Heart disease is a serious condition, but a heart healthy lifestyle and eating plan can lower your risk and may prevent current heart disease from worsening.
"To help reduce your risk of heart disease, load up on the foods that contain the key nutrients shown to play a role in a healthy heart," advises Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Omega-3's, for example, which are found in fatty fish such as salmon, have been shown to help lower triglyceride levels, reduce the risk of blood clots, reduce the overall risk for heart attacks, and lower blood pressure levels. Other heart healthy foods, such as oatmeal, contain soluble fiber which has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and carry excess cholesterol out of the body.
"There isn't one magical food to prevent heart disease," says Mangieri. "It takes a team of the right nutrients. Look for ways to include a variety of healthy foods, such as adding nuts and berries to your oatmeal or topping sandwiches with vegetables. The overall eating pattern plays a much bigger role in the prevention of chronic diseases than one or two foods alone."
Here are 15 foods that can get you started on a heart-healthy diet.
In addition to eating fiber-rich oatmeal as a hearty breakfast cereal, try using it as a binder for meat loaf or bake a batch of oatmeal muffins (just watch the sugar content).
Soy has been shown to reduce LDL (or bad) cholesterol. Use soy proteins such as edamame, tofu, and soy milk or yogurt at some meals instead of fattier meats and dairy products.
Spinach is high in potassium, which may help lower blood pressure levels. Use it raw in salads or on your sandwich instead of lettuce, sauté lightly in olive oil for a side dish, or add to omelets or soups.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which lower triglyceride levels, reduce the risk of blood clots and the overall risk for heart attacks, and lower blood pressure. In addition to salmon, other good sources of omega-3's include mackerel, fresh albacore tuna, Atlantic herring, sardines, and lake trout.
Walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fat , which can reduce cholesterol levels. They're also a vegetarian source of omega-3's for those who don't eat fish. Unsalted nut butters are also a good alternative to regular butter on your toast. (Nuts are high in calories, however, so don't overdo; instead of grabbing several handsful, add a few to oatmeal, sprinkle on chicken or fish, or add to muffins.)
Berries are full of phytonutrients and soluble fiber. In season, eat fresh blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or cranberries. Out of season, they're just as healthy and delicious frozen. Eat plain or add to yogurt or cereal.
Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytoestrogens. Whole flaxseeds are difficult to digest, so eat them ground or milled to get the most benefit; add them to oatmeal or into muffin or pancake batter for a delicious nutty taste.
Dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, are high in fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals. Use them in soups, chili, or as a side dish.
Red wine (two daily 4-ounce glasses for men and one for women) can help improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels. If you don't drink alcohol, red and black grapes can give your heart a healthy advantage as well.
Red, yellow, and orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and acorn squash are rich in carotenoids, fiber, and vitamins. Add them to salads, soups, or make a stir-fry (perhaps with tofu for a healthy vegetarian meal).
Oranges, cantaloupes, and papaya are high in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, and fiber, all of which are good for your heart.
Asparagus is not only low in calories--just 5 calories per spear--but also has such nutrients as beta-carotene, folate, and fiber.
Tomatoes, ripe in the summer or sun-dried in the winter, provide lycopene, vitamin C, and alpha- and beta-carotene, all of which have heart-healthy benefits.
Dark chocolate is an antioxidant that can help lower blood pressure and prevent blood clots. Just make sure your chocolate is at least 70 percent cocoa and limit servings to approximately an ounce a day.
Broccoli florets include vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fiber. Sauté them for a side dish, add to salads for a satisfying crunch, or dip in hummus or salsa for a healthy snack.
Tech tip: start a recipe board on Pinterest, so you can keep track of your favorite Heart Healthy Recipes.