Are you looking to improve your heart health through a healthier diet? If so, you're in the right place. In this blog, we will be exploring the top 10 best and worst foods for heart health. By making thoughtful choices about what we eat, we can have a significant impact on our cardiovascular well-being.
So, let's dive in and find out what to pick and what to skip for a happier, healthier heart!
What are heart-healthy foods?
Beyond specific meals or nutrients, heart-healthy eating habits can considerably improve your cardiovascular health. What you eat can impact several aspects of heart health, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, inflammation and triglycerides.
A heart-healthy eating plan emphasizes minimally processed beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The American Heart Association recommends the following dietary guidelines for heart health:
- Maintain a healthy body weight by balancing calories from diet with calories burnt during exercise.
- Consume a diverse selection of fruits and veggies.
- Opt for whole grains over refined grains.
- Use liquid plant oils such as avocado and olive instead of tropical oils such as palm oil.
- Eat healthy sources of protein such as plants, lean meats and seafood.
- Minimize your intake of added sugars and salt.
- Choose minimally processed foods.
- Limit alcohol.
Heart-healthy foods list
If you're on a mission to keep your heart pumping strong and steady, paying attention to what's on your plate is a smart move. Here are 5 best foods for heart health:
1. Fruits and Veggies
Studies consistently find that diets rich in fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables play an important role in heart health because they contain antioxidants that can help prevent injuries to the arteries.Aim to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, tinned, or frozen.
Numerous studies have linked diets high in fruits and vegetables to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. They are rich in antioxidants which help prevent injuries to the arteries. Here are a few tips and reminders to enjoy and load up with fruits and veggies whether fresh, tinned, or frozen.
- Eat a rainbow! Try to get as many colors of fruits and veggies as possible into your daily diet. Each color offers unique nutrients and benefits:
- Red: Apples, strawberries, red peppers, and tomatoes are rich in antioxidants like lycopene and anthocyanins, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and decrease cholesterol levels.
- Orange/Yellow: Carrots, mangoes, oranges, and sweet potatoes are loaded with carotenoids such as beta-carotene and vitamin C, which support heart health by improving blood vessel function and reducing inflammation. These nutrients also play a crucial role in preventing plaque build-up in the arteries.
- Green: Kale, spinach, broccoli, and avocado are high in antioxidants, nitrates, vitamin K, and folate, which help maintain arterial flexibility and lower blood pressure. Research has found that people who consume the most nitrate-rich vegetables (especially leafy greens) lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease by 12% to 26%.
- Blue/Purple: Beets, blueberries, eggplant, and purple grapes are full of anthocyanins and flavonoids. These compounds help decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol levels and promoting healthy blood vessels.
- Choose canned, dried, or frozen fruit without added sugars (Just remember that fresh fruits are still slightly higher in fiber than canned.)
- Opt for canned or frozen vegetables low in sodium content and without added butter or sauces
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains are a powerhouse of nutrition and an excellent ally for heart health. Their high fiber content plays a significant role in maintaining stable blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol levels, and promoting a feeling of fullness, which can help in weight management—a key factor in cardiovascular health. Whole grains are also packed with essential nutrients like B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which support healthy blood vessels and reduce inflammation. Including a variety of whole grains in your diet, such as oats, brown rice, and quinoa, is a delicious and effective way to keep your heart happy and healthy.
3. Unsaturated fats and oils
Swapping out saturated fats for healthier unsaturated fats is a smart move to boost your heart health. Unsaturated fats, found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, are known to support heart health by improving cholesterol levels. Snacking on a handful of almonds or adding a slice of avocado to your salad are delicious ways to include these beneficial fats into your diet. Avocado is a heart-healthy food rich in healthy fats, fiber, and several micronutrients associated with cardiovascular health. In a study, eating at least 2 servings of avocado per week lowered the risk of experiencing a heart attack or heart-related issues due to coronary artery disease by 21%.
Oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are another excellent source of unsaturated fats. They're rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for reducing artery-damaging inflammation. Studies revealed that consuming 2-3 servings of fish per week has been associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, heart failure, myocardial infarction, and stroke.
4. Healthy Proteins
Animal proteins, found in meats like beef, pork, and poultry, and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, are often higher in cholesterol and saturated fats, which can contribute to unhealthy weight gain and a higher risk of developing heart disease. Although the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends you eat at least 5.5 ounces of protein daily, the type of protein you consume matters. Shifting towards plant-based proteins found in legumes, nuts, and seeds meets your protein needs while supporting your heart health.
Legumes, like beans and lentils, are not only rich in protein but also packed with fiber, which helps manage cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy digestive system. Nuts, on the other hand, offer a hearty dose of good fats, protein, and antioxidants, all of which contribute to a healthy and robust cardiovascular system.
5. Nonfat and low-fat dairy
Nonfat or low-fat dairy options provide essential nutrients such as calcium and protein but with less saturated fat and cholesterol than their full-fat counterparts. Low-fat yogurt, skim milk, and cottage cheese are excellent dairy products which help maintain a healthy body weight and manage blood pressure. Moreover, low-fat dairy is an excellent source of potassium, which aids in balancing sodium levels in the body and further supports healthy blood pressure regulation. Including these dairy options in your diet can contribute to overall heart health without the added risk of high-fat dairy products. Just be sure to check the nutrition labels for added sugars, especially in flavored low-fat dairy products.
List of Foods to Avoid for Optimal Heart Health
In order to maintain a heart-healthy diet, it's important to be mindful of what to limit or avoid. Here are 5 worst foods you should consider steering clear of for optimal heart health:
1.Sugary Foods and Refined Carbohydrates
Corn grits, pasta, white bread, and other refined grain products can contribute to weight gain and affect blood sugar levels, putting extra strain on your heart. While foods rich in added sugars, such as energy drinks, sweetened coffee drinks, sodas, pastries, candy, jams and jellies, syrup, and many ready-to-eat cereals, can cause not only weight gain but also problems like tooth decay, diabetes, and an increased risk of heart disease. Opting for healthier treats such as fruits and nuts when craving something sweet and saving fancy pastries and cookies for special occasions will help you reduce your sugar intake.
2. Processed Foods
Excessive consumption of processed foods can harm your heart health. These foods are often high in sodium, which can lead to elevated blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease. Cooking and preparing meals at home with minimal or no added salt, instead of eating fast foods or takeout, can help you manage your sodium intake. Another way to slash your salt intake is to swap out processed and salty foods with fresh foods.
3. Saturated and Trans Fats
Foods high in saturated fats, like fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy products, can raise cholesterol levels. Trans fats, common in some fried and processed foods, are significantly harmful as they increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL). Research found that fried foods increase the risk of heart disease and heart failure.
Alcohol contains empty calories that can contribute to weight gain without providing any essential nutrition. Moreover, alcohol can have adverse interactions with certain blood pressure medications and other heart-related drugs, potentially compromising their effectiveness. To safeguard your heart health, it's essential to be mindful of your alcohol intake. Moderation is key, and it's advisable to follow recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption to support your overall well-being.
5. Excess Fluids
Monitoring fluid intake is essential in managing heart health. Your heart works best when your body's fluid levels are in balance. Drinking too much can lead to weight gain and symptoms like swelling and shortness of breath. Adding an electrolyte powder to your water, like Root'd, can provide the right balance of minerals your body needs to maintain optimal hydration. Unlike traditional hydration powders that contain excessive amounts of sodium or added sugar, Root'd provides your body with a comprehensive blend of essential nutrients, including enzymes, probiotics, and superfoods. It's a simple and smart way to help you get the hydration and nutrition your heart requires in just the right amounts.
The secret to a healthy heart lies right on your plate. Making conscious choices about what you eat can significantly improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. A heart-healthy eating plan emphasizes the consumption of minimally processed foods, a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
A heart-healthy diet can still include some carbohydrates, sodium, and even a small amount of sugar – in the right form and limited amounts. With the modern lifestyle and inevitable cravings for sweet treats and comfort foods, it can be challenging to totally eliminate them from your diet. Remember, moderation is key, so don't feel bad about occasionally having a small portion of unhealthy indulgence.