You may not be able to control every factor that affects your health. But when it comes to heart health, your diet can serve as your best weapon against heart disease. Making changes to how you eat to improve heart health is easier than you might think.
At First Med Marin in Greenbrae, California, our experienced family medicine physician, Dr. Barry Landfield, wants to share with you some of the heart-healthy foods you can add to your diet this year to improve your health.
1. Fatty fish
The American Heart Association recommends you eat 7 ounces of fish a week, specifically fatty fish, to improve heart health. Fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fats. These essential fats may help lower heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.
2. Whole grains
Whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta and bread, and whole-grain barley. Unlike refined grains, whole grains retain their bran, sperm, and endosperm. These components contain nutrients that support good health, including fiber.
Adding more whole-grain foods to your diet increases your fiber intake, which may help lower blood cholesterol levels. Fiber also keeps you feeling full longer, which may make it easier for you to lose weight.
Beans, such as kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas, are an excellent source of protein, rich in fiber, and provide many essential nutrients your body needs for good health, including iron, B vitamins, and potassium.
People who eat more beans have lower rates of heart disease. Beans may help lower cholesterol, support weight management, and help you maintain normal blood pressure.
Avocados are considered a fruit. However, unlike any other fruit except olives, most of the calories in an avocado come from heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. The fruit is also rich in fiber, potassium, and magnesium.
According to an April 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, avocados improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
5. Leafy greens
Leafy greens like spinach, green leaf lettuce, and kale are low in calories and rich in vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and fiber. These veggies are also rich in antioxidants that protect your cells from free radical damage and may reduce your risk of heart disease.
Sweet and colorful, berries contain anthocyanins, which are pigmented compounds that help lower blood pressure and protect your blood vessels. To improve heart health, add blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries to your diet this year.
Garlic has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. The sulfur compound in garlic, called allicin, is the active ingredient responsible for both flavor and health benefits. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, garlic may help lower blood lipid levels and prevent blood clotting. There’s also some evidence that it may lower blood pressure.
Like avocados and fatty fish, nuts are a source of heart-healthy fats. They also contain other health-promoting nutrients such as protein, fiber, and vitamin E. Adding more almonds, pistachios, pecans, and walnuts to your diet may help lower cholesterol, improve blood vessel health, and reduce inflammation. Walnuts are also a good source of omega-3 fats.
Nuts, however, are high in calories. To keep your weight in check, limit your daily consumption to no more than a handful or about 1.5 ounces.
Seeds also make a healthy addition to your heart-healthy diet. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are rich in healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also add crunch and flavor to salads and yogurt and make a great alternative to breadcrumbs for coating your chicken cutlets.
10. Red, yellow, orange, and purple fruits and veggies
Eat a rainbow of healthy foods to add more heart-healthy nutrients to your diet. This includes:
- Tomatoes, watermelon, and red bell peppers for lycopene
- Carrots, sweet potatoes, and pink grapefruit for beta carotene
- Bioflavonoids from oranges and peaches
- Phenolics from plums and eggplant
The nutrients found in these colorful fruits and veggies are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
11. Olive oil
Olive oil is a versatile fat you can use for cooking or to add flavor to your lettuce, bean, or whole-wheat pasta salads. Rich in monounsaturated fats, olive oil may lower blood cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease. However, olive oil is a concentrated source of calories and should be used in moderation.
12. Dark chocolate
Though you have many healthy options to satisfy your sweet tooth, sometimes a little chocolate is in order. When it comes to heart health, dark chocolate makes the best choice because it’s rich in flavonoids, which are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Look for varieties of chocolate that contain 70-85% cocoa to get the most benefits. Dark chocolate is still a treat and should be consumed in moderation.
To learn more about how diet affects health and the changes you can make to improve both, contact us by phone or online today.