June 14, 2024

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17 Incredibly Heart-Healthy Foods

11 min read

Certain foods, including leafy greens, whole grains, and fatty fish, can benefit your heart health and lower your risk of heart disease.

Diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death for adults in the US (1).

The food you eat can influence heart disease risk factors, including:

  • blood pressure
  • triglycerides
  • cholesterol levels
  • inflammation

Here are 15 foods you should eat to maximize your heart health.

Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are well known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

In particular, they’re a great source of vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and promote proper blood clotting (2).

They’re also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness, and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels (3).

The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that an increased leafy green vegetable intake was associated with more significant benefits to cardiovascular health and a lower risk of heart disease than other fruits and vegetables (4).

Summary

Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K and nitrates, which can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function. A higher intake of leafy greens is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Whole grains include all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain:

Common types of whole grains include:

  • whole wheat
  • brown rice
  • oats
  • rye
  • barley
  • buckwheat
  • quinoa

Refined carbohydrates increase the risk of coronary heart disease. But whole grains are protective. An extra 1 or 2 daily servings of these foods increases or decreases risk by approximately 10-20% (5).

Multiple studies have found that eating more whole grains can benefit your heart health.

The AHA recommends eating whole grains rather than refined grains daily can reduce your risk for (6):

  • cardiovascular disease
  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • metabolic syndrome

Adopting a diet rich in plant-based foods, whole grains, low fat dairy products, and sodium intake within recommended limits can help prevent and manage hypertension (7).

When purchasing whole grains, make sure to read the ingredients label carefully. Phrases like “whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” indicate a whole grain product, while words like “wheat flour” or “multigrain” may not.

Summary

Eating whole grains is associated with lower cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are jam-packed with nutrients that play a central role in heart health.

Berries are also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against oxidative stress and inflammation that can contribute to the development of heart disease. Higher anthocyanin intake may raise your risk of coronary artery disease, including heart attack and hypertension (8).

Eating blueberries daily may also improve the function of cells that line the blood vessels (vascular function), which help control blood pressure and blood clotting (8).

According to a review of research, berry consumption may be an effective intervention for metabolic syndrome by helping reduce oxidative stress and inflammation while improving vascular function (9).

Berries can be a satisfying snack or a delicious dessert. Try adding a few different types to your diet to take advantage of their health benefits.

Summary

Berries are rich in antioxidants. Eating them can reduce multiple risk factors for heart disease.

Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and a lower risk of heart disease. Eating at least two servings of avocado each week was linked to a 16% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21% reduced risk of coronary heart disease (10).

A comprehensive review of studies determined that avocado may help improve (11):

  • LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, including levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol
  • triglyceride levels
  • vascular function

Avocados are also rich in potassium, a nutrient essential to heart health, and can help reduce blood pressure. One serving of avocado (150 grams) supplies 725 milligrams of potassium, or about 21% of the amount you need daily, based on the adult male daily adequate intake (12).

Summary

Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats and potassium. They may help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of metabolic syndrome.

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits.

Omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish may have a protective role in the risk of developing heart disease and slightly reduce the risk of CVD events and arrhythmias (13).

Eating fish over the long term may support lower levels of (14):

  • total cholesterol
  • blood triglycerides
  • fasting blood sugar
  • systolic blood pressure

Fish consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and mortality (15).

If you don’t eat much seafood, fish oil is another option for getting your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oil supplements may reduce rates of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, and stroke (16).

Other omega-3 supplements like krill oil or algal oil are popular alternatives.

Summary

Fatty fish and fish oil are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol.

Walnuts are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper, and manganese (17).

Research shows that incorporating a few servings of walnuts into your diet can help protect against heart disease.

Evidence for cardiovascular disease prevention is strong for some varieties of tree nuts, particularly walnuts (18).

Diets supplemented with walnuts may decrease LDL (bad) and total cholesterol (19).

Interestingly, some studies also found that regularly eating nuts, such as walnuts, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease (20).

Summary

Walnuts can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure and may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Beans contain resistant starch, which resists digestion and is fermented by the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Resistant starch can potentially exert a healthy impact on the gut and certain members of its resident microbiota (21).

Multiple studies have also found that eating beans can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease.

In one study of 73 adults with elevated LDL cholesterol, eating canned beans significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (22).

One review found that eating beans and legumes can decrease LDL cholesterol, improve glycemic control and blood pressure, and may reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, especially in people with diabetes (23).

Summary

Beans are high in resistant starch and have been shown to reduce levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and improve glycemic control.

Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health.

Consuming chocolate in moderation (less than six servings a week) may decrease your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (24).

Remember that though some studies show an association, they don’t necessarily account for other factors that may be involved.

Additionally, chocolate can be high in sugar and calories, negating many of its health-promoting properties.

Be sure to pick a high quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

Summary

Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants like flavonoids. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties (25).

Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative damage and inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease.

Low blood levels of lycopene are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke (26).

Increasing the intake of tomato products and lycopene supplementation positively affects blood lipids, blood pressure, and endothelial function (27).

A review of research noted that one serving of raw tomatoes, tomato sauce, or tomato sauce with refined olive oil may lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol (28).

The body absorbs lycopene better from cooked tomatoes and tomato products than fresh tomatoes (28).

Higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels can help remove excess cholesterol and plaque from the arteries to keep your heart healthy and protect against heart disease and stroke (29).

Summary

Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

Almonds are incredibly nutrient-dense, boasting many vitamins and minerals crucial to heart health.

They’re also a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, two important nutrients that can help protect against heart disease (30).

Research suggests that eating almonds can have a powerful effect on your cholesterol levels.

One study involving 48 people with high cholesterol showed that eating 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of almonds daily for 6 weeks reduced belly fat and levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, two risk factors for heart disease (31).

The research also shows that eating almonds is associated with higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which can help reduce plaque buildup and keep your arteries clear (29, 31).

Remember that while almonds are very high in nutrients, they’re also high in calories. Measure your portions and moderate your intake if you’re trying to lose weight.

Summary

Almonds are high in fiber and monounsaturated fats, and have been linked to reductions in cholesterol and belly fat.

Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are all great sources of heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Numerous studies have found that adding these seeds to your diet can improve many heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Hemp seeds are high in arginine, an amino acid associated with reduced blood levels of specific inflammatory markers (32).

Supplementing your diet with milled flaxseed may lower cardiovascular disease and cancer risk and help other conditions like gastrointestinal health and diabetes (33).

Chia seeds are another great food source for heart health, as they contain dietary fibers, antioxidants, and omega‐3 fatty acids. Eating them may help reduce blood pressure, blot clots, and LDL cholesterol (34).

Summary

Human and animal studies have found that eating seeds may improve several heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Garlic has potent medicinal properties that may help improve heart health.

This is thanks to the presence of a compound called allicin, which is believed to have many therapeutic effects (35).

A meta-analysis of 12 trials noted that garlic supplements lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and were as effective as a common prescription drug at reducing blood pressure (36).

Garlic can also inhibit platelet buildup, which may reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke (35).

Be sure to consume garlic raw or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking. This allows for the formation of allicin, maximizing its potential health benefits.

Summary

Garlic and its components have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. They may also help inhibit blood clot formation.

Olive oil is packed with antioxidants, which can relieve inflammation and decrease the risk of chronic disease (37).

It’s also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which many studies have associated with improvements in heart health.

One study from 2014 involving 7,216 adults at high risk for heart disease showed that those who consumed the most olive oil had a 35% lower risk of developing heart disease.

Furthermore, a higher intake of olive oil was associated with a 48% lower risk of dying from heart disease (38).

Olive oil is high in oleic acid and antioxidants and can help prevent and treat hypertension (39).

You can drizzle olive oil over cooked dishes or add it to vinaigrettes and sauces.

Summary

Olive oil is high in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. It has been associated with lower blood pressure and heart disease risk.

Edamame is an immature soybean frequently found in Asian cuisine.

Like other soy products, edamame is rich in soy isoflavones, a type of flavonoid that may help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health.

Including soy protein in your diet may lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (40).

If combined with other changes to diet and lifestyle, even slightly reducing your cholesterol levels can greatly impact your risk of heart disease.

One study showed that including 30 grams of soy protein daily in a lipid-lowering diet improved participants’ blood lipids, reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease (41).

Edamame and other soy products are also a good source of other heart-healthy nutrients, including dietary fiber and antioxidants (42).

Summary

Edamame contains soy isoflavones, which can help decrease cholesterol levels. Edamame also contains fiber and antioxidants, which also benefit heart health.

Green tea may have several health benefits, from increased fat burning to improved insulin sensitivity to cancer prevention (43).

Its polyphenols and catechins can act as antioxidants to prevent cell damage, reduce inflammation, and protect the health of your heart.

Many studies have shown green tea increases leptin, a hormone that regulates our appetite, and reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol. Green tea extract may also improve blood pressure and glycemic control (43).

A review of studies found that taking green tea extract for 3 months reduced blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL (bad), and total cholesterol compared to a placebo (44).

Taking a green tea supplement or drinking matcha made with powdered whole green tea leaves may also benefit heart health.

Summary

Green tea is high in polyphenols and catechins. It has been associated with lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.

What foods are best for your heart?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the following foods are the best for your heart:

  • Vegetables: such as leafy greens, broccoli, and carrots
  • Fruits: such as apples, bananas, and oranges
  • Whole grains: such as plain oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread or tortillas
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products: such as milk, cheese, or yogurt
  • Protein-rich foods: such as fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, and legumes
  • Oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: such as canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean oils
  • Foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: such as nuts, nut and seed butters, salmon and trout, avocados, and tofu

What foods prevent heart attacks?

Eating a healthy balanced diet is one of the key pillars to preventing a heart attack, according to the National Health Services (NHS).

They recommend following a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes eating more:

  • whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta
  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • fish

It also means eating less meat and limiting foods high in saturated fat.

Learn more about the Mediterranean diet here.

Which fruit is best for your heart?

According to this 2017 study, some of the best fruits for your heart health are:

  • blueberries
  • red grapes
  • pomegranate
  • apples
  • avocados
  • mangos
  • blackberries
  • cherries
  • kiwi fruit

How can I improve my heart health fast?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 7 best steps to improving your heart health are:

  1. eat a heart-healthy diet
  2. get active
  3. maintain a healthy weight
  4. if you smoke, quit, and avoid secondhand smoke
  5. control your cholesterol and blood pressure
  6. drink alcohol in moderation
  7. manage your stress

As new evidence emerges, the link between diet and heart disease grows stronger.

What you eat can influence many aspects of heart health, including blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides.

Including heart-healthy foods in a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help keep your heart in good shape and minimize your risk of heart disease.

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