Every year, 647,000 Americans die from heart disease and heart-related conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, it’s the leading cause of death in the United States.
In terms of prevention, living a healthy lifestyle is the best thing you can do. Some activities that can increase risk of developing heart disease include smoking, a lack of exercise, heavily drinking alcohol, and eating a diet high in cholesterol, fat, salt, and sugar. To stay as heart-healthy as possible, it’s best to avoid this activities and try to eat a diet that consists of heart healthy foods.
Wondering which foods are good for your heart? We’ve got you covered.
25 heart healthy foods
Known as the fruit with the “healthy” fats, avocados are super nutritious thanks to their high concentration in dietary fiber, antioxidants, and other minerals. All of these things work together to keep your heart healthy, but a study from Penn State University also suggests that an avocado a day can lower LDL cholesterol levels.
“Avocados contain heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which can help lower LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ kind),” Laura Yautz, RDN, LDN, NBC-HWC, registered dietician and owner of Being Nutritious, tells Parade. “In addition, avocados contain potassium and fiber, two essential components of heart health, which can work to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, respectively!”
Sure, all fruits are relatively high in sugar, but the heart-healthy benefits of berries—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, açaí berries, bilberries, goji berries, raspberries, and even grapes!—certainly outweigh the negatives of their natural sugar content.
“Berries are a good source of polyphenols, especially anthocyanins, micronutrients, and fiber,” explains Harland Adkins, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Fast Food Menu Prices. “In epidemiological and clinical studies, these constituents have been associated with improved cardiovascular risk profiles.”
Adkins adds, “Black raspberries and strawberries have been shown to help lower cholesterol in people who are obese or have metabolic syndrome.”
Spinach is good for you in just about every way possible—not solely for your heart. But besides the benefits it has for your eyes, reduced blood pressure, and even cancer prevention, spinach’s high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, fiber, folate, calcium, and iron work wonders for your heart.
“Spinach is most known for its folate content, but it’s also a great addition to heart healthy diets,” Yautz explains. “Spinach contains a healthy dose of vitamin K (ask your doctor if you’re on a blood thinner!), vitamin A, iron, and fiber, all while being low in calories, so you can fill your plate up!
All dark leafy greens are heart-healthy foods, but kale in particular is a superfood. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), kale is high in potassium, which can reduce your risk of blood pressure and also heart disease.
“Kale, like spinach, is very high in vitamin K, which is important to help your blood clot properly,” Yautz says. “It’s also high in vitamins A and C. But unlike spinach, it’s a cruciferous vegetable (like broccoli and cauliflower), so it contains special compounds that may be particularly helpful in preventing clogged arteries.”
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5. Collard Greens
Collard greens are another dark leafy green, cruciferous vegetable that works hard to keep your heart feeling strong. This superfood also can prevent cancer, features anti-inflammatory properties, and because they’re high in potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C, they’ve been known to lower hypertension and support the heart.
“Collard greens are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium, a rich source of vitamin K, and a good source of iron, vitamin B-6, and magnesium,” Adkins explains. “They also contain thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and choline. Thanks to their many nutrients, collard greens have been associated with cancer prevention, detox support, anti-inflammatory properties, heart health, and digestive support.”
Definitely don’t underestimate the power of nuts when it comes to supporting your heart. As Yautz explains, “Walnuts contain the highest amount of ALA (a plant-based form of Omega-3) of any of the tree nuts, making it an excellent heart healthy staple. They are also high in magnesium, which can help your heart maintain a normal rhythm.”
Another nut that’s great for your heart is the almond. Yautz explains, “Almonds are a great source of vitamin E, a type of antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage. It can be particularly helpful for those who do or have smoked, and/or are exposed to air pollution, to help mitigate the effect.”
Plus, they can be roasted, thrown into a salad, or eaten raw, and are known as a health, unsaturated fat that increases the body’s good cholesterol and decreases its bad cholesterol.
You know how that old adage goes—beans, beans, they’re good for your heart! We won’t finish the rhyme here for the sake of being appropriate, but this kid-friendly diddy is true.
“Beans are incredibly healthy, especially for your heart, high in both protein and fiber, and they’re amazingly versatile,” Yautz says. “Many studies have been conducted on their health benefits. They are known to help decrease blood cholesterol levels, and consuming 1/2 cup a day is associated with a lower risk of having a heart attack and heart disease in general.”
Black beans are not only high in fiber, but they keep your blood sugar levels in check, control your cholesterol, and can even lower blood pressure.
Related: Can a Broken Heart Cause Actual Heart Damage? Here’s What Doctors Say
Fatty fish is one of the best heart-healthy foods there is thanks to its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating salmon as much as twice a week.
Yautz adds, “Salmon is well known for its healthy fat profile. The main type of fat is a polyunsaturated fat, known as omega-3. Eating fish high in Omega-3s has been linked to decreased coronary heart disease (CHD), including fatal CHD, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death. Wild caught salmon is a better source than farmed.”
High in lycop
ene, which can lower LDL levels and also blood pressure, eating tomatoes semi-frequently can reduce your risk of heart disease.
“Tomatoes’ claim to fame is their lycopene content, which is widely known for its benefit to prostate health. But lycopene can also protect your heart! Studies have shown lycopene may lower your risk of stroke, and of having additional cardiac events,” Yautz explains.
11. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are also a superfood and they’re unique in that they contain the antioxidant quercetin. Quercetin reduces risk of heart disease, as well as other heart-related conditions as well.
“Chia seeds are full of heart protecting antioxidants, as well as ALA Omega-3 fats,” Yautz says. “This tiny seed is also showing promise as being able to potentially lower triglycerides, inflammation, and blood pressure, as well as raising HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol).”
12. Dark Chocolate
It’s the one you’ve been waiting for—yes, it’s true! Dark chocolate is, in fact, good for your heart.
“Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols, and a heart healthy addition with a caveat: all the added sugar, cream or milk, and cocoa butter tend to negate its effects,” Yautz says. “Choose the darkest chocolate you can to reap the benefits, such as lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.”
13. Flax Seeds
Just like nuts, many seeds are considered to be heart-healthy food as well. Flax seeds are high in the Omega-3 fatty acids that hearts love and are even known to reduce the risk of stroke.
“Flax, like chia, is high in Omega-3, and is particularly helpful in managing blood pressure and cholesterol,” Yautz says.
It’s a win-win!
14. Hemp Seeds
Another heart-healthy seed is the hemp seed. These little-seeds-that-could regulate your heart beat, reduce bad cholesterol levels, and fight hard against coronary heart disease.
“Hemp seeds are lower in both omega-3s and fiber then either chia or flax seeds, but they are high in protein – a complete protein at that. They do have a high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega 3, which isn’t problematic in the context of an otherwise healthy diet, but something to be aware of. They also contain iron and zinc, two minerals important for cardiac function,” Yautz adds.
15. Olive Oil
Cooking with oil—especially if it’s in place of butter—is a meaningful decision for your heart. As Yautz explains, “When it comes to oils for heart health, olive oil takes the cake. Studies have shown olive oil can help reduce cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. The benefit seems to cap out at about 1/2 tablespoon per day, though. Oils of all kinds are high in calories, so it’s preferable to replace fats like butter and margarine with olive oil instead of simply adding olive oil to the diet, to avoid unintentional weight gain.”
As oranges are high in both fiber and potassium, this citrus fruit makes a great addition to any heart-healthy diet. After all, the more you eat of both, the less likely you are to develop a fatal heart disease.
“Oranges are an excellent source of potassium, making them a good food for heart health. Potassium can help control blood pressure, because it acts opposite to sodium,” Yautz says. “While sodium attracts water and promotes retention, potassium helps the body release water, thereby reducing blood pressure.”
Aside from their high levels of potassium, another heart-healthy benefit of oranges is their pectin.
“Oranges have the cholesterol-fighting fiber pectin,” Adkins says. “In one study, two cups of OJ a day boosted blood vessel health. It also lowered blood pressure in men.”
17. Fish Oil
Just as fatty fish is good for the heart, fish oil is one of the best “foods” for the heart as well.
“Fish oil is high in Omega-3s, and often recommended for its heart promoting benefits. While the omega-3s in flax, chia, and hemp are mostly in the form of ALA (alpha linolenic acid), the Omega-3s in fish oil are in the form of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are more usable by the body,” Yautz explains. “ALA must first be made into DHA and EPA.”
Tuna is another fatty fish that has benefits for the heart because of its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. But, you should be wary of the tuna you choose.
“Tuna is another great source of Omega-3 fats,” Yautz says. “Look for bluefin tuna, which is a better source of Omega-3s, and has a lower chance of being contaminated with heavy metals.”
When you think “heart-healthy food,” you may not immediately envision garlic, but in reality, garlic has long been used as a medicinal herb, thanks to its health benefits.
“Garlic and garlic supplements may have positive effects on heart health by preventing cell damage, regulating cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure,” Adkins explains. “Other research shows that garlic supplements may also reduce plaque build-up in the arteries. This is due to the presence of a compound called allicin, which is believed to have a multitude of therapeutic effects.”
In addition to all those heart-healthy benefits, garlic may improve memory as well.
Fish and almonds aren’t the only significant source of heart-healthy proteins. As Yautz points out, “Edamame is the most unprocessed form of soybeans, and incredibly nutritious. It’s high in protein – a complete protein—and also boasts tons of fiber and antioxidants. Studies show edamame may improve cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as reduce blood pressure. Other studies are being conducted on its ability to improve arterial stiffness, and improve markers of inflammation.”
Sardines are jam-packed with Omega-3 fatty acids as well as fish oils that can regulate heart rhythms. Yautz adds, “Unlike salmon and tuna, however, sardines are very low on the food chain. That means the likelihood of heavy metal contamination is very low. Just make sure to look for sardines without too much sodium.”
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22. Red Wine
Thank goodness! Of course, red wine has to be drank in moderation in order to reap its heart-healthy benefits, but some research shows that the antioxidants in red wines can prevent coronary artery disease and ultimately, decrease your risk of a heart attack.
“If you drink alcohol, a little red wine maybe a heart-healthy choice,” Adkins explains.
“Resveratrol and catechins—two antioxidants in red wine—may protect artery walls. Alcohol can also boost HDL, the good cholesterol [but] too much alcohol hurts the heart.”
Yautz adds, “Alcohol in excess can damage the heart, and contribute to high blood pressure. So, if you don’t drink, don’t start, but if you do, do so in moderation only (one or less 5-ounce glass of wine per day for women and two for men).”
Another fatty fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, it’s recommended to eat mackerel at least once weekly in order to reduce your risk of a heart attack.
“Mackerel are similar to sardines in their lower likelihood of heavy metal contamination,” Yautz says. “Eat it, and the other fatty fish on this list, at least once a week to help prevent heart attacks and other serious heart problems.”
According to the Cleveland Heart Lab, herbs like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, and berberine can be used to prepare other foods for an added heart-healthy benefit.
Yautz adds, “Herbs and spices are incredibly concentrated sources of antioxidants. Including a variety in liberal amounts on your food daily can contribute to lower inflammation, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol.”
25. Green Tea
Drinking tea could reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, but it should be done frequently in order to reap the benefits. In fact, the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology published research that found drinking green tea three or more times per week is ideal for improving the health of the heart.
“Drinking green tea daily can also contribute to heart health! Studies show green tea may lower both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides,” Yautz says. “As long as you’re careful about what you put in it—adding sugar, creamer, etc. may offset those benefits!”
Next up, important lifestyle changes to make for a healthy heart.