Our Top 18 Heart Healthy Foods

by Sue Taggart

Heart healthy foods should form the foundation of every diet. Not only are they good for you, they are great tasting and versatile. So if you are looking to take good care of yourself and family, stock up and cook with these 18 heart healthy foods.

1. Avocado

These soft, tasty fruits have a well-established reputation for providing the body and heart with healthy fats. Like olive oil, they’re rich in the monounsaturated fats that may lower heart disease risk factors, such as cholesterol. They’re also high in antioxidants and in potassium.

2. Berries

Don’t just think blueberries, but strawberries and all other berries as well. According to one recent study, women aged 25 through 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less. The authors of the study attributed the benefit to compounds known as anthocyanins, flavonoids (which are antioxidants) that may decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Anthocyanins give plants their red and blue colors.

3. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits—oranges, lemons and grapefruits are high in vitamin C, which has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease. A study found that women who consumed high amounts of the flavonoids found in oranges and grapefruits had a 19% lower risk of ischemic stroke (caused by a clot) than women who don’t get as much of these compounds. A couple of things to note though, it’s best to eat the whole fruit to get the added fiber and some citrus juices may contain added sugar. Also, grapefruit products may interfere with the action of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.

4. Coffee

We were very happy to hear that coffee may also promote heart health. One study found a 10 to 15% lower risk of dying from heart disease or other causes in men and women who drank six or more cups of coffee a day. Other research has found that even two cups a day could lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by 30%. So if you love your morning coffee—enjoy!

5. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids called polyphenols, which may help blood pressure, clotting, and inflammation, now that’s good news. For the milk chocolate lovers unfortunately, milk chocolate and most candy bars don’t make the grade when it comes to protecting your heart. Several studies have now shown that dark chocolate may benefit your heart, including one in 2012 that found that daily chocolate consumption could reduce nonfatal heart attacks and stroke in people at high risk for these problems. The findings applied only to dark chocolate, meaning chocolate made up of at least 60-70% cocoa.

6. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can help reduce both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. But it is still a fat, so go lightly! In a landmark study, people at high risk for heart disease who followed the Mediterranean diet (high in grains, fruits, vegetables) supplemented by nuts and at least four tablespoons a day of olive oil reduced their risk of heart attacks, strokes, and dying by 30%.

7. Green tea

Green Tea tea seems to impart significant health benefits. One recent study found that people who drank four or more cups of green tea daily had a 20% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke compared with people who “seldom” imbibed the beverage. Antioxidants known as catechins may be responsible for the benefits.

8. Green Veggies

Get Your Greens on….there’s nothing better than fresh greens…so versatile and so healthful. Get creative and add green to your plate at every opportunity. Green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and kale are high in carotenoids, which act as antioxidants and free your body of potentially harmful compounds. They’re also high in fiber and contain tons of vitamins and minerals. Kale also has some omega-3 fatty acids.

9. Legumes

Because they come from plants, legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are an excellent source of protein without a lot of unhealthy fat. One study found that people who ate legumes at least four times a week had a 22% lower risk of heart disease compared with those who consumed them less than once a week. Black beans and kidney beans are rich in B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber. So accessible and easy to work into soups, salads, side dishes

10. Nuts

Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts and macadamia nuts, all contain good-for-your-heart fiber. They also contain vitamin E, which helps lower bad cholesterol. And some, like walnuts, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. While nuts are often avoided because they are high in fat, most of the studies show that people who consume nuts daily are leaner than people who don’t. Opt for the raw or unsalted varieties.

11. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol. It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract and soaks up the cholesterol so it is eliminated from the body and not absorbed into the bloodstream. It’s best to choose the old-fashioned or steel cut varieties as they have a higher fiber content. Many instant products often have added sugar.

12. Papaya

Papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C and one single medium fruit provides 224% of your daily needs. A good source of folate, vitamin A, magnesium, copper, pantothenic acid and fiber, they also have B vitamins, alpha and beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthan, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, vitamin K and lycopene, the powerful antioxidant most commonly associated with tomatoes. A great way to eat them is to cut in half, scrap out the seeds, squeeze on some fresh lime juice and fill with blueberries.

13. Pomegranate

Pomegranates contains numerous antioxidants, including heart-promoting polyphenols and anthocyanins which may help stave off hardening of the arteries. One study of heart disease patients found that a daily dose of pomegranate juice over three months showed improvements in blood flow to the heart. Apples are a great alternative to pomegranates as they contain many health-promoting compounds, 

14. Red wine

Red wine, or small amounts of any type of alcohol, are thought to lower heart disease risk. (Higher amounts, more than a drink or two a day, can actually increase risk.) While some say a polyphenol found in red wine, resveratrol, gives that beverage an added benefit, research suggests that any type of alcohol in moderation works.

15. Salmon

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish and preferably fatty fish at least twice a week. Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, shown in studies to lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and decrease triglycerides. If fish just isn’t your thing, you can get the benefits of Omega-3‘s from dietary supplements.

16. Soy

Soy products, including tofu and soy milk, are a good way to add protein to your diet without unhealthy fats and cholesterol. Soy products contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats fiber, vitamins, and minerals. What’s more, soy may reduce blood pressure in people who eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates. And compared with milk or other proteins, soy protein can actually decrease LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

17. Seeds

Seeds are good for your heart. They have a high fiber content as well as Omega-3 and Omega-6. Flax, chia, quinoa, whatever you like, there’s many way to enjoy them. Try them ground up with other heart-healthy foods, such as dried blueberries, cranberries, or oatmeal or even blended with soy milk and fruit to create a smoothie.

18. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are high in heart-healthy potassium. Plus, they’re a good source of the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid that may help get rid of “bad” cholesterol, keep blood vessels open, and lower heart attack risk. And they’re low in calories and low in sugar. But, in order to get all the benefits of Lycopene, the tomatoes need to be cooked, so think tomato sauces and tomato soups.

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