Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, but it doesn't have to be. Our diet directly impacts heart health, which means that making a few changes to what you eat can save your life. If you want to stabilize your cholesterol, lower blood sugar, or help clear your arteries, you'll want to pick up these heart-healthy foods that are often overlooked.
Learn which common foods can help unclog your arteries and keep your heart healthy.
Chia Seeds Provide More Heart Health Than Fiber
Chia seeds have made their way into plenty of diet fads for their high fiber. However, chia seeds also offer unsaturated fatty acids, which the American Heart Association recommends to prevent cardiovascular diseases. Chia seeds have more calcium and magnesium than milk, which lowers blood sugar and blood pressure.
The Journal of Food Science and Technology reports that the alpha-linolenic acid in chia seeds blocks out sodium and calcium dysfunctions which cause hypertension. This acid, along with the seeds' high omega-3's, regulates heart rate. The review concludes that alpha-linolenic lowers a person's risk of heart failure.
Don't Feel Guilty-- Have A Heart-Healthy Dessert!
Although chocolate has a bad reputation, research supports that dark chocolate and raw cocoa powder have several health benefits. A meta-analysis in the 2018 issue of Nutrients noted that seven different studies have reported that people who eat dark chocolate have a reduced risk of stroke.
Research has examined 14 cohort studies and 508,705 participants, and they all conclude that higher chocolate consumption results in reduced risk of diabetes, stroke, and cardiometabolic diseases. For the best effect, buy dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa, or purchase the raw cocoa powder to add to smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt.
Drop the Ranch, Break Out The Hummus
Chickpeas are a versatile legume that's used in hummus. Both chickpeas and hummus were reviewed in 2016 Nutrients because of their high-density nutrients. Traditional hummus slows down carbohydrate absorption, which regulates blood sugar. In one study, those who ate chickpeas had 4x less glucose than people who ate white bread.
Research from 2006 indicates that those who consume chickpeas over 20 weeks experience significantly diminishes LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. This process equalizes blood pressure, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
It Might Be Trendy, But Avocado Toast Is Good For The Heart
Now, you have more reasons to keep up your avocado obsession. 2018 research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed how nutrients in the fruit (yes, it's a fruit) aid the heart. People who eat avocado receive more HDL cholesterol, which hinders cardiovascular disease.
Unlike other foods on this list, avocado does not affect LDL cholesterol or triglycerides, unhealthy compounds that can damage the heart. But it does supply the heart with powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatory phytosterols, and monounsaturated fats, or "healthy fats." All these provide for a healthy heart, according to the Heart Foundation.
Go Ahead; Have Your Morning Cup Of Coffee
Because high caffeine intake can stimulate stress and anxiety, many people assume that coffee harms the heart. But current research demonstrates the opposite. A 2014 systematic review of cohort studies concluded that moderate coffee consumption (3-5 cups a day) results in a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Recently, the British Heart Foundation analyzed over 8,000 participants and proposed that even 25 cups of coffee a day won't stiffen arteries, as previously presumed. Coffee shrinks inflammation and stabilizes insulin production, which can decrease the likelihood of diabetes. These benefits can even lengthen life, according to researchers at the University of Southampton in 2018.
Need A Snack? Pack Some Almonds
While all nuts can promote heart health, almonds have received particular attention in a 2018 Nutrients review. Through 18 controlled trials, researchers have demonstrated that eating almonds erases much of our LDL cholesterol, a well-known risk factor of heart disease.
The Indian Heart Association observes that almonds increase HDL cholesterol, which actually works against cardiovascular disease. One study found that people who have coronary artery disease benefited from higher HDL-C and lower LDL-C, and almonds support both.
An Apple A Day... Do I Even Need To Say It?
Although plenty of people discuss the benefits of apples, few understand how they impact the heart. Authors in 2015 Nutrients explain that apple's components, including healthy polyphenols, skip through the small intestine and enter the large intestine relatively intact. The large intestine breaks down these compounds into microbial's that assist heart health.
Not only does this process contribute more fiber, but it also cleans out the gut and harmful bacteria, which can develop into diabetes and heart disease. Similar to red wine and cocoa, apples clear out perilous LDL cholesterol.
Grab Your Glass! Red Wine Is Healthy (In Moderation)
In 2006, researchers from the Experimental & Clinical Cardiology journal studied the effects of wine and resveratrol on heart disease. Wine drinkers have higher lipoprotein (HDL) levels, which protect the heart and arteries.
Red wine also increases NO production. NO, or endothelial nitric oxide synthase, dwindles during the early stages of diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure. The polyphenols in red wine tell the body to produce more NO, which not only guards the heart but also increases oxygen production and metabolism.
Garlic Repels More Than Just Vampires
You've probably seen garlic mentioned in several other health articles. In 2014, researchers from the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine reviewed all studies on garlic health benefits. They concluded that eating garlic consistently lowers blood glucose level, which keeps the heart healthy.
According to several studies in the '80s and '90s, garlic also fights off bacteria and viruses, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and influenza A and B. Its ability to clear out toxicity even cleans out the liver (1993 study) and enhances antioxidant production (2012 study). Not that you needed an excuse to add more garlic to a meal.
Enjoy Cranberries Even When It's Not Thanksgiving
This Thanksgiving favorite can be enjoyed all year round for improved heart health. In 2011, scientists from the Boston and Tufts Universities reported that drinking cranberry juice relieves arterial stiffness, specifically around the aorta, the body's largest artery.
Cranberries enhance blood lipids, curtail LDL cholesterol, and increase helpful HDL cholesterol. One study in 2000 noted that this fruit shrinks blood pressure to the point of relieving hypertension. It also calms inflammation and oxidative stress. Researchers do not recommend using a powder, as the fruit loses 30-40% of nutrients that way, but do advocate for cranberry juice.
Dates Aren't Just For Digestion
Dates are best known for improving the digestive system, but they can also protect your heart. In 2009, Israeli researchers discovered that eating dates removes fat without influencing blood glucose levels. Unlike other dried fruits, you won't get a blood sugar spike from eating dates daily.
A more recent study concluded that dates have special antioxidants which improve heart health. In the journal Food & Function, researchers explained that dates can reduce cholesterol buildup by 28%. They also lower oxidative stress by 33%. If you eat a few dates, you'll nourish your gut and guard your heart.
Kale Helps Both Heart And Mind
Kale has spiked in popularity for being a high-fiber hearty member of the cabbage family. A 2018 study in the journal Nutrients found that consuming 5-6 of leafy green vegetables such as kale abated the risk of cardiovascular disease.
That same year, another study in Neurology supports that kale intake prevents cognitive decline, especially in seniors. Even eating as little as 1.3 servings per day will keep your mind and memory sharp for five years, according to the study. One serving of kale is only one cup, but it can make a big difference.
Combine Peanut Butter With Other Foods For Variety
Indulge in some peanut butter while protecting your heart? That sounds like a win-win. Although peanut butter might sound like a food that would be off the list, it's different than some other high-fat foods that can lead to high cholesterol.
Peanut butter is high in protein, omega-3 fats, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, according to the American Heart Association. It can also be used in a variety of snacks, so mix it up with other heart-healthy foods as you please.
Prep Some Lentils, Lose Weight, And Help Your Heart
In 2017, the International Journal of Molecular Sciences published a study examining lentils' effect on health. Of all legumes, lentils have the highest level of polyphenols, which are compounds that guard against harmful bacteria, fungi, inflammation, and viruses.
Because of their high protein, fiber, and flavonoid count, lentils make you feel fuller for longer. When you feel fuller, you eat less, which combats obesity. The polyphenols also stabilize blood pressure, which can avert hypertension and coronary artery diseases.
Turmeric's Unique Compounds Prevent Heart Disease
Turmeric is the bright yellow spice in curry powders. Its color comes from the polyphenol curcumin, and researchers have proposed that this compound inhibits heart disease. As an antioxidant, curcumin guards the heart against toxicities such as LDL cholesterol.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health conducted a study that observed patients of bypass surgery having fewer heart attacks after consuming turmeric. Although high doses can give people an upset stomach, this spice generally counters nausea and blocks potential heart complications.
Asparagus Is Tasty And Healthy
Asparagus is packed full of folate, which helps to prevent the build-up of the amino acid homocysteine from building up in the body. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to an increase in potentially fatal heart conditions including coronary artery disease and stroke.
Luckily, asparagus works in just about any dish, as it can be eaten alone as a side if need be. Also, if you don't like the taste, there are plenty of recipes that can make asparagus taste delicious.
Cook More Fish, Especially Sardines
Even for fish lovers, sardines are an acquired taste. Although a 2013 review proclaims that any fish will lower the risk of cardiovascular disease due to their omega-3's, sardines have received special attention. Research in 2016 informed that patients with type 2 diabetes who regularly ate sardines experienced more balanced blood sugar levels.
Sardines have one of the highest omega-3 counts of any fish, which assuages inflammation and wards off harmful triglycerides. Scientists believe that these factors can halt the risk of heart failure over time.
Spinach Keeps Your Heart In Rhythm
In order to have a strong and healthily rhythmic heart, one of the most important things to consume is magnesium. Considering all of the other health benefits that spinach has, it's no surprise that the leafy green is one of the best sources of dietary magnesium.
This keeps the heart healthy and regulated, so Popeye definitely got something right! You can also add spinach into almost every meal and even mask the taste of it if you really don't like it. It's an incredible vegetable.
Beets Will Help You Exercise Healthier
In 2016, a study JACC: Heart Failure examined patients of heart failure and their reaction to beets. When your heart weakens, it can't pump enough blood throughout the body, which makes it harder to exercise. Fortunately, beets are rich in nitrates, which improve blood flow.
After just one week of eating beetroots, the participants' exercise endurance raised by 20%. Not only can beets improve blood flow to nourish the heart, but they can also assist in workouts, making your diet much more effective.
Oranges Provide Potassium That You Might Not Be Getting Otherwise
Oranges not only add a tasty addition to any lunch, but research supports their positive effects on the heart. The American Heart Association proposes that citrus fruits like oranges lower the risk of ischemic stroke by 19%.
Dr. Mark Houston, clinical professor at Vanderbilt Medical School, asserts that higher potassium intake diminishes the risk of heart disease by 49%. Unfortunately, fewer than 2% of Americans meet their daily potassium content. Oranges provide plenty of potassium, and 130% of your daily vitamin C needs-- these nutrients lower blood pressure and combat skin damage such as wrinkles.
Walnuts Can Be Very Beneficial
Different kinds of nuts have different health properties, however, walnuts are great for your heart. Just eating a handful a day can help to protect against the inflammation of your hearts arteries and can even lower your cholesterol.
On top of that, walnuts also contain omega-3s, monounsaturated fats, plant sterols, and fiber. Walnuts can also be used to replace unhealthy fats such as those found in a lot of junk food. Keep in mind there are more ways to eat walnuts than just in their original form! Walnut Turkish Delights are a delicious way to work walnuts into your diet.
The More Carrots You Chomp, The Better Your Heart
These fun orange snack foods can protect the cardiovascular system if you don't dip them in too much ranch. A 2011 study in Nutrients emphasized that drinking carrot juice optimizies the body's antioxidant levels and decreases lipid peroxidation, a process that harms cells.
Earlier research from 2008 suggests that the more carrots you eat, the less likely you'll encounter a heart attack. If you don't want carrots everyday, you can substitute carrots with other yellow-orange foods such as pumpkins and sweet potatoes, which also support the heart.
Pick Off Some Pomegranates
Pomegranate seeds contain a significant source of antioxidants, which the 2013 Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal reinforces as a promoter of heart health. Antioxidants restrict oxidative stress, which over time can result in cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Pomegranate's antioxidants also break down harmful cholesterol.
Eating this fruit frequently can attenuate heart diseases. In one study, pomegranate juice alleviated arterial stiffness in patients with high cardiovascular risk. Another study observed that pomegranates decreased pressure in the arteries, even after eating a high-fat meal.
Black Beans Are Great For Controlling Blood Pressure
Black beans are great for your heart because they are packed with beneficial nutrients. Some of them, including folate, antioxidants, and magnesium are especially beneficial because they can help to lower blood pressure, which is key when it comes to heart health.
Furthermore, the fiber that they contain helps to keep cholesterol and blood sugar levels regulated. The other great thing about this type of bean is that they're tasty and are a key ingredient in plenty of dishes.
Salmon Is A Super Food
Many foods that are great for heart health commonly contain omega-3s. Although Omega-3s are fats, they are the healthy kind that help to prevent any heart rhythm disorders and can aid in combating low blood pressure. On top of that, they also have the ability to lower triglycerides and decrease inflammation.
According to the American Heart Association, two servings of salmon a week is the recommended amount for an individual. Another benefit is that salmon is an easy fish to cook. You can bake it on foil in the oven along with any other veggies needed for the meal.
A Blueberry A Day Keeps Heart Disease Away
While blueberries don't impact insulin or blood pressure, they do provide the "good" type of cholesterol, HDL. A six-month-long study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that diets higher in blueberries relax muscle cells and improves blood flow.
The authors propose that eating one cup of blueberries a day can lessen the risk of heart disease by 13%. Just three cups a week can make a difference in your blood health, arterial stiffness, and risk for type 2 diabetes.
Don't Forget About Tuna!
Much like salmon, tuna is another fish that has no shortage of omega-3s, specifically Albacore or white tuna, which has more than other varieties of the fish. One great and easy recipe is to grill a steak of tuna with some lemon and dill -- you will not be disappointed.
However, if you are going to buy canned tuna (there's nothing wrong with that) just make sure that the tuna is packed in water and not oil. Too much oil is never good for your heart.
Olive Oil Can Be Beneficial
Although oil isn't always the best for your heart, olive oil in moderation has some noticeable benefits. It's a healthy kind of fat made by mashing olives and has very important antioxidants. They can help protect your blood vessels, and substituting it for other saturated fats, like butter, can help lower cholesterol levels.
Olive oil is also extremely versatile and can be used to cook with, as a salad dressing, on vegetables... just about anything. For increased flavor, it's best to purchase olive oil cold-pressed and use it within six months.
Edamame Is Small But Mighty
While many people might eat these for a light appetizer before a meal at an Asian restaurant, edamame actually has loads of health benefits. They're soybeans, and soy protein has the ability to lower your cholesterol levels.
One cup of these little green beans also packs the punch of eight grams of heart-healthy fiber. In order to get that amount from wheat bread you would need to eat around four slices, and that's pretty unhealthy at that point!
Tofu Has The Protein You Need
Another food item that's packed with soy protein is tofu. It's also full of healthy minerals, fibers, and polyunsaturated fats. This is a go-to for many vegetarians who need protein, but it's a great option for anyone! Luckily, there are also countless ways to prepare it, and it absorbs flavors incredibly well.
Sometimes you can even fool someone to eating tofu without them knowing. There are a lot of great tofu soup recipes out there, with one of the most popular being miso soup.
Swiss Chard Has A Plethora Of Healthy Components
Rich in potassium and magnesium, Swiss chart is easily recognizable by its sizable dark green leaves and colorful stalk. The minerals in contains can also help to control blood pressure. It also has lots of heart-healthy fiber, vitamin A, and lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants.
Another cool thing about Swiss chard is that there are so many different ways to prepare it. Even though it may look like an intimidating vegetable, it's not hard to cook and is delicious.
Barley Can Be A Substitute For Rice
Barley is an excellent substitution for rice. It's a whole grain and the fiber inside can lower cholesterol levels, as well as lower blood sugar levels. The trick with barley is knowing the difference between hulled or whole grain barley and pearl barley.
Whole grain barley is the healthiest and while pearl barley isn't bad for you, most of the heart-healthy fiber has been removed. Barley goes great in soups and stews as well!
Oatmeal Is A Great Way To Start Your Day
Oatmeal has countless health benefits, and it's also a great morning meal that will keep you full for hours, spreading out time between meals and limiting snacking. It also helps maintain blood sugar levels, making it an extra helpful food for people with diabetes.
Oatmeal is also beneficial for your heart by lowering bad cholesterol levels. The best kind of oats to use is either steel-cut or slow-cooked. You can also replace flour with oats in various baked goods if you're not into eating oatmeal.
Flaxseed Can Be Used In A Variety Of Ways
Regarded by some as one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet, flaxseed has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and even diabetes. It is full of omega-3s, fiber, and lignans.
Lignans contain both plant estrogen and antioxidants, with flaxseed having 75 to 800 times more lignans other than other plants. For the best results, grind flaxseed and add to just about anything. Many people like to put them in smoothies or baked goods.
Grilled Or Raw, Eggplants Save Your Blood Flow
Eggplants have long been suggested as a healthy vegetable, but scientists didn't observe its impact on the heart until recently. In 2011, Food & Function published the first study on eggplants and cardioprotection. The researchers discovered that animals who ate the vegetables had a better ventricular function or healthy blood pumping.
Eggplants also lessen the chance of issues with apoptosis, the end-stage of the heart that signals heart failure. According to the study, both grilled and raw eggplants prevent heart attacks in the same way.
All Forms Of Cherries Are Great
Whether they're sweet cherries, sour cherries, dried cherries, or even cherry juice, all are good for your health. They are all full of an antioxidant known as anthocyanins which can help protect blood vessels.
A pro tip is that you don't like eating cherries raw and dealing with the pit, you can use dried cherries. Some good ideas for using dried cherries is baking them into pastries and bread or sprinkling them on just about anything you want.
Tomatoes Can Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease
Common in many dishes, tomatoes are full of lycopene, a natural plant pigment that has antioxidant properties. These antioxidants can help prevent heart disease by preventing oxidative damage and inflammation.
In a summary of 25 studies, it was clear that consistently eating foods that were rich in lycopene was correlated with less risk of heart disease and stroke. Luckily, tomatoes are cheap, accessible, and common in plenty of meals. So, they shouldn't be hard to add to any diet.
Raspberries Are A Great Snack
Raspberries are full of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that helps fix the damage that causes free radicals in your body. They also contain fiber and vitamin C, two things that have been associated with lowering the risk of a stroke.
They're sweet, tasty, and very easy to eat. A lot of people will realize they ate a whole package of them before it's too late. All kinds of berries are good for your heart and are a good source of protein.
Skip The Red Wine With Some Red Grapes!
Red grapes contain resveratrol, which helps to keep the platelets in your blood from sticking together. This is the reason why red wine (in moderation) have some heart-healthy advantages over other alcohols.
However, health experts recommend that you don't start drinking wine for this reason, as drinking alcohol has adverse health effects. One way to avoid drinking wine is to just eat red grapes instead. This way you can ingest resveratrol straight from the source!
Green Tea Is A Very Healthy Drink
In a 2011 review, researchers concluded that drinking green tea helps to reduce cholesterol (high cholesterol has been associated with heart disease and stroke). However, the review was not specific how much green tea someone would have to drink to achieve the heart benefits of the drink.
It was also later discovered that drinking green tea could help those who are suffering from high blood pressure, another issue that is harmful to the heart.
Liver Is The Healthiest Of All Organ Meats
Although it may not sound appealing to everyone, if prepared properly, liver can taste just as good as many other meat products. If you still can't get past the fact you're eating liver, just think of all the health benefits!
Of all of the organ meats, it has been scientifically proven that the liver is the most nutrient-dense. It contains a lot of folic acid, copper, iron, zinc, and chromium, all which increase the blood's hemoglobin levels and therefore promote a healthy heart.
Broccoli Is Easy To Make And Good For You
Broccoli has tons of B vitamins and folic acid, and B vitamins are known to help relieve anxiety, depression, and stress. Relieving stress can in turn help decrease blood pressure which is always good for the heart.
In addition, some studies suggest that eating steamed broccoli regularly can help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. Broccoli is also incredibly easy to make and can be steamed in the microwave in a matter of minutes for a healthy part of a meal.
Do Yourself A Favor And Crack Open A Pistachio (Or Two)
It might take a little time to get them open, and they tend to be expensive, but studies indicate that it's a good idea to snack on pistachios. For starters, they’re a terrific source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants.
Additionally, research has shown that these tree nuts may help to lower blood pressure and bring down levels of "bad" cholesterol in the blood, lowering cardiovascular risk. When eaten in moderation, pistachios make a great snack.
Bananas Have Very Little Fat, Cholesterol, Or Sodium
Bananas are certainly one of the most convenient health foods out there, and they're a really good source of vitamins C and B6. But bananas earned their spot as a powerhouse food because they’re loaded with potassium – 320-400 mg, or about 10% of your daily potassium needs.
Potassium is important for heart health because it helps to regulate blood pressure and fluid balance, which can reduce the risk of cardiac arrest.
Bell Peppers Add Color And Flavor
Colorful, tasty, and good for your heart, bell peppers are loaded with helpful antioxidants that help prevent cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and can slow the development of cardiovascular diseases. Peppers also contain potassium, an essential mineral that may improve heart health.
Red bell peppers are full of lycopene, which is not found in green peppers. Lycopene has been shown to reduce free-radical damage, lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol.
Spice Up Your Meals With A Dash Of Cayenne Pepper
Many people use cayenne pepper as a spice, but you can also take it in capsule form. Health Care Imaging reports that cayenne pepper is "used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels — including to improve poor circulation, reverse excessive blood clotting, lower high cholesterol and prevent heart disease."
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in cayenne peppers that gives them their medicinal properties. It's been known to have pain-relieving properties as well. The more capsaicin in a pepper, the hotter the taste.
Don't Overlook Blackberries
Other types of berries might be more popular, but don't overlook blackberries! They have some of the highest levels of antioxidants and fiber of all the berries. They also contain vitamin C, iron, calcium, and vitamin A.
These tiny, tasty fruits are low in calories, but their vitamins can help heart health by reducing oxidative stress and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Try sprinkling some on your cereal in the morning.
Papaya Is Full Of Antioxidants
Papaya is yet another food that can help protect your heart. That's because it's high in lycopene and Vitamin C, both of which can help prevent heart disease. Additionally, the antioxidants in papaya can increase the effects of HDL cholesterol, the "good" type.
And there's more! According to Healthline, "studies note that fermented papaya can reduce oxidative stress in older adults and people with prediabetes, mild hypothyroidism and liver disease."
Herring Has More Omega-3 Fatty Acids Than Tuna Or Salmon
According to the Mayo Clinic, eating at least two servings of fish a week can help lower the risk of heart disease. That's because the omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients found in some types of fish can lower blood pressure and reduce clotting, thereby decreasing the risk of strokes and heart failure.
Fatty fish are the best because they contain the most Omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association reports that herring has more omega-3 fatty acids than tuna or salmon.
In Moderation, Eggs Can Be Beneficial To The Heart
Eggs have gone through scrutiny by health experts for many years. They're a source of cholesterol, but in moderation can provide some benefits. According to the American Heart Association, "researchers studied nearly half a million Chinese adults over nine years and found up to one egg per day led to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke."
The key here is that people should know their risk factors and pay close attention to the amount of cholesterol in their diet.
Lean Beef Can Help Lower Stress
Although many experts have cautioned against red meat for years, it turns out that it might not be as unhealthy as though. In fact, the National Library of Medicine reports that "lean red meat, trimmed of visible fat, which is consumed in a diet low in saturated fat does not increase cardiovascular risk factors."
Red meat is a good source of protein, zinc, iron, and B vitamins, which have been found in some studies to help lower stress (which is good for the heart!). Look for cuts marked "loin" or "round" and limit your intake to 4 to 6 ounces.