Our heart works around the clock to keep us healthy — it’s constantly pumping fresh, oxygenated blood to our organs, supplying our body with a continuous stream of nutrients, and keeping us alive. And beyond its own organ functionality, the heart plays a role in nearly all systems of the body. It communicates with the nervous system to control our heart rate, it connects with the endocrine system to control our blood pressure, it works closely with the circulatory system… really all parts of the body! So, it’s safe to say, keeping your heart healthy is important.
And, when it comes to supporting heart health there are many things we can do, including bulking up our diet with heart-healthy foods! A healthy diet paired with regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction are all wonderful ways to show our heart some love.
Ahead, we’re breaking down the importance of a heart-healthy diet and the best heart-healthy foods for ultimate well-being.
The Importance of Diet For Heart Health
Our diet plays a direct role in our health, including the health of our heart. In fact, research suggests eating too few heart-healthy nutrients or indulging in not-so-heart-healthy foods can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. So, what can we take away from this? Our dietary choices have a direct effect on either lowering the risk of heart disease or increasing it.
According to Jina Randazzo, Registered Dietician and Nutritionist at Metrowest Medical, a heart-healthy diet includes nutrient-dense whole foods such as colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Eating these heart-healthy foods can lower LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and blood sugar, lower triglyceride levels, reduce the risk for diabetes, and even support weight loss, says Randazzo.
So, what foods should we avoid? According to the American Heart Association, artificial and processed foods, excess salt and sugar, refined oils, and alcohol should be limited or avoided for optimal heart health. “Trans fats should be completely avoided, and saturated fats should be limited,” says Randazzo. “Instead, choose heart-healthy fats rich in Omega-3’s like nuts, seeds, and salmon.” And when possible, shop the perimeter of the grocery store to load up on fresh, minimally processed foods. With that said, we know this isn’t always possible! The good news is that you can still find heart-healthy food choices with ease, even if you’re shopping for pre-packaged products. Start by checking the nutrition and ingredient label, then look for the Heart-Check mark label. This certification label is approved by the American Heart Association, indicating the food is heart-healthy. How simple!!
Now that you know the best types of heart-healthy foods, we’re sharing which ones should make an appearance on your plate!
10 Heart-Healthy Foods
Berries may be small, but don’t underestimate their heart-healthy benefits! Thanks to their rich levels of fiber and antioxidants, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are some of the healthiest foods to support heart health. According to Harvard research, blueberries and strawberries are particularly rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants that lower blood pressure and support blood vessels functioning.
And get this — a study showed that eating just one cup of blueberries per day helped reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 15%!
“Salmon is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood pressure and triglycerides, improve arterial function, and reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Randazzo. The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish at least twice per week, which studies have shown to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Additional heart-healthy fish rich in Omega-3’s include mackerel, herring, trout, and tuna.
Walnuts are another Omega-3 rich food source that boasts some serious heart-healthy benefits. And, getting the benefits may not require a huge change in your diet! Simply replacing a saturated fat source with a serving of walnuts (a healthy unsaturated fat source) has been shown to improve cardiovascular benefits. “You don’t need a lot! Just a small handful could reduce cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, and reduce inflammation,” says Randazzo. “I love making a heart-healthy trail mix with walnuts, almonds, hemp seeds, and berries.”
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, healthy fats that decrease the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol and reducing inflammation. Research shows eating one avocado a day could increase antioxidant capacity and decrease LDL cholesterol levels, making these creamy fruits a welcomed addition to a heart-healthy diet!
Add some avocado to your toast, mix it into your salad, or even blend it into your smoothie for a creamy, satiating snack!
Speaking of snacks that are creamy and satiating, try loading up your diet with a warming bowl of oatmeal or some easy prep overnight oats. Oats are rich in heart-healthy fiber, which not only helps to stabilize blood sugar but could also help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
They’re also effective at lowering LDL cholesterol, says Randazzo, which can reduce the risk of inflammation-associated cardiovascular issues.
Ready to switch up your morning bowl of oats for something new? Try these yummy FitOn PRO 3-Step Banana & Cinnamon Pancakes.
- ½ cup oats
- 1 egg (optional)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 banana
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ cup almond milk
- 1 tsp coconut oil
Step #1:To make the pancakes, place all of the ingredients, except the coconut oil, into a blender or food processor. Blend until you’ve reached a smooth consistency.
Step #2: Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of pancake mixture to the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the pancakes are golden and cooked through.
Step #3: To serve, stack the pancakes on a plate and top with freshly sliced banana, raw nuts, and a drizzle maple syrup, if desired
Almonds are full of antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, and Vitamin E, powerful nutrients that support a healthy heart. They’re also a nutritious source of monounsaturated fats, which, as we’ve seen, can reduce blood pressure and lower LDL cholesterol. In fact, eating almonds is associated with increased HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), which has been shown to reduce plaque buildup and keep arteries healthy.
Try swapping dairy milk for an almond-based alternative, sprinkle almond slivers onto your stir fry or roasted veggies, add a spoonful of almond butter to your breakfast bowl, or snack on a serving of raw almonds alongside a piece of fruit.
#7 Olive Oil
Go ahead, give your salad or marinade a little extra drizzle of olive oil. This heart-healthy oil, made from cold-pressed olives, is rich in antioxidants, full of anti-inflammatory properties, and packed with monounsaturated fats. According to the American Heart Association, just ½ tbsp per day could reduce cardiovascular disease by as much as 15% while potentially lowering coronary heart disease by as much as 21%. To get all of the heart-healthy benefits, look for a cold-pressed, extra-virgin variety, says Randazzo. It has more antioxidants and is the least processed!
Need a reason to add beans to your diet? These healthy heart benefits may convince you! Results from one study found that bean consumption helped reduce systolic blood pressure. And, when consumed regularly, the American Heart Association states that beans could help improve your blood cholesterol.
Add them to soups and stews, use them as a protein addition to salads or tacos, blend them into a yummy black bean dip, or even sneak them into chocolatey baked goods like brownies!
#9 Swiss Chard
Spinach and kale often steal the spotlight, but don’t forget about this heart-healthy leafy green! Swiss Chard is rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure.
And while we know the benefits of eating our greens, you’ll be surprised to know just how powerful they are in supporting heart health! According to a research study with over 173,000 participants, just 1.5 servings of leafy greens per day reduced the risk of heart disease by 17%. Pretty cool, right? All the more reason to load up your smoothies, salad bowls, and stir-frys with a big old serving of extra greens!
Healthy seeds like hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds make a nutritious heart-healthy addition to any diet. They’re full of Omega-3’s and dietary fiber, two nutrients that have been shown to bust inflammation, reduce cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
Wondering how to incorporate them into your diet? Make a chia seed pudding, sprinkle some protein-packed hemp seeds onto your smoothie and salad, or blend up a homemade flax milk!
5 Simple Ways to Enjoy Heart-Healthy Foods
Fill Your Plate With a Variety of Colors
Colorful fruits and veggies contain powerful antioxidants that can support heart health.
Sprinkle Your Breakfast Bowl With Heart-Healthy Berries
Add some to your smoothie, yogurt, or morning bowl of oats!
Top Your Salad With Heart-Healthy Additions
Consider nuts, seeds, berries, and avocado, and use olive oil as the base for a homemade dressing.
Up Your Intake of Heart-Healthy Greens
Try adding spinach and kale into your smoothie.
Swap Sugary Snacks For Heart-Healthy Options
Skip sugary snacks like chips and cookies for a heart-healthy nut and seed mix made from almonds, walnuts, flax, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds.
Your heart works so hard for you, so why not show it some love back? Fill your plate with heart-healthy foods like whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, leafy greens, and healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, and seeds. And to your best ability, support your heart health by limiting processed foods, excess sugars, and refined fats. While nutrition is key, don’t forget about other heart-healthy factors, too! Rest up with adequate sleep, get some daily movement, limit stressors, and schedule in some routine self-care. A routine visit with your Doctor is always recommended, too. If you follow these heart-healthy lifestyle tips, you’re taking major steps in supporting your health!