best foods for heart health

Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide.1 Lifestyle factors, such as physical activity and nutrition, can cause or prevent its onset. Diet plays a big role in keeping the heart healthy because foods contain many compounds which can work to regulate blood pressure, levels of “good” fat, and inflammation.1 So what are the best foods for heart health?

Fruits

Fruits are an important part of the diet. They provide a lot of health-promoting benefits. Berries are great for protecting the heart.1 They contain antioxidants, which help fight against oxidative stress and inflammation.1 In doing so, they can help to prevent heart disease.1

Berries have many tiny seeds filled that provide fiber. Fiber helps to lessen the amount of “bad” cholesterol levels in the body. It can also help regulate blood pressure. Blueberries and strawberries are a good source of fiber, but blackberries and raspberries have a greater amount.

Vegetables

Vegetables, especially leafy greens like kale and spinach, are packed with heart healthy nutrients. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.3 Vitamin K plays a role in protecting arteries (the blood vessels of the heart).2 It can also help to decrease blood vessel thickness and reduce overall blood pressure.2

Eating enough vegetables can lower the chances of getting heart disease by about 16%.3 Many studies show that, fruits and vegetables can decrease the risk of developing heart disease and overall mortality.1

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is full of flavonoids (healthy plant compounds) that have great antioxidant effects. Dark chocolate has more flavonoids per weight than other foods.1   

Dark chocolate has healthy fats, so it helps to maintain “good” cholesterol levels. Long-term population studies have suggested that eating dark chocolate can be good for the heart when moderately consumed as part of a healthy diet and not exceeding daily recommended calories.1

Chia seeds

Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) have been part of the human diet for over 5,000 years.4 These tiny seeds have a high nutrient profile.

Chia seeds are composed of 31-34% fat, 16-26% protein, and 23-35% dietary fiber.4 Chia seeds are rich in minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and potassium.4 As well as full of the vitamins, thiamine, niacin, folic acid, and vitamins A and C.4 Such a variety of vitamins and minerals promotes heart health. 

Chia seeds are also a great source of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, and they contain many antioxidants.4 The healthy amount, and type, of fats in chia seeds works to promote reductions in inflammation and oxidative stress.4

Beans

Beans, categorized as legumes, are nutritionally valuable. They are a good place to get the daily recommended doses of fiber and other vitamins and minerals.

Beans are a good source of healthy fats and dietary protein; they provide 2-3 times more than that of cereal grains.5 For this reason, they also have great amounts of essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein).5  

Beans are a source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Compared to other legumes, they have the largest mineral content, as they are full of iron, zinc, copper, phosphorous, and aluminum.5

Black beans in particular have compounds known as phytochemicals. These are incredible nutrients because of their antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.5 In general, the darker the bean (ranging from blue-violet to black), the more phytochemicals, such as anthocyanins.5

Many clinical studies have shown that eating beans can help prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels and providing the body with ample amounts of nutrients.5 Men and women who increased their legume intakes (four or more times greater than average) decreased their risk of heart disease by 11-22%.5

Eating more plant-based food, like beans, can have cardioprotective effects in the long-run.

Olive oil

Olive oil is a staple part of many diets around the world. It was originally used in Mediterranean cuisine, but today it is popularly used in many countries.6

Olive oil is a healthy source of dietary fats. It contains monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), which are important for proper cell functioning.6 They have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.6 Olive oil is also filled with nutritious compounds like vitamin E other polyphenols (antioxidants).6  

Several research studies, which looked at different populations around the globe, including the Mediterranean and the United States, have shown that olive oil can greatly decrease the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. 6

Red wine

Heart disease is usually the result of oxidative stress and inflammation.7 This can cause weaking of the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis. Red wine may be beneficial because of the polyphenol and anti-inflammatory properties it contains.7 It has also been related to higher levels of “good” cholesterol.7 Altogether, these can help to protect against atherosclerosis.

Drinking too much alcohol has been shown to increase the chances of developing heart disease, however if consumed in moderate amounts it may be beneficial.7 Population studies have provided evidence that drinking light to moderate amounts of red wine can decrease the risk of developing heart disease for both men and women.7

Green tea

Teas are rich in many health-promoting compounds. It is the most consumed liquid around the world, apart from water.8 Teas can decrease inflammation in the body, boost the immune system, and prevent heart disease.8

Green tea comes from the plant, Camellia sinensis, and it is known for its high antioxidant profile.8 It has been intensely studied to understand its relationship with fighting against diseases such as cancer and atherosclerosis. One 11-year study found that those who drank five or more cups of green tea a day decreased their chances of developing heart disease by 16% (when compared to those who only drank one cup a day).8

Green tea can help control high blood pressure and fight the oxidative stress seen in heart disease.8

Healthy eating is important for overall body functioning. A diet full of the best foods for heart health can help prevent and treat heart disease.

References:

  1. Lee Y, Berryman CE, West SG, et al. Effects of Dark Chocolate and Almonds on Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Individuals: A Randomized Controlled-Feeding Trial. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6(12):e005162. Published 2017 Nov 29. doi:10.1161/JAHA.116.005162
  • Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L. T., Keum, N., Norat, T., Greenwood, D. C., Riboli, E., Vatten, L. J., & Tonstad, S. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology46(3), 1029–1056. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyw319
  • Pollock R. L. (2016). The effect of green leafy and cruciferous vegetable intake on the incidence of cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis. JRSM cardiovascular disease5, 2048004016661435. https://doi.org/10.1177/2048004016661435
  • Marcinek, K., & Krejpcio, Z. (2017). Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica): health promoting properties and therapeutic applications – a review. Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny68(2), 123–129.
  • Imran Hayat, Asif Ahmad, Tariq Masud, Anwaar Ahmed & Shaukat Bashir (2014) Nutritional and Health Perspectives of Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.): An Overview, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 54:5, 580-592, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2011.596639
  • Guasch-Ferré, M., Liu, G., Li, Y., Sampson, L., Manson, J. E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Martínez-González, M. A., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W. C., Sun, Q., & Hu, F. B. (2020). Olive Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology75(15), 1729–1739. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2020.02.036
  • Castaldo, L., Narváez, A., Izzo, L., Graziani, G., Gaspari, A., Minno, G. D., & Ritieni, A. (2019). Red Wine Consumption and Cardiovascular Health. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)24(19), 3626. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24193626
  • Kuriyama, S., Shimazu, T., Ohmori, K., Kikuchi, N., Nakaya, N., Nishino, Y., Tsubono, Y., & Tsuji, I. (2006). Green tea consumption and mortality due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in Japan: the Ohsaki study. JAMA296(10), 1255–1265. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.296.10.1255

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