Your heart plays a crucial role in your health. It’s responsible for pumping blood throughout the body to supply your tissues with important nutrients and oxygen, and it works tirelessly 24/7 to keep you going. What you eat directly influences the health of your heart, and incorporating a few heart-healthy foods into your diet is key to providing it with the nutrients that it needs.
These foods can also reduce the risk of the dangerous heart conditions and heart diseases that affect millions worldwide. Combined with a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet, getting in your fix of these heart-healthy foods is the best way to keep your heart strong and healthy to help stave off coronary heart disease risk factors.
The following are some the best organ-nourishing foods for the heart.
Rich in fiber and full of health benefits, oats are an excellent addition to a cardiac diet. They’re especially high in a type of fiber known as beta-glucan, a polysaccharide that’s found in the cell walls of bacteria, fungi and cereals.
Oat beta-glucan has been associated with a long list of heart-healthy benefits. One 2011 analysis, for example, showed that oat consumption is associated with a 5 percent to 7 percent reduction in total and bad LDL cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, another review published in the journal BMJ looked at the results of 22 studies and found that higher fiber intake was associated with a lower risk of both heart disease and coronary heart disease.
That’s not all. A 2021 review published in the journal Foods relayed that eating oats “was shown to reduce serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, thereby reducing the risks of [cardiovascular disease].” Furthermore, a 2022 study found that oats can help lower chronic inflammation in people with cardiovascular disease (CVD).
For a few heart-healthy snacks, try adding oats to your high-fiber smoothies, mix them with almond milk to make overnight oatmeal or sprinkle them on top of your probiotic yogurt to add a delicious crunch.
Full of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, fatty varieties of fish like wild-caught salmon pack in a powerful punch when it comes to heart health. In fact, the American Heart Association even recommends getting in at least two servings of fish per week to keep your heart in tip-top shape.
In addition to its omega-3 fatty acid content, salmon is also a great source of protein, loaded with selenium and rich in important B-vitamins, including vitamin B12 and niacin.
3. Whole Grains
Whole grains are any type of grain that contains the endosperm, germ and bran, resulting in a higher concentration of nutrients and fiber than grains that have been refined and heavily processed. This includes grains like whole wheat, barley and rye, as well as gluten-free grains — such as amaranth, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa and sorghum.
These nutritious grains are generally high in important nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium, and research has found that whole grains could be beneficial for your heart. One massive review composed of 45 studies even concluded that eating more whole grains was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
A 2022 study published in BMC Medicine examined the association between whole grain food intake and coronary heart disease (CHD) in U.S. men and women. The researchers determined that:
… higher consumption of total whole grains, as well as individual whole grain foods except popcorn, were significantly associated with lower CHD risk. The inverse associations may plateau at various intake levels for total whole grain and individual whole grain foods. This study provides further evidence in support of increasing whole grain intake for the prevention of CHD in US populations.
Meanwhile, a 2022 meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies observed that “consuming whole grains, rather than refined grains, can assist in preventing CHD, CVD, and all-cause mortality.” However, the researchers cautioned that the “outcomes should be interpreted cautiously because of the low quality of meta-evidence.” Still, it’s clear that many whole grains are also heart-healthy foods.
For best results, swap out your refined white bread and pasta for nutrient-rich options like quinoa or brown rice, and be sure to pair it with heart-healthy fats, plenty of veggies and protein to make it a delicious heart-healthy meal.
Well-known for their impressive nutrient profile and extensive health benefits, walnuts are one of the most powerful heart-healthy foods that you can incorporate into your diet.
According to one study published in the Journal of Nutrition, walnuts have been shown to reduce bad LDL cholesterol by up to 16 percent and also drop blood pressure. They may also help improve blood vessel function, decrease certain markers of inflammation and reduce oxidative stress.
The healthiest nuts are known to aid in heart health and help prevent heart disease, and “walnut consumption is associated with better diastolic dysfunction in young to middle-aged adults,” according to research published in 2022.
Plus, walnuts pack in quite a bit of manganese, dietary fiber and copper, as well as plenty of heart-healthy fats. However, keep in mind that walnuts also contain a concentrated amount of calories. Measure out your portions, and moderate your intake to keep your waistline in check.
5. Leafy Green Vegetables
Greens like spinach, kale, collard greens and chard are powerhouses of nutrition. They’re nutrient-dense foods, meaning that they are low in calories but supply tons of vitamins and minerals, like vitamin K, vitamin A, folate, magnesium, potassium and iron.
They’re also high in beneficial antioxidants that can help fight free radicals, prevent cell damage and slow the development of chronic disease.
Getting in your daily dose of greens can have big benefits in terms of heart health. A 2016 review out of Texas, for instance, compiled the results of eight studies and found that a high intake of leafy green and cruciferous vegetables was associated with a nearly 16 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease.
Another study published in the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa noted that green leafy vegetables “intake was associated with a lower incidence of CVD, and may be a promising primary-prevention strategy against CVD events.”
With their creamy texture and light taste, avocados are a popular favorite in everything from guacamole to omelets. In fact, the avocado is an excellent source of heart-healthy fats, plus other important nutrients, like potassium, vitamin E and vitamin K.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that including one avocado per day as part of a moderate-fat diet could help lower cholesterol levels, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease. Another animal study found that supplementing with avocado oil decreased levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, plus helped reduce inflammation.
Blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are brimming with heart-healthy antioxidants that help fight off free radicals and prevent disease. Research even shows that eating more berries could help protect against metabolic syndrome, inflammation and neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Berries may also have a significant impact on heart health. A 2016 review compiled the results of 22 studies with 1,251 participants and found that higher berry consumption led to reductions in bad LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body weight and inflammation.
Plus, berries also contain several nutrients that are essential to a healthy heart, including fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K. Enjoy them as is for a nutritious way to satisfy your sweet tooth, or try mixing them into smoothies, oats or probiotic yogurt.
Worst Foods for Your Heart
1. Refined Carbohydrates
During processing, refined grains are stripped of the bran and germ, two parts of the grain kernel that contain a wealth of nutrients. The final product is a starch with next to no nutritional value, providing little more than carbohydrates and calories.
Refined carbohydrates can be found in a wide variety of foods, including white bread, pasta and rice, muffins, cakes, cookies, crackers, and bagels. Unfortunately, these foods make up a pretty good chunk of the modern Western diet and may be linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
One study out of China, for example, found that a higher carbohydrate intake, mainly from refined grains, was associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease among 117,366 adults. Meanwhile, a 2023 systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies on carbohydrate intake and risk of cardiovascular disease came the to the conclusion “that high-carbohydrate intake, particularly over 60% of total energy from carbohydrates, can have adverse effects on the incidence of CVD.”
Ditching the soda is one of the best things that you can do for your heart. Besides being laden with controversial chemicals and unhealthy ingredients, soda is also brimming with added sugars.
Sugar is one of the main culprits of heart disease. Added sugars from foods like candy, desserts, juice and soda can spike blood sugar levels, damaging the blood vessels, overloading the liver and amping up the risk of heart disease.
Interestingly, a study from Harvard School of Public Health actually found that participants who drank the highest amount of sugar-sweetened beverages had a 20 percent higher relative risk of developing coronary heart disease than those who drank the lowest amount. Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was also associated with higher triglycerides and markers of inflammation, plus lower levels of good HDL cholesterol.
In a 2022 study on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) like soda, researchers said:
The results of our search reveal strong evidence that the consumption of SSB is positively associated with increased risks of CVD and that the magnitude of that risk is increased in a dose-dependent manner. These increased risks range from elevated triglyceride levels to inclined risk of CVD-related mortality. Although the depth of the mechanisms responsible for these increased risks have been less explored thus far, there is some evidence supporting SSB implications in cardiovascular factors, including vascular function, coronary artery calcification, triglyceride levels, inflammatory processes, arterial stiffness, and genetic polymorphisms.
Ideally, trans fats should be cut out of your diet altogether. One study actually found that the risk of coronary heart disease doubled with each 2 percent increase in calories from trans fats. Another researcher even concluded: “On a per-calorie basis, trans fats appear to increase the risk of CHD more than any other micronutrient.”
4. Processed Meats
There have been numerous studies connecting processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meat to a slew of adverse effects on health. Not surprisingly, processed meats can also negatively affect heart health.
Processed meats are pumped full of additives and preservatives that can be harmful to health. They also contain potentially dangerous chemical compounds like heterocyclic amines and nitrites, which have been linked to conditions like cancer. They also tend to be high in sodium, which may impact blood pressure in those who are salt-sensitive.
Not only that, but a review published in the journal Circulation actually found that processed meat intake is associated with a greater risk of both coronary heart disease and diabetes. Another large multinational prospective study also revealed that “a higher intake of processed meat was associated with a higher risk of mortality and major CVD.”
5. Salty Snacks
Salty snacks like potato chips, pretzels and microwave popcorn are chock-full of added ingredients that can take a serious toll on the health of your heart. They’re also loaded with sodium, which may increase blood pressure, placing extra strain on the heart and causing it to weaken.
For those with hypertension, cutting back on salt intake by eliminating foods like salty snacks from the diet can lead to significant reductions in blood pressure. It’s a good idea to follow that advice considering research shows “lower frequency of adding salt to foods is associated with lower risk of CVD, particularly heart failure and [ischemic heart disease].”
How to Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
Following a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Armed with the above list of heart-healthy foods, you can easily preplan some healthy meals to fit in all of the nutrients that you need.
In addition to incorporating plenty of heart-healthy foods into your diet, it’s important to take a look at the rest of your diet as well. The majority of your diet should consist of unprocessed, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, meats and whole grains.
When you’re grocery shopping, stick to the outer sections of the store, and avoid wandering into the middle where the heavily processed junk foods lurk.
Be sure to also opt for healthy fats when you’re cooking or baking. Skip the vegetable oils, margarine and shortening, and choose nutrient-rich coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, butter or ghee instead.
For those with high blood pressure, limiting your sodium intake is also critical. Steer clear of fast food, frozen meals and convenience foods, all of which can be hidden sources of sodium.
If this all seems overwhelming, no worries. Start by making one small change each week, and you’ll work your way up to a healthy, well-rounded diet in no time!
Although these foods may be associated with some impressive health benefits, chowing down on a few walnuts per day won’t make much of a difference if the rest of your diet is filled with ultra-processed foods.
Use these heart-healthy foods to round out a nutritious diet filled with fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Additionally, make sure to combine them with an active lifestyle, minimal stress levels and adequate sleep.
If you do have heart problems, be sure to talk to your doctor and pair these heart-healthy foods with your treatment plan to maximize your results and see the most benefit to your health.
- Heart disease is a massive problem around the world and accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide.
- Diet is one of the biggest factors that can help decrease your risk of heart disease and keep your heart healthy and strong, including consuming a heart-healthy diet full of heart-healthy foods.
- There are plenty of heart-healthy foods that are rich in important nutrients and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The top seven heart-healthy foods include oats, salmon, whole grains, walnuts, leafy green vegetables, avocado and berries.
- In addition to following a heart-healthy diet, getting in plenty of exercise, reducing stress levels and practicing healthy habits can also help optimize heart health.