A healthy diet is not just good for your waistline, but also for your heart. The food that you consume can influence all aspects of your heart health, right from blood pressure and inflammation to cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
Eating foods in their natural form, including fresh fruits and vegetables is beneficial for heart health. Including the following 13 foods in your daily diet can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Whole Grains: Whole grains like whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa and oats include all 3 of the nutrient rich parts of the grain: germ, endosperm and bran. One analysis of 45 studies concluded that eating three more servings of whole grains daily was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease (9)
Fish: Fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which have extensively been studied for their heart-health benefits. A study done on individuals eating salmon 3 times a week for 8 weeks showed significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure (2). For those who do not consume fish, a fish oil supplement capsule is an option to get the daily dose of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure (3).
Berries: Berries are full of heart healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber. Berries are also rich in anthocyanins protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease (6). Another study showed that eating blueberries every day improved the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which help control blood pressure and blood clotting (7). Try blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or raspberries in cereal or yogurt.
Nuts: A handful of healthy nuts such as almonds or walnuts will satisfy your hunger and help your heart. Almonds are a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids and fibers, both of which can help protect against heart disease (4). Walnuts are a great source of fiber and micro nutrients like magnesium, copper and manganese. A study in the American journal of clinical nutrition, showed that diets supplemented with walnuts led to greater decreases in LDL and total cholesterol (5).
Beans and Legumes: Beans and legumes ― such as kidney beans, black eyed peas; chickpeas etc. are high in fiber, B-vitamins and minerals. Many studies have shown that eating beans can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease. Eating beans and legumes regularly has been linked to reduced blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart disease (10)
Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate is great for your heart. The higher the percentage of cocoa (at least 70%) in your chocolate, the better it is for your heart. Many studies have associated eating chocolate with a lower risk of heart disease. A study published in the journal of clinical nutrition, showed that that eating chocolate at least twice per week was associated with a 32% lower risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries (11). But one must keep in mind other health factors when consuming chocolate as they do contain high amount of sugars and calories
Bright Colored Vegetables and fruits: Vegetables like colored capsicum, tomato, capsicum; carrots etc. are rich in carotenoids, fiber and vitamins. Fruits such as oranges, muskmelon, papaya etc. are rich in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium and fiber. All these nutrients are Heart health friendly.
Seeds: Flax seeds and Chia seeds are a great source of nutrients like fiber and omega 3 fatty acids, both of which are heart healthy nutrients. Many studies have shown adding these seeds to your daily diet can help improve many heart disease risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and inflammation. A study showed that individuals who consume 30 grams of flax seeds daily for 6 months decreased systolic blood pressure by an average of 10 mm/Hg and reduced diastolic blood pressure by 7 mm/Hg (8).
Garlic: For many centuries, Garlic has been used as a natural remedy for treatment of many diseases. Research has shown that garlic contains a compound called allicin, which is believed to have a multitude of therapeutic effects (13). To get the maximum benefits out of garlic, it must be consumed raw, or you can crush it and keep it aside for a few minutes before cooking. Doing this allows the compound allicin to be formed and hence it maximizes the health benefits.
Green Tea: Green tea is high in polyphenols and catechins. It has been associated with lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. A review published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that higher intake of the catechins in green tea was associated with a lower level of total cholesterol and LDL (15).
Avocado: Avocados are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. A study conducted on obese and overweight individuals which had one test group that consumed 1 avocado daily showed that the group who consumed avocado daily saw reduction in LDL cholesterol including lower levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol, which are believed to significantly raise the risk of heart disease (12)
Olive Oil: Olive oil is high in antioxidants which can relieve inflammation and decrease the risk of chronic disease and in monounsaturated fats that is associated with improved heart health. A study has shown that higher intake of olive oil was associated with 48% lower risk of dying from heart diseases (14). Higher Olive oil consumption is also known to be associated with lowering blood pressure.
Green Leafy Vegetables: Popeye was right- Spinach does pack a punch. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, Fenugreek, kale etc. are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are rich sources of Vit K which protect the arteries and help in proper blood clotting. Broccoli and asparagus are filled with mighty nutrients such as vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium and fiber. A study in 29,689 women showed that a high intake of leafy green vegetables was linked to a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease (1)
Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help keep your heart in good shape and minimize your risk of heart disease.