Heart-Healthy Foods: Eating a Heart Smart Diet

A list of heart healthy foods.

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease (CVD), is the leading cause of death worldwide. The disease affects your heart and associated blood vessels. Plaque buildup along arterial walls, heart-muscle fatigue, and poor blood circulation are just a few of the health realities some CVD sufferers face daily. Before you are compelled to select cardiovascular treatments due to preventable heart disease afflictions, first opt for a heart-healthy diet to impede these danger signs from developing.

Heart Healthy Helpers

In conjunction with an active lifestyle, regularly consuming heart-healthy foods is the best way to prevent cardiovascular disease. Foods that are good for the heart are also easy to incorporate into your daily meal plans or a heart-healthy smoothie, and they contain an onslaught of heart-healing nutrients.

Polyunsaturated fats:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids relieve inflammation, lower blood pressure, decrease stroke risks, and reduce triglyceride levels that, if left unchecked, predispose a body laden with extra fat cells to heart damage. Omega-3s are great for your circulatory system because they combat blood cell coagulation—a risk factor for developing stroke.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids may have anti-inflammatory effects. The American Heart Association recommends daily intake of this nutrient in moderation—5 to 6% of total calories.

Monounsaturated fats help to lower both sugar levels and high cholesterol levels. These fats nurture your body’s cells, while saturated fats can impede cell function.

Beta-glucan is a soluble dietary fiber found in most whole grain foods. This fiber is excellent for satisfying urges to nibble between meals, and it lowers “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels. In general, fiber helps to maintain your weight and digestive system, keeping you regular. Beta-glucan is effective at lowering your risk of heart disease and coronary heart disease—a specific set of diseases that includes angina and heart attacks.

Antioxidants combat the free-radical reactions that deteriorate heart system cells. A study in the journal Coronary Artery Disease showed that these molecules are effective at preventing coronary artery disease.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is essential for proper cell function overall. A study showed that vitamin C deficiencies have been linked to higher risks of cardiovascular disease development.

Resveratrol has formidable antioxidant properties and is found in dark-skinned grapes and berries. Resveratrol prevents platelets in the blood from clotting.

Selenium may protect the entire cardiovascular system. In one observational study, this antioxidant exhibited questionable effectiveness for thwarting coronary heart disease risk.

Procyanidins possess antioxidant qualities that help fortify arterial health by reducing cholesterol.

Alpha-carotene, as do many other antioxidants, exhibits potent cell-damage reversal properties in the prevention of chronic diseases like heart disease.

Lycopene is an essential anti-inflammatory CVD prevention nutrient. It strengthens the cardiovascular system by impeding heart disease risk factors.

Phytic acid is an effective nutrient for decreasing risks associated with diabetes. The journal Advances in Pharmacological Sciences published a study detailing phytic acid’s ability to reduce triglyceride levels and increase “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

Flavonoids promote blood flow, decrease inflammation, and prevent the blood from clotting. Isoflavones and polyphenols are included with this nutrient family.

Folates are B vitamins that bolster endothelium function in blood vessels, according to one study, and may be linked to decreased risk for heart disease.

Allicin has been shown to decrease arterial wall thickness, one study showed, thereby decreasing the risk for heart disease. A 2016 study in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity documented allicin’s ability to decrease the effects of hypertension.

Potassium, consumed at moderate levels, counters heart arrhythmia symptoms. Low potassium levels have been linked to heartbeat irregularities.

Calcium is excellent for keeping blood vessels healthy and controlling blood pressure.

Vitamin K deficiencies foster an increased risk for coronary heart disease. Leafy green vegetables are rich with vitamin K.

Heart Smart Diet Selections

For examples of eatables that contain cardiovascular nutrients, check out this heart-healthy foods list.

Salmon

Fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and trout are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish on a weekly basis. Take care when selecting your salmon; avoid salmon treated with additives and preservatives.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, B vitamins.

Meal options: Citrus-glaze broiled salmon and serve atop whole-grain rice, or bake salmon in olive oil, coated with whole-grain bread crumbs.

Avocados

There are several types of avocados to choose from, and they are all fruits good for the heart.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamin K, potassium.

Meal options: Slice these up, chill, serve, and enjoy on their own, or blend ripe avocado for a creamy guacamole accented with tomato bits and citrus splashes.

Garlic

This “superfood” is packed with heart-healthy goodness. Enjoy cooked or raw, but overconsumption may cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn, or diarrhea.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Allicin.

Meal options: Mince or slice garlic to create fragrant sauces and seasoned sautéed dishes with olive oil.

Asparagus

Heart-healthy vegetables are often low in calories, and asparagus is no exception. Avoid stomach discomfort and consume the tenderest stems of a bundle.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Folate, fiber.

Meal option: Prepare with an herb-infused olive oil.

Potatoes

Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and yams, contain essential nutrients that often get overlooked. Polish off your lean meals with these satisfying veggies.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Potassium.

Meal-options: Roast red potatoes with skin in rosemary and oil, or mash potatoes with minced garlic.

Tomatoes

One of the more popular vegetable choices, the tomato contains a gamut of nutrients that support good heart health.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Lycopene, vitamin C, alpha-carotene, potassium.

Meal options: Accent sandwiches with multi-colored, sun-dried varieties; or slice, chill, and serve with drops of basil- or oregano-infused olive oil.

Cauliflower

Don’t let cauliflower’s lack of color fool you. This vegetable possesses an impressive array of robust nutrients.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Antioxidants, fiber, allicin.

Meal options: Chop and mix cauliflower and broccoli florets with carrot wedges and enjoy with a chilled hummus dip.

Spinach, Kale, and other Leafy Greens

You can never go wrong when adding leafy greens to your meals. Options like spinach and kale are low in calories, so consume copious portions at will. Replace lettuce with leafy greens to increase your meal’s nutrient potential.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants.

Meal options: Enjoy raw in salads or on sandwiches with a few drops of olive oil, or whip up a leafy-green medley as a barely cooked side dish.

Broccoli

Cook this veggie as soon as you can. A vibrant green color signifies a high nutritional value.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Fiber, folate, calcium, antioxidants.

Meal options: Naturally fragrant steamed florets are great alone or as a side dish. Add to egg-white scrambles for a hearty, fiber-filled breakfast.

Soy

Tofu and soy milk are two food treasures born of the soybean. Diabetes sufferers should consume this protein with caution, as the niacin it contains can worsen symptoms.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Polyunsaturated fats, B vitamins, phytic acid, isoflavones.

Meal options: Substitute animal products for soy products. Marinate tofu slices and add to steamed vegetable dishes, or add tofu cubes to nourishing soups.

Olive Oil

Pressed from olives, olive oil is a staple in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Look for products that aren’t diluted with unhealthy oils.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Monounsaturated fats.

Meal options: Prepare low-fat salad dressings with an extra-virgin olive oil. Replace saturated cooking oils with this healthier fat.

Oats

Avoid processed, instant varieties that are loaded with harmful sugars and preservatives. Rolled oats and steel-cut oats are better choices. The recommended daily serving is 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Beta-glucan fiber.

Meal options: Sprinkle whole oats over yogurt, fruit, and nuts. Enjoy cooked oatmeal with berries and a dash of cinnamon.

Walnuts

Walnuts contain healthy cholesterol-lowering oils. But they also contain a good amount of calories per bite. Consuming 4 or 5 ounces of walnuts per week is a good regimen.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folate.

Meal options: Replace “bad” saturated fatty foods with this unsalted snack substitute. Add as a topping for oatmeal.

Berries (Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries)

Consume these fruits all day, every day. The more, the better.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Assorted antioxidants (including vitamin C and vitamin K), fiber.

Meal options: Eat alone as a snack. Serve as toppings over low-fat yogurt, oatmeal, or whole-grain pancakes. Blend in your favorite smoothies.

Red Wine

The Cabernet and Madiran red wines contain an abundance of antioxidants. Wine contains alcohol, so consume in moderation.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Resveratrol.

Meal options: Enjoy the recommended one to two, 4-ounce glasses daily, or nibble on antioxidant grapes instead.

Dark Chocolate

Satisfy your sweet tooth with no less than 70% cocoa dark chocolate.

Heart-healthy nutrients: Polyphenols (flavonols).

Meal options: Melt and pour over crunchy whole-grain granola, or make a multi-grain pancake loaded with dark chocolate morsels.

A list of heart healthy foods.

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