007.10719607.
5. Chocolate Consumption Is Inversely Associated With Prevalent Coronary Heart Disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study, 2011 Apr;30(2):182-7. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2010.08.005. Epub 2010 Sep 19.
6. Association Between Dietary Arginine and C-reactive Protein, 2005 Feb;21(2):125-30. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2004.03.021.