68 Foods for a Healthy Heart

According to the CDC, about 655.000 people in the United States die yearly from heart disease. Or in other words, 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. [1]


The term heart disease describes various heart conditions, including blood vessel diseases, rhythm problems, heart defects, heart valve and muscle disease, and heart infections. [2]


There are various reasons why heart disease is so common nowadays. First, considerable heart disease risk factors are related to lifestyle: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. The CDC suggests that 47% of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors. Second, age and family history may also increase the predisposition to heart disease. [3]


While age and family history cannot be changed, lifestyle risk factors can be influenced by daily changes in diet and routine. Specifically, diet plays a major role in improving heart health and preventing heart disease.


This article will help guide you towards heart-healthy dietary and daily habits.



Diet ground rules for heart health


The US Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion both suggest 3 ground rules for a heart-healthy diet. [4]

  1. Eat Less Saturated Fats (Less Than 6% Of Daily Calories). High Consumption Of Saturated Fats Likely Increases The Risk Of High Cholesterol And Arterial Plaque Buildup. Saturated Fats Are Found In Foods Including High-Fat Cuts Of Meat, Red Meat, Full-Fat Dairy Products, And Many Processed And Packaged Foods.

  2. Eat Less Salt (Sodium). Excess Daily Consumption Of Salt (More Than 2,300 Mg) Is Associated With An Increased Risk Of Hypertension. High Sodium Foods Include Highly Processed Foods And Deli Meat.

  3. Eat More Fiber. Consuming An Adequate Amount Of Dietary Fiber Aids In The Management Of Weight, Cholesterol, And Blood Pressure; Thus, Reducing The Risk Of Developing Heart Disease. Fiber-Rich Foods Include Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains, Legumes, And Nuts.

According to the MayoClinic, portion control also plays a key role when it comes to heart health. Being mindful of portion sizes can help to reduce caloric intake and aid in weight management. Using smaller plates and bowls and serving yourself one portion at a time are great ways to start being more considerate of your portion sizes. [5]


Foods for a healthy heart


Harvard Health Publishing suggests that people who consistently follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, and vegetable oils may have 31% lower risk of heart disease compared to people who consume higher amounts of red and processed meats, refined carbs and sugars, sodium, and processed foods. [6]


Here is a list of heart-healthy foods to include in your diet to improve your heart health. [6][7][8]

Fish

Oily (fatty) fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which support balanced cholesterol profile and heart health.

  • Salmon

  • Sardines

  • Anchovies

  • Trout

  • Cod

  • Mackerel

  • Tuna

  • Herring

Nuts and seeds

Eating a variety of nuts may have beneficial effects on one’s cholesterol profile (reducing total and LDL cholesterol), triglycerides, hypertension, and heart disease risk. [9]

  • Almonds

  • Pistachios

  • Hazelnuts

  • Walnuts

  • Macadamia

  • Pecans

Legumes

Consumption of legumes may improve the ratio between HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), reduce total cholesterol, and lower the risk of hypertension and heart disease. [9] Furthermore, they are rich in fiber and essential micronutrients.

  • Beans

  • Lentils

  • Peas

  • Chickpeas


Vegetables


All vegetables are rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Eating multiple servings of veggies daily will help to balance blood pressure and cholesterol while improving overall heart health. [9]

  • Broccoli

  • Spinach

  • Carrots

  • Cucumbers

  • Tomatoes

  • Artichoke

  • Peppers

  • Cauliflower

  • Celery

  • Courgettes

  • Leeks

  • Kale

  • Garlic

  • Lettuce

  • Cabbage

  • Onions

Fruits

Fruits are abundant in fiber, polyphenols (antioxidant compounds), and micronutrients; thus, moderate consumption of fruits (up to 1.5 cups per day) may support heart health.

  • Strawberries

  • Raspberries

  • Blueberries

  • Blackberries

  • Apples

  • Pears

  • Peaches

  • Apricots

  • Watermelon

  • Kiwi

  • Oranges

  • Grapes

Soy

Soy products may support heart health while supplying the body with isoflavones and plant-based protein. [10]

  • Tofu

  • Tempeh

  • Soy Milk

  • Soy Yogurt

Low-fat dairy

Moderate consumption of low-fat and fermented dairy foods may reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension by improving one’s cholesterol profile. [9]

  • Greek Yogurt

  • Kefir

  • Milk

  • Soft Cheese

  • Foods Enriched With Plant Sterols And Stanols

Whole-grains

Whole-grain foods are rich in fiber and micronutrients, which support heart health. Substituting refined grains with whole grains can be a great way to start making diet changes for a healthy heart.

  • Oats

  • Barley

  • Quinoa

  • Whole Wheat Pasta

  • Whole Grain Bread

  • Brown Rice

Vegetable oils

Substituting saturated fats with unsaturated fats may improve cholesterol profile and lower the risk of heart disease. Unsaturated (healthy) fats are found in different foods including fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. [9]

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Sunflower Oil

  • Canola Oil

Poultry

Consuming poultry instead of red meat may significantly lower your intake of saturated fats. However, note that some parts of the poultry (like the skin) are still rich in saturated fats; thus, their consumption should be limited.

  • Chicken Breast

  • Turkey

Evidence suggests that limiting the consumption of red meat, sugary foods and beverages, and processed foods could reduce the risk of heart disease development and improve overall heart health. [11]



Diet for heart health


A 2015 paper suggests that there are three dietary plans that can be used for improving heart health. The DASH diet, Portfolio diet, and Mediterranean diet have been associated with improved blood pressure and lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol; thus, these diets likely have beneficial effects on heart health. [12]

DASH diet

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (also known as the DASH diet) suggest the following dietary goals for 2000 calorie diet [13] :

  • Grains: 6-8 Servings Daily

  • Meat, Poultry, Fish: Up To 6 Servings Daily

  • Vegetables: 4-5 Servings Daily

  • Fruit: 4-5 Servings Daily

  • Low Fat/Fat-Free Diary: 2-3 Servings Daily

  • Fats And Oils: 2-3 Servings Daily

  • Sodium: Up To 2.300mg (Ideally, Up To 1.500mg For Best Results)

  • Nuts, Seeds, Legumes: 4-5 Servings Weekly

  • Sweets: Up To 5 Servings Weekly


Portfolio diet


The Portfolio diet is specifically created for balancing cholesterol profile by reducing total and LDL cholesterol. The eating plan focuses on including the following food groups [14] :

  • Foods Rich In Soluble Fiber (Fruits, Veggies, Legumes, Whole Grains)

  • Nuts

  • Soy Protein Foods (Including Soy Milk, Tofu And Tempeh)

  • Foods Enriched With Plant Sterols

Don’t miss out: 48 Foods That Lower Cholesterol

Mediterranean diet

Generally, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease. The diet exclusively focuses on the consumption of the following food groups [15] :

  • Vegetables

  • Fruits

  • Legumes

  • Nuts

  • Beans

  • Cereals

  • Grains

  • Fish

  • Unsaturated Fats


The advice from Claudia Hleap (Registered Dietitian): To reduce your risk of heart disease, emphasize whole foods in your diet. Prioritize foods rich in fiber and unsaturated fats, while limiting your intake of processed foods containing saturated fats and added sugar.