Eating properly is as important for your heart health as regular exercise. Studies have shown that up to 70% of heart disease cases are preventable with the right food choices.
In fact, eating the right kind of foods can even reduce your risk for atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of arteries), a common cause of heart attacks and strokes.
There are many healthy foods that you can include in your daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner to keep your heart functioning well. A heart-healthy diet is one that is rich in lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and veggies and low in sodium, unhealthy fats, and bad cholesterol.
Here are the top 10 superfoods for a healthy heart.
Salmon is one of the best foods for heart health because it contains good amounts of omega-3s EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids lower the risk of heart rhythm disorders, reduce blood pressure and keep clotting at bay.
Salmon also can lower blood triglycerides and reduce inflammation. Wild salmon is preferred over farm-raised fish, which can be packed with insecticides, pesticides, and heavy metals.
The American Heart Association recommends two servings of salmon or other oily fish per week to cut your risk of dying of a heart attack by up to one-third.
You can enjoy grilled or baked salmon and even include it in your pasta, soup or salad. Other oily fishes like mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines also support a healthy heart.
Oatmeal is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as magnesium, potassium, niacin, calcium and soluble fiber. Eating oatmeal regularly can lower LDL levels (the bad cholesterol) and help keep your arteries clear.
Oats in all forms are good for people with diabetes also. To reap the benefits, start your day with a steaming bowl of oats and enjoy oat-based snacks throughout the day. Plain, unprocessed oatmeal is preferred over instant and flavored varieties.
3. Black Beans
Black beans contain B-complex vitamins, niacin, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber. All these nutrients help control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Black beans are also a good source of dietary protein without the unwanted cholesterol found in meat. Health experts recommend eating four or more servings of black beans per week to decrease your risk of heart disease.
They can be served as a side dish or used as an ingredient in many main dishes. You can also add black beans to your soup or salad to give them a nutritional boost.
4. Red Wine
A glass of red wine daily can greatly improve your “good” HDL cholesterol level, which is important for your heart to function properly. Red wine contains the antioxidants resveratrol and catechins that help protect the artery walls.
Resveratrol can also help prevent cancer. It is advisable not to exceed one drink a day for women; one to two drinks for men. However, it is not recommended for people taking aspirin and certain other medications.
5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil, made from the first press of olives, is especially rich in heart-healthy antioxidants called polyphenols, as well as healthy monounsaturated fats. It contains higher levels of “good fat” compared to various vegetable oils and their cholesterol-inducing “bad” fats.
Regular consumption of extra virgin olive oil can help lower cholesterol levels and protect blood vessels. This oil is great for cooking, and you can use it on salads, cooked veggies, and bread.
6. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate can also reduce various cardiovascular diseases. Always choose dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa, the ingredient responsible for making chocolate a good food for your heart.
Flavonol, a flavonoid present in cocoa, helps lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to your heart, and reduce free radical damage that can increase unwanted LDL.
Simply eat a small piece of dark chocolate daily to lower your blood pressure and improve your heart’s overall functioning and health.
7. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a nutrition power house that offer maximum nutritional benefits and minimal calories. Just a spoonful of chia seeds helps reduce bad cholesterol and aids in the reduction of plaque buildup. It also helps lower blood pressure and triglycerides.
Chia seeds can be eaten by the spoonful, blended into smoothies, or stirred into soups. They also make a great salad or yogurt topper.
Blueberries contain a good amount of beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), anthocyanin (a flavonoid), ellagic acid (a polyphenol), vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber. All these healthy nutrients support heart health.
People who eat at least one serving of blueberries per week are 10% less likely to develop high blood pressure. You can add fresh or dried blueberries to cereal, pancakes, or yogurt. Cranberries, strawberries and raspberries are also good for heart health.
Oranges contain beta-cryptoxanthin, beta- and alpha-carotene, lutein (carotenoids) and flavones (flavonoids), potassium, folate and fiber, all of which are heart healthy nutrients.
Oranges are also an excellent source of vitamin C, a potent protector against strokes by improving blood flow to the heart. This sweet, juicy fruit helps control high blood pressure, improves the functionality of blood vessels and reduces artery inflammation.
You can get these benefits from either eating oranges as a fruit or drinking orange juice. You can enhance the natural sweetness with cinnamon and lime juice.
Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, folate, fiber and mono- and poly unsaturated fats that promote healthy hearts.
Eating just a small handful of walnuts each day may lower your cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the arteries of the heart. They also reduce the risk of diabetes.
Try to eat unsalted walnuts as a healthy snack between meals to enjoy its health benefits. For variety, walnuts can be added as a flavorful crunch to salads, pastas, cookies, muffins, and pancakes.
Adding these “best of the best” heart-healthy foods to your diet plan will help keep your heart functioning properly for years to come.