Exploring the Best Foods to Improve Your Heart Health
Dr. Satish Madiraju, MD, FACC, FACP, FSVM
December 13, 2023
Heart diseases are increasing around the world. This is because the rates of high blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, and obesity are also on the rise. Almost 85% of people with heart disease die because of heart attacks and strokes.
Food plays an important role in determining our heart health. A poor diet can increase these risk factors. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables, fibres, vitamins and minerals, etc offer several health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease.Continue reading to find the expert-recommended best foods to improve your heart health.
Let us first understand, what a heart-safe food plate should ideally look like for a normal healthy individual.
Following the below basic eating rules can help you to maintain overall good heart health. Use these rules whenever you cook or eat food.
Loads of fruits and vegetables daily
Whole grains over polished/processed grains
Healthy proteins: Legumes, nuts, fish, seafood, low-fat or non-fat dairy, and lean meat and poultry over red meat
Healthy fats: Avocados, Olives, nuts and seeds, and oils for cooking: olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and soybean oil
Choose minimally processed foods
Minimize added sugars
Prepare foods with little or no added salt
Key nutrients for a healthy heart
Embracing a few nutrients in your daily diet is the key to keeping your heart strong and in top shape.
Vitamins C, Eand K and minerals such as potassium
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Monounsaturated fatty acids
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day
The experts of the European Society of Cardiology and the American Heart Association agree that it is really important to eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day to lower the risk of heart problems. Some of the best in this class include
Eatinggreen leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, peas, cabbage, and broccoli might cut down heart problems by about 7%. They are high in fibre and folic acid which reduce bad cholesterol and homocysteine. This in turn reduces the chances of blood vessel narrowing and strokes. Green vegetables are also a great source of vitamins K, C, E, and nitrates which aid proper functioning of your blood vessels and blood clotting.
Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamins C & E, and flavonoids, which prevent plaque from building up in your blood vessels responsible for heart blocks. It also helps to lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed eating one avocado every week can reduce the chance of getting heart disease by 21%. The study also found that replacing butter, mayonnaise, eggs, or cheese with avocado, which is high in good fat (monosaturated fats) can lower your risk of heart disease by around 16-22%. However, as avocados are high in fat as compared to other fruits and veggies, it is important to pay attention to how much avocado you eat, especially if you are struggling to lose weight.
In a study with Japanese people, eating citrus fruits was linked to a lower chance of having heart problems. Citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruits have more antioxidants such as vitamin C and β-cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants help to protect against heart disease or strokes by preventing high blood pressure, reducing bad cholesterol, and preventing artery blockage. They can also prevent blood glucose spiking.
Berries like blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are powerful antioxidants. They help protect your heart and blood vessels by fighting damage to your body's cells.
Many studies indicate that garlic can fight inflammation in our bodies. It is packed with vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese and contains a compound called allicin. These components have been shown to help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and sugar levels in the blood.
Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates lack fibres and are easily digested. They cause a rapid increase in blood glucose. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand are digested slowly and release glucose slowly into the blood.
Switching to whole grains such as brown rice, millet, whole-wheat bread, etc from refined grains such as white rice and bread can lower your chance of getting diabetes, heart problems, and being overweight. Whole grains have three parts - the endosperm, germ, and bran. Refined grains, on the other hand, only have the endosperm because the germ and bran are taken out when they are processed. The bran and the germ are rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, while the endosperm provides mostly carbohydrates and some amount of protein.
Other good sources of complex carbohydrates include fruit and vegetables, legumes, beans, lentils, etc.
Best protein sources for your heart
Some of the best heart-healthy protein sources include chickpeas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, eggs, and chicken. Restrict red meat consumption to 350 grams a week, as it increases the risk of obesity and other heart conditions.
Eating a handful of nuts and seeds every day can help bring down the total and LDL-cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, the not-so-good cholesterol), and also lower your chances of having heart problems.
Eating fish and seafood not only provides protein but also omega-3 fatty acids- a key nutrient that helps lower the chance of having a heart attack or heart disease. Our bodies cannot make omega-3 on their own, so it is important to eat foods that have it. Oily fish such as Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, and Sardines are a few of the top sources of omega-3 in our diet.
Healthy fats in moderation
Not all fats are bad for your health. Some fats help to lower bad cholesterol such as LDL-cholesterol and prevent plaque build-up in your arteries, which causes blocks. Healthy fats include monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, saturated and trans fats increase bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
Olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, peanut oil, seeds, nuts, and fish are the best sources of heart-healthy fats.
Avoid palm oil, coconut oil, high-fat dairy products, deep fried and bakery food items which are bad for your heart.
In conclusion, foods healthy for the heart involve prioritizing a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Making mindful food choices is a proactive step towards a healthier heart and a longer, fulfilling life. Take charge of your heart health journey today - download the Aware app to efficiently manage and monitor your well-being.
About the Author
Dr. Satish Madiraju, a renowned cardiologist is passionate about consumer heart health and is on a mission to prevent a million heart attacks. He shares his expertise not only on heart health but also on leadership, digital health, and improving patient experience.
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