Heart-Healthy Diet: 5 Foods that Promote Cardiovascular Health

A healthy heart is vital to overall good health. Your heart is charged with the most important tasks: pumping blood into your circulatory system and nourishing your organs and tissues. Certain determinants like health factors (glucose control, cholesterol, blood pressure, age, and family history), and lifestyle choices(physical activity, smoking, diet, and weight) contribute to cardiovascular health. All of these factors can have a positive or negative effect on heart health.

Nearly one-third of all deaths globally are caused by heart disease. Though some causative factors of heart disease (age and family history) cannot be controlled, others are controllable. Eating healthy is one of the simplest lifestyle changes you can make to help your heart. Once you find out the foods that can increase your heart disease risk and those that boost your heart health, it should be easy to change your eating habits. 

Certain foods can positively influence your triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure levels and reduce inflammation, all of which are factors that contribute to heart diseases. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in calories. Like other plant-based foods, they help to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels and contain nutrients and antioxidants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. You are also less likely to eat more high-calorie foods when you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.

Here are 5 foods that you should include in your diet to improve your heart health.

1. Avocados

Avocados, also known as butter fruit, are a healthy source of heart-friendly monounsaturated fats. These good fats have cardioprotective and lipid-lowering effects. Avocados are also rich in potassium, a nutrient known to boost heart health. One avocado fruit can provide about 975 milligrams of potassium, which is about 28% DV of the heart-healthy nutrient. Research shows that getting at least 4.7 grams of potassium per day, preferably through dietary sources, can reduce blood pressure by an average of 8.0/4.1 mmHg, which is linked to a 15% lower risk of stroke.

2. Berries

These sweet little fruits of various species are filled with important nutrients such as fiber, folate, iron, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. They are also low in fat and provide various benefits to the heart. For example, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which help fight oxidative stress and inflammation that increase the risk of heart disease. Anthocyanins also contain compounds that have vasodilatory effects. Berries also contain antioxidant polyphenols, which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Try working berries into your meals or snacking on them to benefit from their nutrients. 

3. Edamame

Edamame beans are young soybeans commonly found in Asian cuisine. Soy isoflavones, a type of flavonoid found in edamame and other soy products, may help decrease cholesterol and enhance heart health. Edamame is also a good source of heart-healthy nutrients, like dietary fiber and antioxidants. A cup of raw edamame contains 8 grams of heart-healthy fiber. You'd need around four slices of whole wheat bread to get that much fiber. Incorporating these immature soybeans into your diet can lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Eat frozen or boil it and serve as a side dish.

4. Olive Oil

This heart-healthy oil made from smashed olives is rich in antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids. The antioxidants in olive oil help relieve inflammation and reduce the risk of heart disease. Monounsaturated fatty acids have also been found to improve heart health. Olive oil, which is high in oleic acid and antioxidants, is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of hypertension. When used in place of high-cholesterol fats such as butter, it can help lower bad cholesterol in the blood. Try having salads and sauteed veggies infused with olive oil to enjoy the beneficial components of this heart-friendly oil.

5. Salmon & Tuna

Fatty fishes like salmon and tuna are filled with nutrients that promote heart health. They contain Omega-3s, healthy fats that may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart rhythm disorders. Omega-3s also help minimize inflammation and reduce triglycerides. The American Heart Association suggests a weekly intake of at least two servings of salmon to boost heart health.

Other Heart-Healthy Foods to Consider

Flaxseed: This honey-colored seed is rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and phytochemicals (lignans) which are all good for your heart. Include them in baked foods, sandwiches, cereal, or probiotics to improve the nutritional content of the food.

Cherries: Cherries and cherry juice are packed with anthocyanins, antioxidants known to help protect blood vessels.

Dark Leafy Greens: Leafy greens are good foods for the heart because they are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are also a rich source of nitrates, a compound that aids in the opening of blood arteries, allowing oxygen-rich blood to reach your heart. Lettuce, Spinach, Bok Choy, Mustard greens, and Arugula are examples of dark leafy vegetables.

Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolates help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing atherosclerosis, a condition that occurs when there is a buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls.

The Bottom Line

From cholesterol levels and triglycerides to blood pressure and inflammation, your diet has a significant impact on your heart health. These heart-healthy foods can help maintain your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease if you eat them as part of a nutritious, plant-based diet. Even a little reduction in cholesterol levels, when combined with other lifestyle changes, can positively impact your risk of developing heart disease. Use monounsaturated fats like olive oil which can be found in some fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds in place of polyunsaturated fats.

Limiting your sodium intake by reducing the amount of salt you add to your dishes and cutting down on canned or processed foods can also do a lot of good for your heart.