A healthy diet is essential for optimum health and nutrition. It protects against a wide variety of chronic noncommunicable diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Consuming a variety of foods and limiting sodium, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and commercially produced trans fats are major elements of a healthy diet.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. K. Updated as of 12 Nov 2021.
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15 Best Heart Healthy Foods For A Longer And Healthier Life
Heart Healthy Foods
Nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide are caused by heart disease.
Diet has a significant effect on heart health and can influence the risk of heart disease.
In reality, some foods can affect blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, and inflammation; all of which are heart disease risk factors.
Here are 15 foods that will help you improve your heart health.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy greens including spinach, kale, and collard greens are known for their high nutrient, mineral, and antioxidant content.
They're particularly high in vitamin K, which protects your arteries and promotes healthy blood clotting.
They're also rich in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, minimise arterial stiffness, and improve blood vessel cell function.
Increased consumption of leafy green vegetables has also been linked to a lower risk of heart disease in some studies.
According to a study of eight studies, growing leafy green vegetable consumption was linked to a 16% lower risk of heart disease.
A high consumption of leafy green vegetables was related to a substantially lower risk of coronary heart disease in another study of 29,689 people.
Whole grains contain the germ, endosperm, and bran, which are all nutrient-dense components of the grain.
Whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa are all examples of whole grains.
Whole grains have more fibre than refined grains, which can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.
Adding more whole grains to your diet has been shown in several studies to improve heart health.
According to a review of 45 studies, consuming three more servings of whole grains per day was linked to a 22% lower risk of heart disease.
Another research discovered that consuming at least three servings of whole grains reduced systolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg, which is enough to minimise the risk of stroke by around 25%.
When buying whole grains, read the label carefully to see what's in them. Words like “whole grain" or “whole wheat" may or may not mean a whole-grain product, whole “wheat flour" or “multigrain" may or may not.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are chock-full of nutrients that are essential for heart health.
Berries are also high in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which contribute to heart disease growth.
Several studies have shown that consuming a lot of berries will lower the risk of heart disease.
For instance, one study found that drinking a beverage made of freeze-dried strawberries for eight weeks reduced “bad” LDL cholesterol by 11% in 27 adults with metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a set of symptoms linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Another research discovered that eating blueberries on a daily basis enhanced the role of blood vessel lining cells, which help regulate blood pressure and blood clotting.
Furthermore, a review of 22 studies found that consuming berries was linked to lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, body mass index, and inflammation markers.
Berries make a tasty low-calorie dessert or a satisfying snack. To reap the benefits of each, try incorporating a few different forms into your diet.
Avocados are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease.
One research examined the effects of three cholesterol-lowering diets on 45 overweight and obese individuals, with one of the test groups eating one avocado per day.
The avocado group had lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, including thin, dense LDL cholesterol, which is thought to increase the risk of heart disease significantly.
Another analysis of 17,567 people found that those who consumed avocados on a daily basis had half the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Avocados are also high in potassium, which is essential for heart health. In reality, one avocado contains 975 milligrammes of potassium, which is about 28% of your daily requirement.
Blood pressure can be reduced by an average of 8.0/4.1 mmHg by consuming at least 4.7 grammes of potassium per day, which is linked to a 15% lower risk of stroke.
Fatty Fish and Fish Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna, have been extensively researched for their heart-health benefits.
In a study of 324 participants, consuming salmon three days a week for eight weeks reduced diastolic blood pressure significantly.
Another study found a correlation between long-term fish consumption and lower total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and systolic blood pressure.
Furthermore, each 3.5-ounce (100-gram) reduction in weekly fish intake was linked to a 19% increased risk of developing one additional heart disease risk factor, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity.
Fish oil is another way to get your regular dose of omega-3 fatty acids if you don't consume a lot of seafood.
Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to lower blood triglycerides, increase arterial function, and lower blood pressure.
Other omega-3 supplements, such as krill oil or algal oil, are common.
Walnuts are high in fibre as well as micronutrients such as magnesium, copper, and manganese.
According to studies, including a few servings of walnuts in your diet will help protect you from heart disease.
Walnuts can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 16%, lower diastolic blood pressure by 2–3 mm Hg, and minimise oxidative stress and inflammation, according to one study.
Another study of 365 people found that adding walnuts to their diets resulted in lower LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Interestingly, daily consumption of nuts like walnuts has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease in some studies.
Beans contain resistant starch, which is resistant to digestion and fermented by the gut bacteria.
Resistant starch has been shown in animal studies to boost heart health by lowering triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the blood.
Eating beans has also been shown in several studies to minimise some heart disease risk factors.
Eating pinto beans decreased blood triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol in a 16-person sample.
A diet rich in beans and legumes was also found to lower LDL cholesterol levels in a study of 26 studies.
Furthermore, consuming beans has been related to lower blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are heart disease risk factors.
Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, which are antioxidants that can help improve heart health.
Interestingly, consuming chocolate has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease in some studies.
According to one major survey, people who consumed chocolate at least five days a week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who didn't.
According to another study, eating chocolate at least twice a week was linked to a 32% lower risk of calcified plaque in the arteries.
Keep in mind that while these studies indicate a correlation, they don't always account for other factors that might be at play.
Furthermore, chocolate contains a lot of sugar and calories, which negates a lot of its health benefits.
Choose a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% and consume it in moderation to reap the benefits of its heart-healthy properties.
Lycopene, a natural plant pigment with strong antioxidant properties, is abundant in tomatoes.
Antioxidants aid in the neutralisation of harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which can lead to heart disease.
Lycopene deficiency has been attributed to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
According to a study of 25 studies, a high intake of lycopene-rich foods was linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Another research found that consuming two raw tomatoes four days a week raised levels of “good” HDL cholesterol in 50 overweight people.
Higher HDL cholesterol levels can aid in the removal of excess cholesterol and plaque from the arteries, keeping the heart healthy and protecting you from heart disease and stroke.
Almonds are high in nutrients, with a long list of vitamins and minerals that are essential for heart health.
They're also high in monounsaturated fats, which are good for your heart, and fibre, which are two essential nutrients that can help prevent heart disease.
Almonds can also help lower cholesterol levels, according to research.
In one study, consuming 1.5 ounces (43 grammes) of almonds daily for six weeks decreased belly fat and levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Another small study found similar results, reporting substantial reductions in both LDL and total cholesterol after consuming almonds for four weeks.
Almond consumption has also been linked to higher levels of HDL cholesterol, which can help minimise plaque accumulation and keep the arteries clear, according to research.
Always keep in mind that while almonds are high in nutrients, they are also high in calories. If you're trying to lose weight, keep your servings small and your consumption moderate.
Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are all high in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to the heart.
Adding these seeds to your diet has been shown in several studies to increase a variety of heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Hemp seeds, for example, are rich in arginine, an amino acid linked to lower levels of certain inflammatory markers in the blood.
Flaxseed can also aid in the management of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
One study found that consuming 30 grammes of flax seeds per day for half a year lowered systolic blood pressure by 10 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 7 mmHg in people with high blood pressure.
In a study of 17 people, consuming flaxseed bread reduced total cholesterol by 7% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 9%.
Although additional research on the effects of chia seeds on human heart health is necessary, one study in rats discovered that consuming chia seeds decreased blood triglyceride levels and increased levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol.
Garlic has been used as a natural remedy for a number of ailments for decades.
Recent research has verified garlic's potent medicinal properties and discovered that it can also help enhance cardiovascular health.
This is due to the presence of a compound called allicin, which is thought to have a plethora of medicinal properties.
In one study, taking garlic extract in doses of 600–1,500 mg daily for 24 weeks was found to be as effective at lowering blood pressure as a typical prescription drug.
According to one study, garlic can reduce total cholesterol by an average of 17 mg/dL and “poor" LDL cholesterol by 9 mg/dL in people with high cholesterol.
Additionally, other studies have discovered that garlic extract can prevent platelet aggregation, potentially lowering the risk of blood clots and stroke.
Consume garlic raw or crushed and allowed to sit for a few minutes prior to cooking. This promotes the formation of allicin, which has a number of possible health benefits.
Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and its heart-healthy properties are well known.
Olive oil is high in antioxidants, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and the risk of chronic disease.
It's also high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which several studies have linked to improved heart health.
Indeed, one study found that those who drank the most olive oil had a 35% lower risk of developing heart disease than those who consumed the least.
Besides that, increased consumption of olive oil was associated with a 48% lower risk of dying from heart disease.
Additionally, another major study found that increasing olive oil consumption was correlated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Utilize olive oil's numerous benefits by drizzling it over cooked dishes or applying it to vinaigrettes and sauces.
Edamame is a green soybean that is commonly used in Asian cuisine.
As is the case with other soy products, edamame is high in soy isoflavones, a form of flavonoid that may aid in cholesterol reduction and heart health.
According to one study of 11 trials, soy isoflavones decreased total cholesterol by 3.9 mg/dL and “poor" LDL cholesterol by 5 mg/dL.
Another study discovered that 50 grammes of soy protein consumed daily reduced LDL cholesterol by an average of 3%.
When combined with other lifestyle and dietary improvements, even a small reduction in cholesterol levels may have a significant effect on the risk of heart disease.
According to one study, lowering total cholesterol by 10% was correlated with a 15% reduction in the risk of dying from coronary heart disease.
Along with isoflavones, edamame contains a variety of other heart-healthy nutrients, such as dietary fibre and antioxidants.
Green tea has been linked to a variety of health benefits, ranging from weight loss to increased insulin sensitivity.
Additionally, it is loaded with polyphenols and catechins, which serve as antioxidants, preventing cell damage, reducing inflammation, and promoting heart health.
According to a meta-analysis of 20 studies, consuming more green tea catechins was correlated with significantly lower LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Furthermore, a study involving 1,367 individuals discovered that green tea reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Another small study discovered that taking green tea extract for three months significantly decreased blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol as compared to a placebo.
Supplementing with green tea or drinking matcha, a beverage similar to green tea but made with the whole tea leaf, can also gain heart health.
The Bottom Line
The link between diet and heart disease continues to strengthen as new evidence accumulates.
What you eat has a significant impact on nearly every aspect of heart health, from blood pressure and inflammation to cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
By incorporating these heart-healthy foods into a nutritious, well-balanced diet, you can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Referenced on 18/5/2021
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