We know that regular exercise can go a long way toward keeping your cardiovascular system healthy. But diet plays another key role in heart health. The American Heart Association reminds us to eat a diet appropriately balanced between fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats provided by foods such as nuts, seeds, fish, and poultry. But some foods offer even more protective heart health benefits.
The following foods are recommended by the American Heart Association, for specific reasons:
Beets. Beets contain nitrates, which dilate blood vessels. A 2013 study showed that drinking a cup of beet juice daily significantly lowered blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Cruciferous vegetables provide flavonoids and carotenoids which help to ward off the development of diseases like heart disease and cancer. Their fiber also helps to lower cholesterol levels.
Garbanzo beans. Beans are a great source of both fiber and plant-based protein, both of which help to lower cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar.
Tofu. Tofu is rich in plant-based protein and isoflavones, both of which can improve cholesterol levels and protect against heart disease.
Oatmeal. Oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber, helping you to maintain lower cholesterol levels. Check nutrition labels to be sure “whole grains” is the first ingredient and avoid too much added sugar.
Olives and olive oil. Olives and olive oil can help to protect against heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Some research has demonstrated that olive oil might even help to repair damaged arterial linings.
Walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Nuts and seeds provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and are also rich in fiber and magnesium.
Fish. Certain types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for the heart protective benefits as well as reducing inflammation. Salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna are all good sources of this nutrient.
Blueberries. All berries are high in Vitamin C, soluble fiber, and polyphenols (antioxidants that absorb free radicals). If you don’t like blueberries, try blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, red grapes, or other varieties.
Chili peppers. The capsaicin in chili peppers provides spicy heat, but also anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects. Capsaicin can also help to regulate blood glucose levels.
Of course, dietary changes should be made under the guidance of your physician, who understands your particular needs best. Talk to your doctor about how diet can impact your risk of heart disease, and they will help you put together an eating program to maintain your health.