If you are concerned with keeping your heart healthy for the long haul, there are foods that you can add to your diet to start creating a “heart healthy” diet. Healthy activities like exercise are a straightforward concept to keep your body running in good shape, but diet and nutrition are a bit more complicated. Detailed below are some heart healthy foods that you can eat regularly to keep your heart running at its best.
- Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, flaxseeds and chia seeds can potentially cut your risk of heart disease by half just by snacking on 5 ounces of these nuts each week. These kinds of nuts and seeds have heart healthy “good” fats (monounsaturated fats), which can be used in place of saturated fats like butter, and can possibly raise your “good” cholesterol levels (HDL), while lowering your “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL). Many nuts and seeds are also a plentiful source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Ocean and oily fish such as tuna, trout, sardines, mackerel and salmon are all high in omega-3 fatty acids that have an anti-clotting effect to keep your blood flowing and can help to reduce your triglycerides, the “really bad” cholesterol that can lead to heart disease. Consuming at least two servings of 4 ounces per week of these oily fish is ideal to maintain optimal heart function.
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and many other beans are all a good source of soluble fiber, which can help to reduce the “bad” cholesterol levels in your body. If you aren’t using dried beans, look for cans that offer “low-sodium” or no salt added (as added sodium can raise your blood pressure). Always rinse canned beans well before serving.
- Grains such as oats and barley that are high in fiber can help to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol, making them an ideal heart healthy choice. The beta-glucan fiber found in oats and barley can also be found in shitake mushrooms and seaweed, if you are looking to try something a little adventurous.
- Oils such as olive, avocado, sesame, flaxseed, and walnut can all promote a heart healthy approach to nutrition, as some are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other monounsaturated fatty acids that can help to promote healthy cholesterol levels and enhance absorption of some nutrients. Different oils have various health benefits and ideal uses such as drizzling on salads or for sautéing, so be sure to research each type of oil you try to take full advantage.
- Fruits such as berries, grapes, apples and avocados are all heart healthy options to add to your diet. Raspberries are loaded with polyphenol antioxidants that combat free radicals wreaking havoc in your body, and are high in vitamin C and fiber. Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries are all good choices for fiber and nutrients. Red grapes contain resveratrol, which keeps the platelets in the blood stream from sticking together. Apples contain strong antioxidant flavonoids that can prevent “bad” cholesterol from oxidizing, and are rich in pectin, a form of soluble fiber that is known to help to lower cholesterol, as well as providing vitamin C, another antioxidant your body needs. Avocados contain monounsaturated fats that help to lower “bad” cholesterol, while also acting as an anti-inflammatory.
- Tomatoes are another fruit that are incredibly versatile, and can act as a vegetable in cooking and preparing meals. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and fiber, as well as the antioxidant lycopene, which works with other vitamins and minerals in your body through antioxidant activity.
- Green tea also contains antioxidants that help to reduce the body’s response to inflammation, and can lower your “bad” cholesterol (both LDL and triglycerides) and can reduce the likelihood of a suffering from a heart attack. Know your tea source when purchasing, as many teas sold in the store can be contaminated with chemicals that would reduce any health benefits if ingested.
- Dark chocolate contains flavanol, which can thin the blood preventing blood clots, boost the immune system by reducing inflammation, as well as lower blood pressure. The 70%+ cocoa dark chocolate can also act as an antioxidant and keep the “bad” LDL cholesterol from sticking to the artery walls. Added sugar isn’t heart healthy, so stick to the 70% cocoa and up, or even better, try unsweetened cacao nibs.
There are many foods that can help you to keep your heart healthy or start to return to health, but a full nutritional analysis would assess what your body specifically needs, and can monitor and promote optimal heart health through nutritional supplements in addition to a heart healthy diet.