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5 foods that promote heart health
Think an apple a day keeps the doctor away? The old adage just might be correct. There are tons of studies out there that suggest certain foods are good for your heart health, but how do you know which ones to eat and what they do for your heart?
We’ve identified five foods that you may not immediately think of as heart-healthy, but that are rich in antioxidants, probiotics, and other healthy components. In the slideshow, we've broken them down to educate you on how each food fights to keep your heart healthy.
For instance, yogurt contains high amounts of probiotics, which prevent gum disease, which if left untreated could lead to heart disease. And fruits like raisins, pomegranates, and apples have antioxidants to help keep you healthy. Eschewing carbs? Think again. Whole grains possess a variety of elements that can help stave off coronary disease.
Eat by our list and your heart will thank us.
Heart Health Superfoods
by Alison Gwinn, AARP, January 27, 2021 | Comments: 0
En español | When it comes to heart health, you probably know what the American Heart Association (AHA) offers as its top diet advice: Eat a good balance of fresh, fiber-rich fruits and veggies whole grains and healthy proteins, such as nuts, skinless fish and poultry. But recent studies have also named specific cardiovascular all-stars that are worth adding to your rotation. Here are a few standouts to add to your grocery list.
Why: Beets deserve a badge of honor in the veggie family, says Jorge A. Brenes-Salazar, M.D., a geriatric cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. That's due to their high doses of nitrates, which help keep blood vessels dilated and healthy. A 2013 British study showed that simply drinking a cup of beet juice daily significantly lowered blood pressure in hypertensive patients.
Also know: When it comes to heart health, it pays to see red — or orange or yellow. “Fruits and veggies with those colors have carotenoids and flavonoids,” pigments known for their heart-healthy antioxidant properties, Brenes-Salazar explains. Try these other blushing nutrient-rich veggies and fruits: carrots, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, oranges, cantaloupe and papaya.
Pumpkin seeds and walnuts
Why: A study presented in 2019 at the AHA's Hypertension Scientific Sessions found that eating pumpkin seeds may help lower blood pressure. According to the AHA, pumpkin seeds are rich in fiber and a variety of nutrients, particularly heart-healthy magnesium (a quarter cup contains 42 percent of the RDA of the mineral). As for walnuts, a 2019 Penn State study found that participants who ate walnuts daily while lowering overall saturated fats saw their blood pressure decrease.
Also know: “Any nuts are good sources of monounsaturated fats,” says Kate Patton, lead outpatient dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. “For people who don't eat fish, they are a good way to get in those omega-3 fats.” A 2019 study presented at the European Society of Cardiology showed that eating nuts two or more times a week was associated with a 17 percent lower risk of cardiovascular mortality. But remember one word: moderation. These are calorie-dense foods, so keep portions modest and avoid added salt, sugars and oils. Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, advises limiting yourself each day to “an amount that will fit in the palm of your hand."
Why: Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital reported in 2020 that a study of more than 200,000 people found a link between consuming isoflavone-rich tofu more than once a week and an 18 percent lower risk of heart disease. Beyond that, tofu is a great source of plant protein, so it's a smart substitute for red meat or pork. “It also has phytosterols — plant cholesterols that actually improve the cholesterol in our own bodies,” Brenes-Salazar says.
What's more, the latest USDA dietary guidelines, issued in December, recommend around 5 to 6 ounces of protein (from meat, chicken, eggs, fish, nuts or soy products) a day, Kris-Etherton says. “When people are heavy meat eaters, they need to slowly find ways to replace the meat with other healthy foods, and tofu is one.”
Olives and olive oils
Why: If you've heard of the Mediterranean diet (and who hasn't?), then you know all about olive oil. It not only boosts good, heart-protective cholesterol but also staves off diabetes and strokes. Recent research confirms its salubrious effects: A 2020 European study found that patients who had had heart attacks and subsequently followed a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil had better repair of the arterial linings a 2020 study by the University of Minnesota Medical School showed that olive oil may help people live longer.
Try to follow the USDA guidelines of 27 grams (about two tablespoons) a day. “Remember,” Kris-Etherton says, “olive oil is calorically dense.” As for olives, make sure to buy the low-sodium variety, available at many big-box stores. Speaking of oils, Brenes-Salazar warns against the recently voguish coconut oil instead, he suggests using either olive or pecan oil, which is neutral in flavor, rich in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated ones.
Why: First, they're full of fiber, which can help lower your bad LDL cholesterol. Second, “beans are an underappreciated source of good-quality protein,” Brenes-Salazar notes. Adds Patton: “All members of the legume family are super healthy because they are full of plant-based protein and the kind of fiber that lowers cholesterol and helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels."
Also try: other heart-healthy legumes — pinto beans, red beans, kidney beans and black beans. But remember, canned beans can be high in salt, so either rinse them thoroughly in water or use dried beans.
Why: Touted for its healthy properties for a half-century, fiber-rich oatmeal cuts down on cholesterol absorption and contributes to gut health. “Oatmeal is a good source of healthy fiber, healthy fats and protein,” Patton explains. “Soluble fiber is really important for our digestive tract and keeping blood sugar levels stable.”
Also try: quinoa, whole-grain rices (brown, black and wild), or whole-grain bread and cereal. “Look at the nutrition label and make sure ‘whole-grain’ is the first ingredient,” Kris-Etherton says.
Why: The AHA recently reaffirmed its long-standing recommendation to eat fish — especially salmon and other oily fishes high in omega-3 fatty acids — twice a week to help stave off the risk of heart failure, stroke and other coronary disease. It may not be just the omega-3s that are good for you a 2018 study found that an ingredient in fish and other seafood called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) may also reduce hypertension-related symptoms.
Also try: The AHA recommends lake trout, herring, albacore tuna, sardines and mackerel.
Why: They're high in soluble fiber and polyphenols (those antioxidants that absorb free radicals) and vitamin C.
Also try: All berries — strawberries, raspberries, blackberries — have heart-healthy credentials for their fiber as well as their flavonoids and antioxidants. Hate berries? Consider red grapes, which are high in resveratrol, a heart-healthy antioxidant.
Broccoli and brussels sprouts
Why: Though most veggies are great for cardiovascular health, broccoli and brussels sprouts are ace players. A 2020 Australian study found that these and other cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, are linked to a decline in blood vessel disease. They're high in disease-fighting flavonoids and carotenoids as well as cholesterol-lowering fiber. Plus, like all veggies, their low caloric density means you can eat a lot without tipping the calorie scale. “You want to aim for such foods as part of a balanced diet because they're going to help with satiety,” Brenes-Salazar says.
Also try: spinach, kale, baby greens, Swiss chard and collard greens. “The consensus is that three servings a day of dark-green leafy vegetables will reduce your total risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes,” Patton says.
Why: These hot little guys are high in a substance called capsaicin. It's what sets your mouth on fire — but it also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and blood-glucose-regulating effects. That's good news for your heart: A 2020 study of 570,000 people found that those who ate chili peppers had a whopping 26 percent lower relative risk of cardiovascular mortality than those who rarely or never ate the peppers.
What's more, though not nearly as rich in capsaicin as the super-hot variety, sweet green and red peppers are also a good source of the mighty C.
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Should You Bother With Fish Oil?
We've heard for years that fish oil supplements (and their omega-3 fatty acids) are magic pills against heart disease — in fact, at least 10 percent of Americans take them. But recent research has cast doubt on their efficacy, including a study presented in November at the AHA's scientific meeting. It found that for 13,078 people who had heart disease (or were at high risk of it), fish oil pills did not reduce their risk of cardiac events compared with those on a placebo. Not only that, but atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous abnormal heart rhythm, occurred more often in those taking the supplement.
Brenes-Salazar of the Mayo Clinic notes that the AHA study just adds to a growing consensus: “The story of omega-3 fatty acids is one we've seen many times in the history of cardiology — an oversimplification of the dietary effects of certain foods,” he notes. “There is good evidence that regular consumption of fish can be associated with reduced cardiovascular risk. But when we isolated components, they failed to demonstrate the same effect as consumption of the whole fish. The advice I now give patients is this: Take a jar and label it ‘Fresh fish.’ Put in there all the money you would have spent on fish oil supplements. Then enjoy fresh fish, which is a lot better than swallowing several yellow translucent capsules.”
Bottom line: Fish is still good for you, but skip fish oil in pill form.
Heart Healthy Recipes
Get started with a week's worth of recipes from the American Heart Association.
- Mini waffles, pasta salad, fish fillets
Garden soup, chicken, berry trifle
Breakfast pita, sweet potato salad, braised beef
Tomato soup, salmon, sugar snap peas
Carrot salad, homemade pizza Quiche, grilled fish, pudding pie Snack mix, mac and cheese, asparagus
For patients newly diagnosed with heart ailments, there is more proof than ever of food's role in treatment, says Rachel Johnson, who has a doctorate in nutrition. Johnson and her colleagues on the AHA's Nutrition Committee "went through a rigorous process of reviewing the scientific literature and narrowing down to those components of a heart-healthy diet that have been shown to be the most effective in terms of lowering cardiovascular risks," she said. The five diet components that the AHA experts consider most crucial:
- Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables — the equivalent of 4 1/2 cups a day, or more when possible. "That may sound like a lot," Johnson concedes, "but by eating a big salad with lots of dark green and orange vegetables, you can go a long way toward that goal."
Have High Cholesterol? Foods to Avoid
If you have high blood cholesterol or another cardiovascular health concern, there are certain foods you’ll want to avoid to keep your heart healthy.
One common misconception is that all high cholesterol foods should be avoided completely. 𠇌holesterol from your diet actually doesn’t affect your blood cholesterol levels like it was once thought,” says Christy Shatlock, MS, registered dietitian atistroMD. “However, you do have to be careful because oftentimes foods high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat, which needs to be limited on a heart healthy diet.” In other words, don’t indulge in bacon and whole milk. But go ahead and eat eggs, salmon and shrimp even though they have cholesterol, since they’re not high in saturated fat.
Instead of focusing on high cholesterol foods while on a cardiac diet, avoid trans fats and saturated fats and foods high in salt and sugar.
Trans Fats and Saturated Fats
“Overall, we are more concerned about trans fats raising our blood cholesterol [than we are concerned about high cholesterol foods],” explains Kelly. “It’s recommended you consume zero of this type of fat because it has been so strongly linked with heart disease.”
She explains that while trans fats have been nned’ from processed foods, they’re still present in some foods in small quantities. For example, a jar of peanut butter could say it has 0 grams of trans fat but really contain about 0.4 grams per serving. Several foods with “just a little” trans fat can add up to too much trans fat. So check the label and make sure the foods you’re eating don’t contain “partially hydrogenated oils.” This can include:
For a hearty healthy diet, avoid trans fat. This means choosing baked or roasted foods over fried ones. Also eat red meat about once or twice a week (or less), and select lean cuts, such as sirloin or filet mignon. Steer clear of:
Saturated fats mostly come from meat and dairy products. Avoiding foods high in saturated fat𠅊nd choosing healthier optionsn lower your cholesterol level and boost your lipid profile. Fatty beef is an example of a food with saturated fat. Also on the list is:
- Poultry with skin
- Cheese and other whole or reduced-fat dairy products
- Whole fat dairy
Too much salt in your diet is bad for your cardiovascular health. That’s because extra sodium increases blood volume in your blood vessels, raising blood pressure and making your heart work harder to pump it.
Eat 1,500 milligrams or less of sodium per day to keep blood pressure low. Your first step is keeping the saltshaker off the table. “Instead, use herbs and spices or a salt-substitute such as Mrs. Dash,” suggests Kelly. Read the label on any pre-made spice mixtures, since often the first ingredient is salt, and you want to stay away from that.” Also be careful of hidden salt in the foods you’re eating. Anything over 140 mg of sodium per serving is a no-no. And surprisingly, these foods may be high in sodium:
Sorry if you’ve got a sweet tooth—researchers say eating too much sugar is connected to a higher risk of dying from heart disease. Sadly, most of us eat too much. The average American eats about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. However, the American Heart Association recommends women eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day (a.k.a. 24 grams or 100 calories) and men eat no more than 9 teaspoons a day (a.k.a. 36 grams or 150 calories).
To significantly reduce your sugar intake, avoid foods with added sugar, such as:
- Soft drinks
- Fruit drinks
- Cakes, cookies and pies
- Ice cream
- Sweetened yogurt and milk
- Sweet breads and waffles
“Look out for secret sources of sugar like breads, cereals, yogurts, condiments and sauces,” says Kelly. 𠇌hoose foods with less than 9 grams of sugar per serving.”
You might've heard that tomatoes are rich in lycopene&mdashan antioxidant that's thought to help lower cholesterol and stroke risk by fighting inflammation. But you can get even more of the good-for-you compound from papayas. According to German findings, the lycopene found in papayas is nearly 3 times more bioavailable than the lycopene found in tomatoes&mdashso your body absorbs more of it. That means eating papaya gives you a greater chance of benefitting from this antioxidant's cholesterol-lowering potential. Tropical fruit salad, anyone?
PRO TIP: Pair papaya with heart-health superstar avocado in this refreshing Avocado, Grapefruit, and Papaya Salad.
The Best Fruits for Your Heart
These seven fruits are best for your heart and should be readily available at your local grocery stores.
Turns out an apple a day could actually keep the doctor away. Not only are apples a good way to add fiber to your diet and good-for-you flavonoids, but a couple of studies alsoਏound that people who regularly eat apples are less likely to develop high blood pressure.
Seek out shiny-skinned applies that are firm and free of bruises. Then, store them in the refrigerator fruit crisper to extend their juiciness and crispness.
Apricots deliver a handful of vitamins (A, C, E, and K), plus fiber. And their orange hue comes from carotenoids, an antioxidant. Fresh apricots have a fleeting season from May to August (look for fruits that are firm and plump). Fortunately, dried apricots deliver the same nutrients, and people who eat about a ⅛ cup of dried fruit (that&aposs just 2 Tbsp.) each day have healthier diets and weigh less compared to those who don’t eat much, if any, dried fruit (according to a study in the journal Nutrition Research).
Eat a banana and you’ll get vitamins B6 and C. You’ll also get fiber, potassium, and magnesium𠅊ll three of which are key nutrients that help keep blood pressure in check. When shopping, look for firm bananas at any size as size doesn’t affect quality.
Whether it’s blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries that you’re drawn to most𠅊ll are great sources of vitamin C and fiber. And eating a high fiber diet has the potential to help lower cholesterol and your risk of heart disease, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fiber can also help keep your weight in check𠅊nother boon for your heart! Don’t forget: frozen berries are just as healthy as fresh so you can enjoy berries year-round.
Serve up grapefruit for a dose of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. A single serving of grapefruit delivers 2.5 grams of fiber, or about 7% of your daily quota. Plus, in a study of women (published in 2014 in the journal Food & Nutrition Research), those who regularly ate grapefruit or drank its juice had higher “good” HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and weighed less.
When shopping, look for a grapefruit that’s heavy for its size and springy to touch. At home, store it in the fridge, but for a juicier fruit, serve it at room temp or warm, not chilled. Remember that grapefruit and its juice interacts with some prescriptions, so check with your doctor before adding it to your meal plan.
This citrus favorite is a real heart health winner: research shows that the flavonoids in oranges (naringenin and hesperidin to name just two) have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers. They also may help improve blood pressure and can ward off your risk of developing atherosclerosis. Like the other fruits in this list, oranges also give you potassium and fiber. Look for oranges with small navels (yes, the indentation on the non-stem end of the orange is called a navel). A large navel means it’s overripe.
Pick up yellow peaches for a hit of beta-carotene (and these recipes). Men who have higher blood levels of beta-carotene were less likely to die of heart disease or stroke, per a study published in 2018 in the journal Circulation Research. Peaches also deliver fiber, potassium, and vitamins C, E, and K. Look for fruits with a strong, sweet smell that give ever so slightly when touched.
5 On-the-Go Hearty, Heart-Healthy Breakfast Ideas
A healthy breakfast doesn’t require a lot of time or energy every day. All you need to do is stock up on good ingredients when you’re at the grocery store each week. Then, take a few minutes each morning to put it together. These few changes in shopping and morning habits can help you to establish a lifetime of healthy eating.
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Preventive cardiology dietitian Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, offers five tasty, hearty and heart-healthy breakfast ideas that take no more than 10 minutes to prepare.
They can be eaten at home or on the go, so you won’t miss a beat in your busy day — and you won’t miss any flavor. Each incorporate carbohydrate, protein, and fat to ensure you start the day with a satisfying, balanced meal to fuel you all morning long.
Creamy, crunchy oatmeal
Measure a ½ cup dry serving of old-fashioned or steel cut oats oatmeal into a microwave-safe bowl (quick cook or instant versions are okay if you need to save more time). Pour enough water over the oatmeal to cover, and stir. Microwave on high for 2½ to three minutes until done. If you prefer a sweeter taste, try adding fresh fruit or a dash of vanilla extract. To balance out this complex carbohydrate containing meal with protein and healthy fat, add chopped nuts and/or seeds like chia or ground flaxseed.
An alternative oatmeal option is soaking oatmeal overnight or for as little as 30 minutes in the morning. Start with ½ cup of your favorite oats and ½ cup of water or your favorite milk. Mix together and let soak. (Original oats need to be soaked overnight, instant can be soaked for
30 minutes). Eat cold or warm up in microwave if desired.
Egg and cheese English muffin
Ever cook an egg in the microwave? It’s fast and, unlike frying an egg in a skillet, you don’t have to add fat. Whisk one large egg (for extra fiber add chopped veggies like peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms) in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 45 to 55 seconds until firm. Set the cooked egg on a slice of whole-wheat English muffin and top with extras for more flavor: sliced avocado, tomato, onion, a slice of 2%-fat cheese or salsa. Top with remaining half of English muffin and serve with a cup of fresh fruit.
Spread one tablespoon natural almond butter on one toasted or untoasted sprouted grain bread (or waffle) and a tablespoon of fruit preserves or sliced banana on another. Press the two slices together to make a sandwich. Enjoy with a 8 ounce glass of your desired milk — skim, 1%, soy or almond.
Cereal a go-go
For a quick on-the-go meal, prepare single-serving sandwich baggies filled with your favorite low-sugar, high-fiber (at least 3 grams of fiber) cereal, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Making your own mix allows you to customize to your taste buds and change it up from day to day. Don’t have time to make your own? Turn to a pre-packaged single serving trail mix.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Heart-Healthy Fruits and Vegetables
Satisfy your sweet tooth and show your heart some love by chomping down on a slice of watermelon. The fruit contains citrulline, an amino acid that helps maintain good blood flow within the heart, according to a September 2016 study in Nitric Oxide.
"Citrulline may improve the health of our blood vessels and may even have benefits for people with erectile dysfunction and diabetes," Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist with Baylor Scott & White Legacy Heart Center in Plano, Texas, tells LIVESTRONG.com. (Both of these conditions involve blood flow issues.)
Watermelon also provides lycopene, a carotenoid that helps fight heart disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Tomatoes, like watermelon, are rich in lycopene, which helps reduce the risk of stroke, per Harvard Health Publishing.
"Try making your own tomato sauce with canned or fresh tomatoes, and add oregano and chopped-up veggies for a gourmet, homemade pasta sauce with mega-antioxidant power," recommends New York City-based nutritionist Keri Glassman, RD, CDN.
Tomatoes also contain a solid dose of the heart-healthy antioxidant vitamin C, which works as an antioxidant, protecting your cells from damage, Glassman says.
Berries get their beautiful deep colors from antioxidants, which make them a great snack for your heart and overall health. In fact, in a June 2013 study published in Circulation, Harvard researchers found that a consistent intake of anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant found in berries) reduces the risk of having a heart attack by 32 percent in young women.
A March 2016 study in Scientific Reports adds to these findings — researchers of the meta-analysis found a link between berry consumption and lower blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol levels.
4. Collard Greens
Collard greens and other leafy greens pack a hefty nutritional punch, especially when it comes to your heart health. Dark leafy greens are full of folate, which helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid that, in excess, increases your risk for coronary heart disease, peripheral heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
Collard greens and other leafy greens are also low in calories and contain the antioxidants vitamins A and C.
4. Cajun Fish Sticks Tacos With Party Mango Salsa
Fish can quickly become "unhealthy" if you fry it or add heavy sauces. To avoid sabotaging your attempts at a heart-healthy diet, Weintraub recommends preparing fish with flavorful, low-fat ingredients like fresh citrus, onion, garlic, low-sodium soy sauce, Dijon mustard and herbs like thyme and dill.
"A combination of these ingredients with a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil will make a fantastic fish marinade," she says. You can also try air-frying or baking homemade fish sticks, two methods that eliminate most — if not all — of the oil you might've used in a more traditional fish-fry.
Get the Cajun Fish Sticks Tacos With Party Mango Salsa recipe and nutrition info here.
Our Top 15 Heart-Healthy Foods
Research shows that eating a variety of certain foods can lower your risk of heart disease. Here's the science behind the best 15 heart-healthy choices&mdashplus tasty recipes.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the U.S., claiming one out of every four lives. And while you might think it won&apost happen to you (you&aposve got great genes, right?), over time, poor eating habits-those venti flavored lattes, desk-side snacks and late-night pizza runs-can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inflammation, raising your risk for heart attack and stroke.
So do your heart a favor. Swap those old diet choices for the heart-healthy foods below. Here&aposs why they can help keep your ticker going strong-plus delicious ways to enjoy them.
1. Whole Grains
It&aposs no secret that whole grains are a healthier choice than their overly processed, refined-grain cousins. A recent analysis of 45 studies found that eating at least three servings a day of whole grains was linked with a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease. That&aposs because whole grains are rich in antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols-all nutrients that protect against heart disease.
Plus, they&aposre high in fiber, something crucial for heart health. In one Harvard study, women who ate a high-fiber diet had a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease than those on a low-fiber diet. Two best bets for whole grains: oats and barley. They&aposre especially high in soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.
Whizzed up in a smoothie or mashed and spread on toast, avocados are a yummy way to boost your heart health. They&aposre loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats-including oleic acid, the same fat that gives olive oil some of its many perks. But that&aposs not all. Avocados are a rich source of potassium-an essential mineral many people don&apost get enough of that helps lower blood pressure and the risk of stroke. They&aposre high in vitamins and heart-friendly fiber too. Need more convincing? A 2017 review found that eating avocados may help fight metabolic syndrome, a dangerous cluster of conditions that often leads to heart disease.
3. Salmon & Other Fatty Fish
Eating two or more servings of fish a week is linked with a 30 percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, studies show. Fish-especially oily kinds like salmon and tuna-are rich in omega-3 fats, which reduce levels of triglycerides that can cause heart problems. Omega-3s also help lower blood pressure and can help prevent irregular heart rhythms. Which fish is best? No common fish delivers more of the omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Go for wild-caught Alaskan salmon if you can. Compared to most farmed salmon, it&aposs generally lower in calories and pollutants and higher in omega-3s-and is better for the planet.
A 2018 analysis found a surprising link between yogurt and heart health in people with high blood pressure. In the study, researchers looked at data collected over 30 years from more than 55,000 women in the Nurses&apos Health Study, and more than 18,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They found that those who ate two or more servings of yogurt a week had a roughly 20 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate less. Adding yogurt to an already healthy diet upped the benefits even more.
Even if you don&apost have high blood pressure, you can still get the heart-healthy benefits. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, live bacteria that play an important role in gut health. By fighting inflammation and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check, they help keep your heart healthy, too.
5. Leafy Green Vegetables
Mountains of research studies show that the more fruits and veggies you eat, the lower your risk of heart disease. A 2014 meta-analysis of studies following nearly 470,000 people found that each additional daily serving of fruits and vegetables cut the risk of death by heart disease by an average of 4 percent. The superstars that contributed the most benefits? Leafy green vegetables. Low in calories but high in fiber, leafy greens like spinach, lettuce, kale and cabbage deliver vitamins and minerals essential for heart health. They&aposre especially high in vitamin K, important for proper blood clotting. One surprising recent study in teens suggests that a lack of vitamin K may affect the actual heart structure, leading to a higher risk of heart disease later in life.
Eating beans regularly is good for your heart, and you don&apost need to eat a lot of them to benefit. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that having just 1/2 cup of cooked pinto beans a day may help lower cholesterol, thanks largely to their soluble fiber, plus heart-protective flavonoids-the same kind found in chocolate, berries and red wine-which can help lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Of course, you don&apost have to stick to just pinto beans! Go for a wide variety: black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, cranberry beans and fava beans, plus other legumes like chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lentils and more. They&aposre chock-full of fiber, magnesium and potassium-all nutrients that help lower blood pressure and keep your heart going strong.
Nuts are full of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and have low levels of saturated fats. Research suggests that people who eat nuts-walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and peanuts (which actually are legumes)-two to four days or more a week have a lower incidence of heart disease than people who eat them less often. Does it matter what kind? Some researchers say walnuts win the honors. A study from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that walnuts have more high-quality antioxidants than any other variety. And it only takes a small handful-just seven walnuts a day-to get the heart benefits.
8. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate has gotten a lot of buzz in recent years as a heart-healthy treat. Cocoa is rich in flavonoids, plant nutrients that help repair cell damage. Flavanols-cocoa&aposs main kind of flavonoid-help lower blood pressure, promote proper blood clotting and boost blood flow to the brain and heart. Add to that a hefty helping of minerals, fiber and other powerful antioxidants, and you have one sweet package. And the heart benefits are impressive: In one study of nearly 5,000 people, nibbling on chocolate five or more times a week was associated with a whopping 57 percent lower risk of heart disease, compared to non-chocolate eaters. (Keep in mind, though, that this was an observational study, so the research didn&apost prove a cause and effect.)
So go ahead-enjoy, but go easy: Just 1 or 2 ounces a day does the trick. For the most benefits, choose dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa solids.
An excellent source of vitamins C and A, plus potassium and fiber, tomatoes are also high in lycopene, which works with other vitamins and minerals to help prevent disease. A 2017 analysis of 25 studies found that people with the highest lycopene intake cut their risk of stroke by 26 percent and risk of heart disease by 14 percent. Cooking tomatoes brings out their lycopene, boosting the heart benefits even more.
Eating apples was associated with a lower risk of death from both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease in the Iowa Women&aposs Health Study, which has been tracking more than 34,000 women for nearly 20 years. And Finnish researchers studying dietary data collected over nearly 30 years from 9,208 men and women also found that frequent apple eaters had the lowest risk of strokes compared with non-apple eaters. What explains the heart-healthy benefits? Researchers say it&aposs the strong antioxidant flavonoid compounds found in apples. These compounds play a key role by stopping inflammation and preventing the buildup of plaque in arteries. Apples are also rich in pectin, a form of soluble fiber known to help lower cholesterol, and they provide a decent amount of vitamin C, another antioxidant.
In a small Finnish study of 72 middle-aged people, eating just under a cup of mixed berries-including strawberries, red raspberries, bilberries (similar to blueberries), lingonberries and other native kinds-each day for eight weeks was associated with higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure. The diverse mix provided a wide range of polyphenols, plant compounds that may increase levels of nitric oxide, which in turn helps relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
No bilberries where you live? Not to fear. Fresh or frozen, easy-to-find varieties like cranberries, strawberries and blueberries all deliver heart-healthy antioxidants.
Studies show the ruby-red fruit may help reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries and lower blood pressure. Experts believe that pomegranate&aposs benefits come from its powerful punch of polyphenols, including anthocyanins (found in blue, purple and deep-red foods) and tannins (also found in wine and tea). In a 2010 study ranking the antioxidant capacity of 3,100 foods from all over the world, pomegranate juice had the highest antioxidants of any fruit juice.
13. Olive Oil
It&aposs been a diet staple in Mediterranean countries-where people tend to live longer-for thousands of years. And for good reason: olive oil is not only excellent for cooking, but it also delivers powerful heart-healthy benefits. Stacks of studies confirm that extra-virgin olive oil in particular helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol and prevents blood clots. It also fights inflammation: researchers have found that oleocanthal, a compound in virgin olive oil, has anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen. Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, olive oil has another plus: studies show it can help you stick to a healthy weight, which can further slash your risk of heart disease. The bottom line: If olive oil isn&apost a staple in your pantry yet, it should be.
14. Green Tea
Sipping an afternoon cup of green tea may be an easy way to help your heart. That&aposs because green tea has catechins, powerful antioxidants that, over time, can significantly reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Drinking a lot of green tea could even add years to your life. An 11-year study that followed 40,530 Japanese adults found that those who drank five cups of green tea a day had a 26 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 16 percent lower risk of death from all causes, compared to those who drank less than one cup a day.
More reason to love your morning cuppa joe: Growing evidence suggests that drinking coffee helps protect the heart, particularly for women. In fact, the more you drink-up to five cups a day-the greater the benefits, some research shows. One study recently published in the journal Circulation reviewed data from the decades-long Framingham Heart Study, which looks at diet and heart health. The researchers found that, compared with non-coffee drinkers, people who drank coffee had a 7 percent lower risk of heart failure and an 8 percent lower risk of stroke. While the study couldn&apost prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it does show a strong link.
Caveat: Step away from the cream and sugar. The health perks apply to plain black coffee, not the super-sweet, high-calorie, caramel-drizzled stuff you get at your local coffee shop. And watch the caffeine-too much can make you jittery during the day and wreck your sleep at night.