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10 Heart Healthy Foods to Add to Your Diet
Did you know that 655,000 Americans die of heart disease each year? That’s approximately 1 out of every 4 deaths in the United States.1 Having a healthy heart is important to prevent cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease, heart attacks, and blood clots.
The arteries in your body are only 4 millimeters in diameter. A bad diet can clog them over the years with foods that promote high cholesterol and build-up.2
What you eat can directly impact your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The foods you eat can determine your heart health.
Here is a list of 10 foods that can help improve your heart health by lowering cholesterol, protecting your blood vessels, and positively impacting your cardiovascular system.
Berries have been shown to have a positive impact on heart health alongside the other vitamins and nutrients that they provide.
Berries prevent heart disease with antioxidants, which can help protect the body against oxidative stress and inflammation. Some berries proven to benefit heart health include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.3
One study looked at the correlation between blood pressure and eating blueberries. The researchers had one group drink blueberry smoothies and the other drink a placebo. They discovered that there was an improvement in endothelial function, which is a thin membrane in the heart and blood vessels that helps control blood flow.4
Another study found that blackberries improved the cholesterol levels of those who had metabolic syndrome.5 Metabolic syndrome increases the chance of heart disease and heart attacks, and approximately 1/3 of Americans have it.6
Eating fruits can be a natural way to help improve your blood flow and lower cholesterol, which can help keep your heart healthy for years to come.
According to the Heart Foundation, whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 30%. Some of the ways whole grains help your heart is by reducing your body’s cholesterol levels and lowering your blood pressure.7
Whole grains contain the bran, endosperm, and germ, while refined grains will have the bran and germ removed from them. However, refined grains remove some of the nutritional value that the full state of the seed in whole grain provides.
Another reason why whole grains are good for your heart is because they contain fiber. Fiber is responsible for breaking down food into glucose, which can prevent blood clots and promote lower cholesterol levels. Lowering cholesterol build-up is important for preventing heart disease and heart attacks.8
An analysis found that over 3,000 people that consumed whole grains had smaller increases in blood sugar, blood pressure, and waist size.9
The Heart Foundation recommends that you eat 3 servings of whole grains to keep your heart healthy. Whole grains are also a good option for those at risk for developing diabetes, and have been proven to lower the risk by up to 32%.10
Nuts are a great option for an addition to a salad or yogurt. Nuts are also heart healthy, and the American Heart Association recommends eating 1.5 ounces of whole nuts a day.11
Nuts contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which help your heart by preventing irregular heartbeats that lead to heart attacks. Nuts also have Vitamin E, which can prevent plaques from developing in your arteries.12
Research has also found that those who ate nuts at least five times a week have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by 14% and coronary heart disease by 20%.13
One analysis found that walnuts are heart healthy because they decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. They found that those who ate walnuts were less likely to experience cholesterol concentration, and they had healthier arteries as a result.14
Some options for eating healthy nuts include walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, pecans, and almonds. When buying nuts, you should check the ingredients on the food label because some of the sugars, spices, and honeys can negate the health benefits.
Vegetables are packed with vitamins and nutrients that can help your heart stay healthy.
Some of the vitamins and nutrients that vegetables that can help your heart health include:
- Potassium. Many vegetables contain potassium, which helps your body control its blood pressure by processing salted foods and controlling the tension in your blood vessel walls. Some vegetables that are rich in potassium include carrots, avocados, peas, lima beans, and spinach.15
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C has been found to lower blood pressure by promoting cell growth in the lining of our arteries and heart.16 Some vegetables high in vitamin C include broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts.17
- Vitamin K. Vitamin K has been proven to help reduce the damage to blood vessel walls by preventing calcium from sticking to them.18 Some vegetables with vitamin K include kale, spinach, green leaf lettuce, turnip greens, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts.19
Beans are a great food for your heart. Beans contain resistant starch that helps your good bacteria in your gut, and multiple studies have found that it can also reduce the amount of triglycerides and cholesterol in the bloodstream.3
A review discovered that eating a diet of legumes reduced incidence rates by 10% for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and hypertension.20
Another reason why beans are a good food for the heart is they are high in fiber. A half-cup of beans contains 14g of fiber, which can help control cholesterol levels.21
Add beans into your soups, salads, stews, casseroles, and snacks to help improve your heart health.
Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of heart failure.22
One review looked at the effects of fish on cardiovascular health and discovered that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of cardiac death. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help reduce inflammatory cytokines, which affect the body’s immune response.23
The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fatty fish each week. They define fatty fish as those high in omega-3 fatty acids, including:24
- Lake Trout
However, they do warn that the mercury found in fish can be harmful to your health, so it is important to check the serving sizes and nutrition labels. It is especially recommended that children and pregnant women are conscious about the amount of fish they consume.
Olive oil is used as a cooking ingredient, and it can be found in many Mediterranean dishes. Olive oil has been discovered to improve heart health over a series of studies.
A study looked at the link between olive oil and cardio metabolic risk. The researchers looked at 63,867 women and 35,512 men who did not have cancer, heart disease, and strokes. At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that those who consumed ½ tablespoon of olive oil a day had a 15% lower risk for cardiovascular disease.25
Another study found that those who consumed olive oil within a Mediterranean diet had lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, alongside fruits and vegetables. Foods such as cereals and meats were found to be not as heart healthy.26
Olive oil can be a heart healthy alternative to other cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil, butter, or mayonnaise. It can also be added to your cooked dishes and sauces.
One drink that may have heart health benefits is green tea. A study looked at over 40,530 Japanese adults who drank green tea 5 times a day. The participants had a 26% lowered risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.27
Green tea is a heart healthy drink because of its ability to break up harmful plaques that can build up and clog the blood vessels. This results in lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and less arterial stiffness.28
Another property that makes green tea good for your body is it improves the lining of the endothelial cells in blood vessels.29 This lining plays a role in preventing blood clotting and immunity, and has been linked to heart attacks and strokes.30
Add green tea into your diet to help your blood vessels remove harmful plaques that can build up. Make sure to avoid adding sugar or unhealthy additives to the tea, which could potentially negate the positive effects.
Tofu is a popular vegetarian protein that is made of soy milk. Tofu originated in China, and it can be added to many dishes including soups, noodle bowls, and salads.
A study looked at blood samples to determine the link between soy and its effect on various aspects of the blood. The researchers found a correlation between soy and lower cholesterol levels. They also found that systolic blood pressure was lower in the male participants.31
One reason why Tofu is heart healthy is it contains isoflavones, which can minimize heart disease risk. A study looked at 200,000 people who ate at least one serving of Tofu a week and found that the participants had an 18% lower risk of heart disease.32
Cooking dishes that contain Tofu can be one way to help keep your heart healthy.
Even though chocolate usually isn’t on the list of foods one would consider healthy, dark chocolate has been found to have a positive effect on heart health.
Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that can fight inflammation and damage caused by free radicals. The best kind of dark chocolate for these health benefits does not contain sugar or saturated fats.33
The main difference between dark chocolate and milk chocolate is it contains 50-90% cocoa butter, cocoa solids, and sugar while milk chocolate contains 10-15% of these ingredients with milk. The cocoa found within dark chocolate contains flavanols that protect the heart by supporting the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels and improves blood circulation.33
A study looked at the effects almonds, cocoa, and dark chocolate have on cholesterol. The result was that these foods all lowered the levels of lipoprotein, which cause the arteries to clog.34
Because the high fat found in chocolate can negate the health benefits, it is recommended to consume 1 ounce of dark chocolate a day.35
Saber Healthcare Encourages Heart Healthy Habits
With many Americans at risk for heart disease and strokes, Saber Healthcare encourages you to start eating a balanced diet that keeps your heart healthy. A healthy heart can help your body fight off disease and prevent cardiovascular issues in the future.
Saber Healthcare’s dietary team works to provide our residents with diets that meet their health and nutritional needs each day. Our dietary department designs menus with food that not only tastes great, but also provides the vitamins and minerals our residents need to live a healthy life.
To learn more about Saber Healthcare and the care that we offer to our residents, click here.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “Heart Disease Facts.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 8 September 2020. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
- “5 Heart Facts That May Surprise You.” John Hopkins University, John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-heart-facts-that-may-surprise-you
- Link, Rachel. “15 Incredibly Heart Healthy Foods.” Red Ventures, Healthline Media. 5 March 2018. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/heart-healthy-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3
- Stull, April J et al. “Blueberries improve endothelial function, but not blood pressure, in adults with metabolic syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Nutrients vol. 7,6 4107-23. 27 May. 2015, doi:10.3390/nu7064107 Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26024297/
- Jeong, Han Saem et al. “Effects of black raspberry on lipid profiles and vascular endothelial function in patients with metabolic syndrome.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 28,10 (2014): 1492-8. doi:10.1002/ptr.5154. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24706588/
- “Metabolic Syndrome.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 6 May 2021. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916
- “Are whole grains good for you?” Heart Foundation. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/wellbeing/healthy-eating/nutrition-facts/are-whole-grains-good-for-you
- “7 Small Diet Changes That Make a Difference.” Saber Healthcare Group. 13 August 2021. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/small-diet-changes
- Caleigh M Sawicki, Paul F Jacques, Alice H Lichtenstein, Gail T Rogers, Jiantao Ma, Edward Saltzman, Nicola M McKeown, Whole- and Refined-Grain Consumption and Longitudinal Changes in Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in the Framingham Offspring Cohort, The Journal of Nutrition, 2021;, nxab177. Accessed 19 August 2021. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab177
- “Are whole grains good for you?” Heart Foundation. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/wellbeing/healthy-eating/nutrition-facts/are-whole-grains-good-for-you
- “Go Nuts (But just a little!)” American Heart Association. 1 Jun 2015. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/go-nuts-but-just-a-little
- “Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health.” Mayo Clinic for Medical Education and Research. 14 November 2019. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635
- “Nuts for the Heart.” Harvard University, Harvard School of Public Health. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nuts-for-the-heart/
- Banel, Deirdre K, and Frank B Hu. “Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis and systematic review.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 90,1 (2009): 56-63. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27457. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696995/
- “How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure.” American Heart Association, Heart.org. 31 October 2016. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure
- Moser, Melissa A, and Ock K Chun. “Vitamin C and Heart Health: A Review Based on Findings from Epidemiologic Studies.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 17,8 1328. 12 Aug. 2016, doi:10.3390/ijms17081328. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5000725/
- Bhargava, Hansa. “Foods with Vitamin C Besides Oranges.” WebMD. 8 October 2018. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/ss/slideshow-vitamin-c-sources
- Maresz, Katarzyna. “Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 14,1 (2015): 34-9. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566462/
- “Vitamin K.” Medline Plus. 5 August 2021. 8 August 2021. Link: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002407.htm
- “Legumes Boost Heart Health, According to New Review Study.” Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. 20 November 2019. 8 August 2021. Link: https://www.pcrm.org/news/news-releases/legumes-boost-heart-health-according-new-review-study
- Villines, Zawn. Warwick, Kathy, ed. “What are the health benefits of beans?” MedicalNewsToday. 16 January 2020. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/can-we-eat-fish-sustainably-and-maintain-health-benefits#Choose-carefully
- “Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 28 September 2019. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614
- Peter, Soumia et al. “A fish a day, keeps the cardiologist away! - A review of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the cardiovascular system.” Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism vol. 17,3 (2013): 422-9. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.111630. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712371/
- “Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” The American Heart Association, org. 23 March 2017. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids
- Matt Guasch et. all. “Abstract P509: Olive Oil Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease.” The American Heart Association, Circulation. 2 March 2020. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circ.141.suppl_1.P509
- Psaltopoulou, Theodora et al. “Olive oil, the Mediterranean diet, and arterial blood pressure: the Greek European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 80,4 (2004): 1012-8. doi:10.1093/ajcn/80.4.1012. 19 August 2021. Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15447913/
- “Green tea may lower heart disease risk.” Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing. 1 December 2012. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/green-tea-may-lower-heart-disease-risk
- “Will drinking green tea reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes?” British Heart Foundation, Heart Matters. 1 June 2018. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/behind-the-headlines/green-tea
- Strong, Debbie. Jasmer, Robert, ed. “7 Teas That Can Help or Harm Your Heart.” Everyday Health. 29 July 2015. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.everydayhealth.com/atrial-fibrillation/diet/teas-and-heart-health/
- “Endothelial Function Testing.” Cedars-Sinai. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/programs/heart/clinical/womens-heart/services/endothelial-function-testing.html
- Jenkins, David J A et al. “Effects of high- and low-isoflavone soyfoods on blood lipids, oxidized LDL, homocysteine, and blood pressure in hyperlipidemic men and women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 76,2 (2002): 365-72. doi:10.1093/ajcn/76.2.365. 19 August 2021. Link: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12145008/
- “Soy-rich foods like tofu may help lower heart disease risk.” The American Heart Association. 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/03/23/soy-rich-foods-like-tofu-may-help-lower-heart-disease-risk
- “Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?” Scripps Health. 24 June 2019. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.scripps.org/news_items/5317-is-dark-chocolate-healthy
- “Eating almonds and dark chocolate lowers bad cholesterol.” The American Heart Association. 29 November 2017. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/05/01/eating-almonds-and-dark-chocolate-lowers-bad-cholesterol?s=q%253Ddark%252520chocolate%2526sort%253Drelevancy
- Brooks, Anne. Kennedy, Kelly. “8 Healthy Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate.” Everyday Health. 16 August 2019. Accessed 19 August 2021. Link: https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-and-nutrition-pictures/delicious-reasons-to-eat-dark-chocolate.aspx