The Best Foods for Heart Health

best foods for heart health

Heart disease is the most preventable disease in the world, yet it is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. One of the easiest ways to prevent heart disease is by changing your diet. The best foods for heart health include protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and heart-healthy nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin D, and folic acid (B9).

The challenge in recognizing heart disease is that men and women have different risk factors and signs. For example, a decline in estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause increases a woman’s risk of developing heart disease.[1] However, testosterone levels in men drop as they age, which increases their risk of developing diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and coronary artery disease.[2]

Since February is Heart Health Month, I will share the best foods for heart health. 

7 Foods for Heart Health

Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for keeping your heart healthy. Unfortunately, the way most Americans eat is the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is full of processed sugars, industrialized fats, and high amounts of salt. Not to mention toxic chemicals such as preservatives, additives, and pesticides that are added to our food supply to keep it from spoiling or protect it from bugs. 

Here are seven of the best foods for heart health that you can eat:

Best Foods for Heart Health - Infographic - Very Well Wellness

1. Fatty Fish

Salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and tuna, which are good for your heart because they are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fat that provides numerous health benefits, including reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of heart disease.[3]

Research has shown that consuming fatty fish helps lower blood pressure, reduce triglycerides, and decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats. Omega-3 fatty acids may also help reduce the build-up of plaque in the arteries, which can improve blood flow and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

In addition to their omega-3 content, fatty fish are a good source of high-quality protein and other nutrients, such as vitamin D, selenium, and B vitamins, which are also crucial for heart health. 

One thing to keep in mind is the source. Fish farming has increased in popularity to increase the food supply. Some fish can be high in mercury, which is a toxic metal. Always get your fish from fresh sources, or buy wild-caught seafood at your local grocery store.  

2. Leafy Greens

Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, beet greens, and watercress, are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients crucial for optimal health. However, they are a superpower regarding heart health. 

Incorporating leafy greens into your diet may benefit heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have found that consuming leafy greens regularly is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular events. This is due to the high amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals are electrolytes, which facilitate optimal heart function. 

Leafy greens are also a great source of dietary nitrate, which gets converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide dilates your blood vessels to promote optimal blood flow.[4]

In addition to these benefits, leafy greens are also low in calories and fiber, promoting weight loss and reducing the risk of obesity, a known risk factor for heart disease. Overall, leafy greens are one of the best foods for heart health that you can eat. 

3. Berries

Who doesn’t like berries? Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and goji berries are packed with nutrients essential for heart health, as well as antioxidants and fiber. 

One of the primary ways berries benefit heart health is through their high content of antioxidants, which reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals. A free radical is an atom missing an electron. As it travels through your body looking for an extra electron, it causes damage to your cells, also known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is one of the leading causes of heart disease.[5]

Berries are particularly rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. Polyphenols can help reduce damage caused by oxidative stress by lending a spare electron to free radicals. They can also improve the function of the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels, which improves blood flow and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Berries are also a great source of dietary fiber, which can help reduce cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health. Fiber helps to absorb cholesterol in the intestines, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. This, in turn, can help lower the risk of developing heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.

4. Nuts

Nuts are generally considered one of the best foods for heart health for several reasons. For one, nuts contain unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Additionally, nuts are a good source of essential nutrients such as vitamin E, magnesium, and fiber, which are linked to improved heart health. Nuts also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation in the body, and chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Finally, nuts are high in calories, and studies have shown that including them in a balanced diet can aid in weight management. This is because they are satiating and can help to reduce overall calorie intake.

It’s important to know that nuts are not allowed on an Autoimmune Diet unless you don’t have a sensitivity to them. Nuts may also have high sodium or added sugars, so choosing unsalted and unsweetened varieties is essential. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, and sesame seeds are the best nuts for heart health. 

5. Protein

Consuming adequate amounts of protein as part of a healthy diet can reduce the risk of heart disease for several reasons, including weight management and hormone production. 

Protein is a macronutrient that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including building and repairing tissues, supporting the immune system, and producing enzymes and hormones. It is also essential for maintaining muscle mass and bone density. Since it is a macronutrient, you should eat large amounts of protein daily. How much protein you need depends on your activity level, age, sex, and basal metabolic rate (BMR). 

Diets high in protein may help reduce the risk of heart disease by several mechanisms.[6]

  For example, protein can help lower blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease. Protein can also improve cholesterol levels by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.

Additionally, protein can help with weight management, which is also an essential factor in preventing heart disease. Protein is more satiating than carbohydrates or fat, which can help reduce overall calorie intake and promote weight loss.

I recommend that you consume primarily animal protein from low-fat, organic meats such as wild-caught salmon and free-range, antibiotic-free chicken and turkey. 

6. Avocados

One of the best foods for heart health is avocados. This fruit is an excellent source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are considered “good fats” because they can help improve cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease. In fact, several studies have shown that consuming avocados may have beneficial effects on heart health.[7]

One study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating one avocado a day as part of a moderate-fat diet can help lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL) in overweight and obese individuals.[8] Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming avocados can help improve the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood, which is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.[9]

In addition to their healthy fats, avocados are a good source of fiber, potassium, and other nutrients that can help support heart health. Potassium is vital for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels; fiber can also help lower cholesterol levels.

However, it’s important to remember that avocados are relatively high in calories and fat, so it’s essential to consume them in moderation. One serving of avocado is about one-third of a medium avocado, which contains about 80 calories and seven grams of healthy fat.

7. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is one of the best foods for heart health, specifically with its ability to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of heart disease.

The beneficial effects of dark chocolate are attributed to its high content of flavanols, which are a type of plant compound with antioxidant properties. Flavanols also help to increase the production of nitric oxide. By improving blood flow, dark chocolate may reduce the risk of hypertension, a significant risk factor for heart disease.

A meta-analysis of 42 randomized controlled trials found that consumption of dark chocolate (with a high content of flavanols) was associated with a small but significant reduction in blood pressure. Another review of 13 studies found that consumption of dark chocolate was associated with improved vascular function, which is another critical factor in reducing the risk of heart disease.[10]

It’s worth noting that dark chocolate is also a source of calories, fat, and sugar, so it should be eaten in moderation. Not all types of chocolate are equal. Choose high-quality dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids (about 80% or more) and low sugar content for maximum health benefits is essential.

It’s important to remember that a healthy diet is just one part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise, stress management, and getting enough sleep are vital for maintaining a healthy heart. Now, let’s talk about other ways to reduce heat disease. 

How to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

Eating the best foods for heart disease is only part of reducing your risk of heart disease. Other risk factors include type 2 diabetes, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and activity levels. Here are some tips to reduce your risk of heart disease:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight – Obesity is a significant risk factor for heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
  2. Exercise regularly– Regular physical activity is a critical way to reduce the risk of heart disease. Don’t overdo it!! Excessive exercise can damage your mitochondria and negatively impact your gut health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.
  3. Manage stress– Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease. Try to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
  4. Quit smoking– if you smoke, stop! Smoking is the most significant risk factor for heart disease. It impacts your lungs and increases your blood pressure.
  5. Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure and contribute to the development of heart disease. It also contributes to weight gain and liver disease. If you drink, limit your consumption to no more than one drink per day.

Following these tips can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and improve your overall health.

Final Thoughts on Foods for Heart Health

While you cannot change your genetics, race, sex, or age, you can control their impact on your risk of heart disease by changing your lifestyle and diet. You should start today to lower your risk of heart disease regardless of age. 

Your diet impacts many modifiable risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure, obesity, and metabolic health. Eating the best foods for heart health will reduce your risk of developing heart disease. 

If you want to optimize your nutrition and exercise routine to improve your heart health, let me help. Sschedule a free discovery call and let me help you get on the path of Living Very Well™. 

About Michael
About Michael

Michael is a functional health coach and sports nutritionist based in Austin, Texas. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Texas and advanced certification in sports nutrition from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.