There are many things you can do to help keep your heart healthy and disease-free.You can schedule an annual checkup, exercise daily, quit smoking, or take steps to reduce the level of stress in your life. A healthy diet can be good for your heart as well as your waistline.“You can definitely reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating certain foods every day,” says Julie Zumpano, RD, LD, a dietitian in the Preventive Cardiology and Nutrition Program at Cleveland Clinic. “There is a great variety of fruits and vegetables that are good for your heart. “Try to eat foods that are in their natural form, as they come from the ground,” Ms. Zumpano says, recommending what she calls the “whole-foods diet.”
– 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.
– Broccoli: is packed with B vitamins and folic acid, which has been shown to help relieve stress, anxiety, panic, and even depression.
– Cauliflower: is a cruciferous vegetable high in fiber, which can help lower blood pressure, and vitamin K, which helps boost circulation. But one caveat: Vitamin K helps blood clot, and people taking blood-thinning medication should check with their physicians about how much cauliflower is safe to eat to make sure it doesn’t interfere with a drug’s effects. “For most people cauliflower is fine, and a great source of nutrients and fiber,” says Severson.
– 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 as well.
– Berries: 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. Plus, berries also contain several nutrients that are essential to a healthy heart, including fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K.
– Oranges: another source of pectin, this citrus fruit is also packed with a flavanoid that lowers blood pressure and reduces artery inflammation. Citrus also contains hesperidin, a plant chemical that improves blood flow to the heart, and vitamin C, a potent protector against stroke.
– Grapefruit: like oranges, grapefruit contains a lot of vitamin C which, according to research, can help protect against stroke and helps reduce cholesterol.
– Walnuts : 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. Plus, walnuts pack in quite a bit of manganese, dietary fiber and copper, as well as plenty of heart-healthy fats.
– Almonds: vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc all help to make a handful (about 1/4 cup a day) of crunchy almonds good for your heart and your mood. B vitamins and magnesium help produce serotonin, which helps regulate mood. Zinc has also been shown to fight some negative effects of stress, while vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys the free radicals related to stress and heart disease.
– Flaxseeds: contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and phytoestogens to boost heart health. Take them in ground or milled form to reap the greatest benefit.
– Fatty Fish and Fish Oil: fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits. In one study in 324 people, eating salmon three times a week for eight weeks significantly decreased diastolic blood pressure. Another study showed that eating fish over the long term was linked to lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure.
– Dark chocolate: is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health.Interestingly, several studies have associated eating chocolate with a lower risk of heart disease. One large study showed that those who ate chocolate at least five times per week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-chocolate eaters. Another study found that eating chocolate at least twice per week was associated with a 32% lower risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries. Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.
– Tomatoes: are loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which can contribute to heart disease. Low blood levels of lycopene are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. One review of 25 studies showed that a high intake of foods rich in lycopene was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Another study in 50 overweight women found that eating two raw tomatoes four times per week increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol can help remove excess cholesterol and plaque from the arteries to keep your heart healthy and protect against heart disease and stroke.
– Garlic: garlic contains a compound called allicin, which is believed to bring most of it’s health benefits. Eating garlic regularly can help lower your cholesterol levels. However, reaching your daily requirement of garlic is not always feasible, so you can opt for a garlic supplement as a more effective means to lowering your cholesterol.
– Green tea: a 2011 systematic review found that drinking green tea is associated with a small reduction in cholesterol, which, as we know, is a main contributor to heart disease and stroke. But the review could not pinpoint how much green tea someone would have to drink to receive any health benefits. In 2014, another review studied the effects of drinking green tea on people with high blood pressure. The report concluded that green tea was associated with a reduction in blood pressure. But, the authors were unable to determine if this modest reduction could help to prevent heart disease.
– Red wine: red wine, or small amounts of any type of alcohol, are thought to lower heart disease risk. (Higher amounts, more than a drink or two a day, can actually increase risk.) While some say a polyphenol found in red wine, resveratrol, gives that beverage an added benefit, research suggests that any type of alcohol in moderation works. As with coffee, though, none of these properties are a reason to start drinking alcohol, says Graf. You can also get resveratrol from non-alcohol sources, like natural peanut butter and grapes.
– Pomegranate: according to research, antioxidant-packed pomegranate seeds are miracle workers. “In an Israeli study a daily dose of pomegranate extract was given to patients for one year,” Dr. Vojdani says. “The dose reversed plaque-related clogging of patients’ arteries and reduced their blood pressure by 21 percent without having to do anything else.” These artery-clearing, blood pressure-reducing benefits have been found with subsequent research, too.