When talking about heart disease prevention, often the focus is on what you shouldn’t eat: red meat, cheese, salt, too much alcohol. While removing these foods from your diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, emphasizing what you can add to your plate to better your heart is just as important – and a lot more fun.
Good habits beget other good habits, so incorporating more heart healthy foods in your diet may just crowd out those aren’t as beneficial. Show your heart some love with these 10 foods:
- Wild salmon, sardines, or other cold water fish. These fish are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are tied to a host of health benefits including reduced inflammation and reduced risk of heart disease. Aim for at least two (4-ounce) servings per week.
- Walnuts have been tied to reduced risk of heart disease as they may lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They also offer a plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, making them a powerhouse nut for your heart. Sprinkle on your morning yogurt or oatmeal, in a salad, or enjoy a handful as a snack. One ounce, or about 14 halves, is just under 200 calories, so be aware of your portions.
- Flax, hemp, and chia seeds. These power seeds are another good plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain soluble fiber, which is linked to reduced LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. Enjoy in a smoothie or sprinkled on yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal. Tip: flax seeds must be ground for you to absorb the nutrients.
- Avocados are not only an excellent source of monounsaturated fats and fiber, both of which which are known to reduce LDL cholesterol. They also contain potassium, which can help with blood pressure maintenance. Consuming some fat may aid weight management too, another risk factor for heart disease. Toss in your salad, spread on toast, add to a smoothie for an extra creamy drink, or use in place of butter in baked goods like these chocolate avocado brownies. Just be mindful of portions as 1/2 of an avocado contains about 150 calories.
- Leafy greens are chock full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can reduce inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease. Full of fiber, they may also help lower your LDL cholesterol. Not a fan of the in-the-spotlight kale? No problem. Try chard, arugula, spinach, dandelion greens, or any other dark leafy greens you find in the grocery store. And, greens aren’t just for salads. Sautee them with olive oil and garlic for a simple side, add to a pasta sauce, wilt in a soup, or blend in a smoothie (don’t knock it until you try it!).
- Barley and other whole grains are a good source of soluble fiber, which may help reduce LDL cholesterol. They also contain magnesium, an important mineral tied to over 300 functions in the body, many of which affect the heart. Use as a replacement for white rice or pasta, create a whole grain salad, add to a soup, or try this breakfast porridge.
- Dark chocolate.Yes, chocolate! Flavanoids, an antioxidant in cacao, the main ingredient in dark chocolate, have been linked to reduced risk of heart disease. This is not license to eat chocolate with abandon, but savoring up to 1 ounce (a small square) per day may be cardioprotective — just make sure it’s at least 70% cacao. No, milk chocolate doesn’t count.
- Berries. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries – they all are a good source of soluble fiber, which can help reduce LDL cholesterol. One study even linked regular berry consumption to a 34 percent reduced risk of heart attack in women. They are also packed with anthocyanins, a phytonutrient that may reduce blood pressure and improve elasticity of blood vessels, allowing more blood flow to the heart. Frozen are just as good (if not better) as fresh since they are picked and frozen at their prime, retaining the most nutrients. In the winter months, keep a bag in your freezer to add to your morning oatmeal. Top with walnuts and you’ll have a comforting, heart-supporting bowl of goodness to start your day.
- Herbs and spices. Diets high in sodium have been linked to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Flavoring your food with fresh or dried herbs and spices instead of salt is an easy way to reduce your salt consumption. As a double whammy, skip the salt and cook with garlic, which has been tied to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease. Looking for some inspiration? Use this guide to spice pairings as a starting point.
- Green tea: An analysis of several studies showed that green tea drinkers have lower risk of heart disease and stroke and may have lower cholesterol. While this doesn’t prove a cause and effect relationship, the results are promising. Slowing down and savoring a cup of green tea may also help reduce stress, a major risk factor for heart disease. For more on the benefits of tea, read here.
Including some or all of these foods (and drinks) in your diet is one way to show your heart some love. However, research continues to show that preventing heart disease is about overall dietary patterns, so don’t stress if there is a food here you don’t eat. Diets filled with plant foods, including lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, along with some fatty fish have been tied to reduced risk of heart disease and many other health conditions. Regular exercise, stress reduction, enough sleep, and not smoking also play an important role in keeping your heart running at it’s best.