Heart Healthy Foods
What you're putting on your plate affects more than just how your clothes fit. Watching your portion sizes, incorporating more exercise into your routine, and including more heart-healthy foods in your diet can also help lower your risk of heart disease.
Research from the American Heart Association shows that more than 92 million Americans are living with heart disease. Although the statistics are startling, it's not all doom and gloom. Julie Zumpano, a Registered Dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, shares good news: "You can definitely reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating certain foods every day."
Just what are those foods? Check out this list of heart-healthy foods that you may want to add to your shopping basket. Some might even surprise you.
Fatty fish like mackerel, sardines, tuna, and salmon deliver potent doses of omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a variety of health benefits. These include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Lower total cholesterol
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Improved blood sugar levels
Incorporating more vegetables of all kinds is a great heart-healthy move. For example, carrots, red bell peppers, and acorn squash are all chock-full of carotenoids, fiber, and other vitamins that contribute to heart health. Leafy greens, broccoli, and asparagus may be the superstars of the veggie family.
- Greens: Options like collard greens, spinach, beet greens, and kale are loaded with minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins, including vitamin K. Research suggests that vitamin K helps protect your arteries and improves the way the cells inside your blood vessels work.
- Broccoli: Belonging to the cruciferous family of veggies, broccoli packs a heart-healthy punch of nutrients like vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, fiber, calcium, and potassium.
- Asparagus: This tender veggie is low in calories but high in nutrients like folate, beta-carotene, and fiber.
There's real wisdom in all that advice to eat more fruits and vegetables. Like veggies, most fruits are loaded with the nutrients you need to protect your heart health. Wondering which ones to choose? Consider these tasty options:
- Berries, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are all high in phytonutrients and antioxidants that protect your cardiovascular system from inflammation. They're also linked to lower blood pressure levels, lower LDL cholesterol, and improved blood clotting.
- Papaya, cantaloupe, and oranges are good sources of fiber, potassium, beta-carotene, and magnesium.
- Tomatoes offer vitamin C, lycopene, and a combination of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene.
- Avocadoes contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which are linked to lower cholesterol levels, and potassium, which supports overall heart health.
Whole grains give you more complete nutrition than refined grains can. This is because they contain all three parts of the grain: the germ, bran, and endosperm. As a result, whole grains deliver hefty doses of fiber, which helps fight high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and your overall risk of developing heart disease. When you're shopping, read ingredient labels and choose foods with "whole grain" or "whole wheat" listed. Whole grains to consider include:
- Brown rice
Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat them, the more you …support your heart health? Beans such as pinto, kidney, black, and cannellini all contain resistant starch. This is a type of starch that's associated with lower risk of heart disease, decreased levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, and reduced blood pressure levels.
Nuts and Seeds
Go ahead and add a sprinkle to your salad. Not only are nuts and seeds a tasty addition to any dish, but they can also help keep your heart healthy. A few to consider include:
- Almonds: These nutrient-dense nuts are full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, and minerals. They're also linked to decreased belly fat, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and increased levels of HDL cholesterol, also known as "good" cholesterol.
- Walnuts: If you want to add potent micronutrients like copper, manganese, and magnesium to your diet, a serving of walnuts can help. Research suggests that eating walnuts could help lower cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, and reduce inflammation.
- Seeds: Flax, hemp, and chia are all known for their heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and key nutrients that protect your heart and cardiovascular system while lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation.
A Few Surprising Additions
While it's hardly shocking that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains made it to this list of heart-healthy foods, these selections might raise an eyebrow or two:
- Wine: Drinking one four-ounce glass of red wine per day (two for men) has been linked to boosting HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.
- Beer: Although overindulging isn't healthy for your heart or any other organ, recent research suggests that beer is as good for your heart as red wine is. Moderate consumption could reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.
- Burgers: You might think burgers are off the menu if you're eating for heart health, but if you choose grass-fed beef, you can go ahead and chow down. Grass-fed beef contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids along with vitamin E, which protects your ticker.