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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kim Ross

Nourishing Your Heart: The Top 10 Foods for Heart Health





Our hearts are not just vital organs; they are the very engines of our existence, tirelessly pumping life-giving blood throughout our bodies. Maintaining heart health is essential for overall well-being and longevity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, with an estimated 17.9 million deaths each year (1). If we look a little closer to home, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reports that one person dies every 33 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease (CVD) (2).

 

I know this sounds depressing…(and it is!)

 

However, the good news is that many risk factors for heart disease, including poor diet, are within our control. By incorporating heart-healthy foods into our diets, we can reduce the risk of heart disease and promote cardiovascular wellness.








Here are the top 10 foods to support heart health


1. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA. But all fish is beneficial! These essential fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides, and decrease the risk of arrhythmias. Consuming fatty fish at least twice a week is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (3). Suggestion: Give this recipe a try.

 

2. Leafy Greens

Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including vitamin K, folate, and lutein. These nutrients help lower blood pressure, improve arterial function, and reduce the risk of stroke. Research has found, to no surprise, that higher consumption of leafy green vegetables was associated with a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease (4,5). Suggestion: Aim to consume a minimum of 2 cups per day of green leafy veggies (really, it is not a lot---measure it out to see!) and increase this over time.

 

3. Berries

Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are bursting with antioxidants known as flavonoids. These compounds have been shown to improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and protect against oxidative stress. Several studies have linked regular consumption of berries, due to the flavonoids, to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke (6,7). Tip: Flavonoids are going to impact other areas of health as well—so eat up!

 

4. Whole Grains

Whole grains like oats, barley, quinoa, and brown rice are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The soluble fiber found in whole grains helps lower LDL cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar, and promote healthy gut bacteria. A higher intake of whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (8). Limiting your grain intake? No worries—even one serving per day of a whole grain helps lower your risk!  Concerned about gluten-free options? Let those concerns be put to rest! Gluten free grains such as all types of rice, quinoa, millet, and amaranth can easily be incorporated into your daily routine.

 

5. Nuts

Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are excellent sources of heart-healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Eating nuts regularly has been shown to improve cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of cardiovascular events. Studies have found that individuals who consumed nuts regularly had a significantly lower risk of heart disease compared to those who rarely ate nuts and had a significantly lower all-cause mortality among those with type 2 diabetes (9,10). Suggestion: Pre-package your nuts into single-serve, easy to grab storage, such as a snack baggie. (It is easy to overeat nuts!)

 

6. Avocados

Avocados are a rich source of monounsaturated fats, potassium, and fiber. These creamy fruits can help lower LDL cholesterol levels, increase HDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and improve heart health overall (11). One study found up to a 22% lower risk of CVD, with just 2 servings of avocado per week (12)!  Tip: Check out this blog post on choosing avocados.

 

7. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that gives them their vibrant red color. Lycopene has been shown to reduce inflammation, improve blood vessel function, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.  It is reported that 1 serving per day of lycopene rich tomatoes reduce CVD risk about 30% (13)! Important tip: Add olive oil to your tomatoes to help increase the absorption of lycopene.

 

8. Legumes

Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are high in fiber, protein, and various nutrients. Consuming legumes regularly has been linked to lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, specifically reducing LDL-cholesterol, and reduced risk of heart disease (14,15).  Suggestion: Aim to get at least 3 servings of legumes each week and increase this as you can.

 

9. Garlic

Garlic has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, including its ability to promote heart health. Garlic contains compounds like allicin, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and prevent blood clot formation (16,17). While some studies indicate the amount of garlic needed may only be achievable in supplemental form, garlic can still be a staple in your diet, adding it to you green leafy veggies and tomatoes. Suggestion: Give this garlic soup a try. The preparation of it brings out the delicious sweetness garlic also has to offer.  

 

10. Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and is renowned for its cardiovascular benefits. Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, olive oil helps lower LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation, and protect against oxidative stress. Multiple studies, including the PREDIMED trial, have demonstrated the cardioprotective effects of olive oil (18). Tip: Benefits can be achieved with as little as 1.5 tablespoons per day (19).

 

Incorporating these top 10 heart-healthy foods into your diet may help improve your cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease. Remember to combine a balanced diet with regular physical activity and other heart-healthy lifestyle habits for optimal results. By nourishing your heart with wholesome, nutrient-rich foods, you can embark on a journey towards a healthier, happier life.

 

Download the Top 10 Heart-Healthy Foods handout below! 👇🏼

Top 10 Heart-Healthy Foods
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Download PDF • 10.36MB

 

References:

1. World Health Organization [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 6]. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds)

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Apr 20]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

3. Mohan D, Mente A, Dehghan M, Rangarajan S, O’Donnell M, Hu W, et al. Associations of Fish Consumption With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality Among Individuals With or Without Vascular Disease From 58 Countries. JAMA Intern Med. 2021 May 1;181(5):631.

4. Hu D, Huang J, Wang Y, Zhang D, Qu Y. Fruits and Vegetables Consumption and Risk of Stroke. Stroke. 2014;45(6).

5. Ojagbemi A, Okekunle AP, Olowoyo P, Akpa OM, Akinyemi R, Ovbiagele B, et al. Dietary intakes of green leafy vegetables and incidence of cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovasc J Afr. 2021 Aug 31;32(4):43–51.

6. Zhou F, Gu K, Zhou Y. Flavonoid intake is associated with lower all-cause and disease-specific mortality: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007–2010 and 2017–2018. Front Nutr. 2023 Feb 14;10.

7. Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, Harnack L, Hong CP, Nettleton JA, et al. Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: A prospective study in postmenopausal women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85(3).

8. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, Fadnes LT, Boffetta P, Greenwood DC, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016 Jun 14;i2716.

9. Zhang X, Ou Y, Li L, Wan Z, Lu Q, Geng T, et al. Associations of Nut Consumption with All-Cause Mortality among Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes. J Nutr. 2023 Oct;153(10):3003–11.

10. Bao Y, Han J, Hu FB, Giovannucci EL, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, et al. Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013 Nov 21;369(21):2001–11.

11.Mahmassani HA, Avendano EE, Raman G, Johnson EJ. Avocado consumption and risk factors for heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Apr;107(4):523–36.

12.Pacheco LS, Li Y, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Sun Q, Rexrode K, et al. Avocado Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in US Adults. J Am Heart Assoc. 2022 Apr 5;11(7).

13. Przybylska S, Tokarczyk G. Lycopene in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Feb 10;23(4):1957.

14. Vitale M, Giosuè A, Sieri S, Krogh V, Massimino E, Rivellese AA, et al. Legume Consumption and Blood Pressure Control in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes and Hypertension: Cross-Sectional Findings from the TOSCA.IT Study. Nutrients. 2023 Jun 26;15(13):2895.

15. Becerra-Tomás N, Papandreou C, Salas-Salvadó J. Legume Consumption and Cardiometabolic Health. Advances in Nutrition. 2019 Nov;10:S437–50.

16. Qidwai W, Ashfaq T. Role of Garlic Usage in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: An Evidence-Based Approach. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013;2013:1–9.

17. Ried K. Garlic lowers blood pressure in hypertensive subjects, improves arterial stiffness and gut microbiota: A review and meta-analysis. Exp Ther Med. 2019 Dec 27;

18. Guasch-Ferré M, Hu FB, Martínez-González MA, Fitó M, Bulló M, Estruch R, et al. Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC Med. 2014;12(1):1–11.

19. Xia M, Zhong Y, Peng Y, Qian C. Olive oil consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Front Nutr. 2022 Oct 18;9.

 

 

 

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