Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 600,000 people in the United States die of heart disease every year. Worldwide, that number is much higher.
Fortunately, there are specific risk factors for heart disease you can control. You probably already know that the foods you eat can play a role in your heart health. Certain foods may have an impact on cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, which may influence your risk of heart disease.
There is more to eating a healthy diet than limiting processed food and the drive-thru at fast-food restaurants. But where do you start?
When you shop for groceries, head to the produce section and stock up on lots of fruits and vegetables that contain minerals and vitamins that are good for your heart. Veggies are also usually high in soluble fiber, which is another plus for heart health.
Next, pick up some fresh herbs and lemons to add a little more flavor to foods. Swing by the seafood aisle and select fresh fish. You can also look for the “Heart-Check” mark on the foods you choose. When the mark is on food labels, it means the food has been certified by the American Heart Association to meet certain heart-healthy nutritional requirements.
Continue reading to learn about 15 foods that are good for your heart.
Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is thought to be good for your heart for a few reasons. Omega-3 may decrease plaque build-up in the arteries, lower blood pressure, and heart rate. To keep salmon a heart-healthy food, skip the butter or cream sauces. Instead, grill it and top with a little lemon. If you’re not a fan of salmon, consider eating other oily fish, such as albacore tuna, trout, or mackerel.
Walnuts make a great healthy snack on the go. Plus, it’s a good source of magnesium and fiber, which can provide heart health benefits. According to a literature review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 13 studies with 365 participants were analyzed. Participants who ate walnuts, which provided 10 to 24 percent of their total calorie intake, lowered their LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
3. Black Beans
Black beans are high in soluble fiber, which has heart health benefits. Soluble fiber may help prevent some cholesterol from being broken down and digested, which over time can lower cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber also helps control blood sugar levels and makes you feel full, which are both good for weight management. Incorporate black beans into your diet by adding them to soups and salads.
4. Green Tea
Green tea is known for its health benefits including its antioxidant effects. Some studies have indicated that the antioxidant effects may protect the heart. Green tea contains some caffeine. If you’re trying to limit your caffeine, look for decaffeinated.
Blueberries contain antioxidants including resveratrol and flavonoids, which help protect against inflammation. Blueberries are also a great source of folate and vitamin B6, which may inhibit the buildup of a compound called homocysteine in the body. High levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease. According to research in Nutritional Journal, high levels of homocysteine is a cardiovascular risk factor that can be modified through diet. Blueberries are easy to add to your meals. Put them in a smoothie, yogurt, or cereal.
6. Dark Chocolate
That's right. You read it correctly. Chocolate may have some heart health benefits. But not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids that are thought to relax the arteries and improve blood flow. Don’t go overboard with the chocolate. It still contains a lot of sugar and calories.
Raisins are high in potassium, which may lower blood pressure. According to a study published in the American College of Cardiology, people who routinely snacked on raisins had a decrease in systolic blood pressure of between 6 to 12 mmHg.
The old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” may not always hold true. But apples are a heart-healthy food. Not only do apples contain soluble fiber, but they are also high in pectin. Pectin is thought to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol. When you’re snacking on an apple, leave the skin on. The skin contains a large percentage of the antioxidants.
9. Olive Oil
A heart-healthy food list would not be complete without olive oil. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, which are known as healthy fats. According to the Mayo Clinic, monounsaturated fats are thought to decrease low-density cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels. Swap a little olive oil for butter on veggies for a healthier dish.
Carbs sometimes get a bad rap. But oatmeal is one food full of carbohydrates that is good for your health. Oatmeal is packed full of fiber, folate, and potassium. Fiber-filled foods may help decrease LDL cholesterol. Choose steel-cut oatmeal and avoid instant, which can be loaded with extra sugar.
Avocados also contain monounsaturated fats, which may have heart health benefits, such as lowering total cholesterol. Keep in mind; avocados are high in calories, so watch your portion size.
Kale is a leafy green vegetable that might boost your cardiovascular health. Kale is a good source of nitrates, which may reduce arterial stiffness and decrease blood pressure. Both factors play a role in improving the function of the lining of the blood vessels. If that isn’t enough to make you add a little kale to your salad, it’s also high in vitamin K, which promotes proper blood clotting.
Lycopene is an antioxidant, which combats the negative effects of free radicals. Free radicles are thought to contribute to inflammation in the body. Inflammation is associated with heart disease. In fact, low levels of lycopene are linked to an increased risk of a heart attack in men, according to a study published in the European Journal of Public Health.
Flaxseeds not only contain fiber including lignans, but it is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 acids and lignans both provide heart benefits including lowering blood pressure and protecting against inflammation. Sprinkle a little flaxseed onto yogurt or in your oatmeal in the morning.
Everyone knows that oranges are a good source of vitamin C, but they may also be good for your cardiovascular system. Oranges contain hesperidin, which is believed to improve blood flow to the heart. Oranges also contain flavonoid, which may reduce arterial inflammation. Stick to a whole orange instead of orange juice. You’ll avoid added sugar. Plus, an orange is fewer calories than an eight-ounce glass of orange juice.