Healthiest Food For The Heart To Keep You Fit And Active
A person dies every 36 seconds of cardiovascular disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control , making it the leading cause of death in the country. (1)(2) However, not all hope is lost in our battle against this vicious disease.
According to a study conducted by Harvard, a healthy lifestyle can reduce 72% of premature deaths caused by heart-related conditions. (3) So what exactly does this entail? It is all about enjoying the healthiest food for the heart and getting some daily exercise.
If you are unsure where to start, don’t worry because this article can be your guide as you embark on this new journey. To celebrate American Heart Month this February, let’s dive into an ultimate list of healthiest foods for heart that you can add into your daily life, some meal planning tips, and lifestyle advice.
Healthiest Food For the Heart
But before we dive into our list, let’s set some groundwork. Overall, a heart healthy diet is all focused on eating lean proteins, tons of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. In fact, it is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet. To keep your heart in tip-top shape, you absolutely must reduce your intake of salt, trans fat, and processed foods. No added sugars either! Now, we know it seems like quite a bit of restriction. However, once you begin indulging in the diverse range of whole foods we have listed, you’ll easily leave those other unhealthy options behind.
1. Green Leafy Vegetables
From spinach to kale, green leafy vegetables are going to be your best friends who will guide you to a healthy heart. So, what exactly can they do? Their high vitamin K content will defend your arteries and their nitrates will simultaneously reduce blood pressure and “arterial stiffness.” Furthermore, to convince you of the power behind green vegetables, a 16% decrease of heart disease risk was associated with the consumption of these foods. (4)
The star of oatmeal is its soluble fiber content, which absorbs the cholesterol and carries it out of your body, rather than settling in your bloodstream. (5) It is even better if you can find oats labeled at 100% whole grain. (6)
As a helpful warning, do not buy instant oatmeal packages! Because they are overloaded with added sugars, which ruin any health benefits you could receive. Instead, take some time in the mornings and craft your oatmeal with care. Splash in some low-fat milk or a dairy-alternative, sweeten with honey, and top with fresh fruit. The couple of extra minutes that went into preparing this nutritious breakfast will be worth it in the long run, trust us.
3. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate makes a perfect dessert that will not just satisfy your sweet tooth, but do so without damaging your heart. In fact, the occasional piece will actually provide benefits in the long run! These delectable bars are filled with flavonoids, which are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. (6) Its abundance of antioxidants also help reduce blood pressure. (7)
In order for chocolate to be included in your list of healthiest foods for the heart, it must have at least 70% cocoa. This is important because the cocoa beans are what provide the flavonoids. (7)
Interestingly, a study concluded that women who ate at least three servings of berries a week had 32% lower risk of heart attack. (5) Packed with antioxidants, this fruit will reduce inflammation and prevent oxidative stress, both of which can lead to heart disease. (4) So next snack time, simply grab a handful of your favorite berries.
Now, you don’t just have to stick berries if you are not a fan. Opting for any fruit throughout the day is a good choice when it comes to a hearty healthy diet.
5. Citrus Fruits
Another great fruity option is any type of citrus fruit. Grapefruits, tangerines, organes, lemons are all up for choosing. We all know these juicy fruits for their vitamin C content; however, they also contain large amounts of other heart healthy nutrients including potassium, fiber, folate, and B vitamins. (9) Remember those flavonoids we mentioned earlier? Well, citrus fruits have them too, only adding to their already long list of heart benefits. (10)
As a reminder, those on blood pressure medication should not eat grapefruits, as it will interfere with the effects of your prescription. Instead, opt for any of the other great choices!
There is no reason to forgo your avocado toast. Actually, enjoying this superfood on some whole-grain bread is a great heart-healthy meal! This delectable fruit contains loads of healthy fats that lower the bad LDL cholesterol levels in your body. (11) On top of that they also have bounteous amounts of potassium. Just one avocado will supply you with 975 milligrams of potassium, which is about 28% of your daily recommended amount.
What does this mean for heart health? This vital nutrient has been shown to decrease blood pressure, which is directly shown to lower the possibility of a stroke. (4)
7. Fish Oil
Fatty fish is packed with omega-3 and protein while being low in saturated fats unlike red meat alternatives. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fish per week to receive maximum impact. (12) Slowly faze out your lunch meats, steaks, and sausage with fish and your heart will thank you tremendously.
However, if you are following a plant-based diet, then try to up your intake of flax and hemp seeds. Sprinkle them in your morning smoothie or on top of your oatmeal for some heart-boosting benefits.
8. Chili Peppers
Spice lovers rejoice! Chili peppers have made the cut for being one the healthiest foods for the heart! In a recent study conducted in Italy, scientists discovered that those who ate chili peppers four times a week were around 40% less likely to die from a heart attack and 60% less likely to succumb to a cerebrovascular disease, like a stroke. The spicy peppers’ secret lies in its capsaicin content. This active ingredient found in many different peppers can lower cholesterol levels and block the gene that makes arteries contract. (13)
Walnuts make the perfect snack and a great companion for your healthy heart journey. Being a source of omega 3, makes them a perfect addition to those following a plant-based diet. Moreover, these little powerhouses also help maintain your cholesterol levels and can decrease your blood pressure. (14)
Really, any type of nut is great for your heart. However, make sure to keep an eye on the salt content and calories.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is a natural plant pigment loaded with antioxidant properties. These pigments can prevent oxidative damage and inflammation, which contribute to heart disease. In fact, low levels of lycopene are linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. So make sure you are munching on some tomatoes throughout the week. (4)
You can also toss them into your salads for a bit of color, make a delicious sauce to enjoy with some spaghetti squash, or simply drink a glass of tomato juice.
12. Olive Oil
Since a heart healthy diet is all about limiting unhealthy fats, olive oil is a great alternative. Saturated fats increase your blood cholesterol which leads to plaque build-up in your arteries. Replacing your butter with some olive oil is a great swap you can make. (4)
13. Green Tea
Sipping on a cup of green tea a day may help keep your heart in great shape as it may lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. A study found that people who drank more than five cups of green tea per day had a 26% lower risk of death from heart attack and 16% lower risk of death from all causes. (16) So instead of that midday soda, quickly make a calming mug of green tea. You will still get a caffeine boost with some health benefits thrown in without any added sugars.
Matcha is another great alternative as well! It will make a thicker drink that is creamy and deliciously satisfying. We recommend pairing it with some coconut milk.
If you are interested in the health benefits of tea, check out our blog post about chamomile!
14. Fresh Herbs
While fresh herbs may not offer any direct assistance to boosting your heart health, they can still play a vital role when you cook your dishes. One of the main pillars of the heart healthy lifestyle is low sodium intake. Well, without salt how can you add some flavor into your dishes? The answer is fresh herbs! These guys can really take your dishes to the next level without impacting the health benefits. With Spring arriving, you can even grow some herbs easily within your own home.
For those unsure where to start, we recommend following Penn Medicine’s herb pairing guide with some of the healthiest foods for the heart.
We are ending our list of the healthiest foods for the heart with quite a contentious vegetable: beets. You either love them or hate them. Whatever your preference, their heart boosting capabilities cannot be denied. Beetroot juice is a rich source of nitrates, which help improve blood flow and heart health. In fact, this food can increase the exercise ability in heart failure patients. (17)
They also contain betaine, which reduces the body’s concentration of homocysteine, a substance that wreaks havoc on your blood vessels. (18)
Beets make a great salad topping, side dish, or yummy addition to a soup.
Also, don’t waste those beet greens either! In fact, they have more nutritional benefits than the beet itself and can really boost your immune system. They make great additions to soups like borscht.
Meal Prepping Your Way To A Healthy Heart
Meal prepping is a great way to get yourself in the groove of incorporating foods that are healthiest for the heart into your diet. Not only will it save you time, but preparing your meals in advance can actually help you correctly portion your food. Try to plan your meals so that they share major ingredients. This will save you time from having to cut up too many ingredients and money in the long run.
While meal prep may take some dedication you can easily set a schedule to succeed. Plan out one day a week (our personal favorite is Sundays) to get all your cooking done for the next seven days. With a proper plan in place and incorporating these healthiest foods for the heart, you are bound to succeed in living a healthy life!
Get Your Heart Beating With a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
Your path towards achieving a healthy heart is not only paved by the food you eat but your lifestyle as well. Additionally, getting your heart pumping is one of the keys needed to unlock good health.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends fitting in 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days out of the week. (19) Don’t worry, you don’t have to go for an intense run around your block. Instead, you can play a game of tennis, enjoy a brisk walk or bike ride, or fix up your garden. (20) The benefits of these activities will gradually add up and build you a healthier life before you know it.
Your mental health plays a huge role too. Stress contributes to high blood pressure and increases your risk for heart disease. (21) So, take some time everyday to decompress and begin practicing mindful living. You can find further reading about mindful eating in our exclusive digital magazine, free to download for a limited time.
As a gentle reminder: It is entirely okay to treat yourself once in a while. Do not restrict yourself to the point of unhappiness and instead listen to your body’s needs. A healthy balance is what we strive here for at Cook & Culture!
Raise awareness of heart health this American Heart Month and share this article with any friends or family! Don’t delay taking care of your heart. Instead, nourish this precious organ with delicious food starting today.
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