Heart Healthy Foods to Incorporate Into Your Diet

Written by: Cameron Rosario
Medically reviewed by: Robert Philibert MD PhD
 
Diet plays a major role in heart health and influences your risk for developing disease. In fact, up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be avoided by following a heart healthy lifestyle such as maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Improving your heart health is not limited to avoiding highly processed foods containing saturated fat and sugar, but it also means being aware of what foods can help you minimize your risk for heart disease.
 
Some Of The Best Foods To Add To Your Diet For A Healthy Heart
 
Salmon:

  • Salmon and other types of fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids. This type of fat is considered healthy and should not be confused with unhealthy saturated and trans fats.>
  • Specifically, omega-3 fatty acids can influence the level of two lipids that circulate within the body.
    • Lower triglyceride levels: Lower triglyceride levels prevent the hardening/increased thickness of artery walls (atherosclerosis), all of which can increase risk of having a stroke, heart attack, and developing heart disease.
    • Higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels: HDL is considered good cholesterol as it has the ability to rid the bloodstream of other types of cholesterol, such as low density lipoprotein (LDL), that can cause a build up in your arteries.
  • A study published in JAMA found that higher consumption of fish containing omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a decrease in risk for developing and dying from coronary heart disease among women.

 
Oatmeal:

  • Oatmeal contains soluble fiber which lowers LDL proteins avoiding the buildup of cholesterol in arteries when eaten regularly with a low saturated fat diet.
  • Whole oats also contain high levels of polyphenols that have antioxidant properties that reduce oxidative stress on body tissue, reducing risk for heart disease. In fact, avenanthramides, one of the most notable polyphenols present, has anti-inflammatory properties, anti-itch properties, and helps lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels for better flow.
    • Compared to common sugary cereals found on the market, oatmeal provides four times more healthy fat and one-third more protein. It is important to note that these benefits come from old-fashioned or quick cooking oats and not instant oatmeal.

 
Blueberries:

  • Blueberries are considered to be one of the most nutrient dense berries. In fact one cup of blueberries can provide nutrients such as soluble fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, Manganese, and several other nutrients.
    • Blueberries have an antioxidant compound, called anthocyanins, that has been highly effective in reducing LDL oxidation rates that contribute to the development of heart disease.
      • A study suggested that a daily serving of 2-ounces (50-grams) of blueberries has been shown to lower LDL oxidation, thus, cardiovascular risk factors, by 27% in over eight weeks in obese individuals.
    • have also been shown to be beneficial for individuals who experience high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease.
      • A study demonstrated that over an eight-week period, blueberries were associated with a decrease in blood pressure by 4-6% in obese individuals after consuming only 2 ounces per day.

 
Apples:

  • Apples are high in soluble fiber which enables them to have the ability to help decrease the total cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Apples also serve to help maintain healthy gut bacteria that are associated with cardiovascular protection.
    • A study found that the daily consumption of one apple a day for four weeks was associated with 40% lower oxidized LDL levels in individuals ages 40-60 years old.

 
Dark Leafy Greens:

  • Dark Leafy Greens, including spinach, kale, and collard greens, are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, many of which promote healthy heart function.
    • Dark leafy greens are high in dietary nitrates which have been associated with reductions in blood pressure and arterial stiffness in a study published in the American Heart Association Hypertension Journal.
    • Dark leafy greens are rich in vitamin K which is associated with the inhibition of arterial calcification and arterial stiffening.
      • The Rotterdam Study investigated vitamin K’s impact on aortic calcification, heart disease, and all-cause mortality in healthy men and women over the age of 55. The results concluded that a daily intake of at least 32 mcg of vitamin K is linked to a 50% reduction in death from cardiovascular issues related to arterial calcification.

 
Legumes:

  • Beans and other legumes are beneficial to heart health due to their high levels of micronutrients such as fiber and plant protein, while being low in fat, cholesterol, and on the glycemic index.
    • Legumes’ high fiber content may give it the ability to improve blood cholesterol levels, while potentially decreasing the risk of a buildup in the arteries.
      • A study published in the FASEB Journal investigated the relationship between a diet with high levels of beans (a selection of items containing 120 g of beans per serving) on blood cholesterol in men and women ages 20-75 years old with mild hypercholesterolemia. After only 6 weeks, the results concluded that the group who consumed a diet high with beans had significantly lower LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol levels than the group that consume lower amounts of beans. They concluded that a regular consumption of beans may reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.

 
Dark Chocolate:

  • Dark chocolate may be a surprising addition to the list but has heart health benefits when consumed in moderation.
    • Dark chocolate is made from cocoa beans that contain organic compounds that are biologically active and have antioxidant properties commonly found in other fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. These compounds, including polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins, can assist in lowering blood pressure and protect from oxidative stress.
      • A study published in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics suggested that foods high in dietary flavanols, such as dark chocolate, can stimulate the endothelium, lining of arteries, and produce nitric oxides which reduces blood pressure.
      • Another study published in The Journal of Nutrition investigated 160 hypercholesteremic individuals with varying levels of cocoa powder. The results showed that higher intake of polyphenolic substances derived from cocoa powder, like dark chocolate, is associated with lower levels of oxidized LDL and higher levels of HDL.
  • It is important to note that these benefits only hold true for dark chocolate which contains 60-70% cocoa and when consumed in moderation.

 
References:

  1. “8 Steps to a Heart-healthy Diet.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702
  2. “20 Foods That Can Save Your Heart.” WebMD https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/ss/slideshow-foods-to-save-your-heart
  3. Anderson, Laura. et al. “UK Health Spend “about Average” According to New Data.” > PharmacoEconomics Outcomes News 784.1 (2017): 6. Print.
  4. Basu, Arpita et al. “Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 140,9 (2010): 1582-7. doi:10.3945/jn.110.124701
  5. Bell, Rhonda C., Peter Zahradka, Michel ALiani, YuZhu Liang, Linda J. McCargar, Catherine Chan, Jocelyn Ozga, Spencer Proctor, David Wishart, and Carla Taylor. et al. “Dried Beans Lower Cholesterol and Glycated Hemoglobin While Peas Lower Blood Pressure in Adults with Mild Hypercholesterolemia.” The FASEB Journal vol.31,S1 (2017): 966.13.
  6. Chaddha, Ashish, and Kim A. Eagle. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health.” Circulation 132.22 (2015). Web. 26 Mar. 2021.
  7. Geleijnse, Johanna M et al. “Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 134,11 (2004): 3100-5. doi:10.1093/jn/134.11.3100
  8. Hu FB, Bronner L, Willett WC, et al. “Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women” JAMA. (2002): vol. 287(14):1815–1821. doi:10.1001/jama.287.14.1815
  9. Kapil V, Khambata RS, Robertson A, Caulfield MJ, Ahluwalia A et al. “Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study” Hypertension. (2015): 65:320–327. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.04675
  10. Kris-Etherton, Penny M., William S. Harris, and Lawrence J. Appel. “Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease.” Circulation 106.21 (2002): 2747-757. Print.
  11. Stone, Neil J. et al. “Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Lipids, and Coronary Heart Disease.” Circulation 94.9 (1996): 2337-340. Print.

“Study: An Apple A Day Lowers Level of Blood Chemical Linked to Hardening of the Arteries.” The Ohio State University https://news.osu.edu/study-an-apple-a-day-lowers-level-of-blood-chemical-linked-to-hardening-of-the-arteries/#:~:text=COLUMBUS%2C%20Ohio%20%E2%80%93%20Eating%20an%20apple,to%20hardening%20of%20the%20arteries.

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