February is American Heart Month. Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. You can prevent heart disease by exercising regularly and eating heart-healthy foods. The following five are your best choices to protect your ticking heart.
The 5 Best Foods for Your Heart
Salmon in particular is one of the best foods for your heart. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart as well as many other parts of your body! The American Heart Association recommends eating fish rich in omega-3s at least twice a week. Other omega-3 rich fish include mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies also have the benefits of being environmentally friendly and low in mercury. Go for wild and “pole and line caught” fish for the best health and environmental benefits.
The American Heart Association recommends getting whole grains every day. Whole grains can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. One of the most recommended whole grains for your heart are oats. Studies show that in individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl), consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (the amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal and pair it with berries and nuts (our next heart-healthy recommendation) for even more benefits!
Regularly consuming nuts can lower your LDL, which is your bad cholesterol. The standard American diet doesn’t include many heart-healthy nuts, which is unfortunate since they have many health benefits. The unsaturated fats, omega-3s, vitamin E, plant sterols, and L-arginine in nuts all help explain why they are so beneficial for heart health. Walnuts and almonds are two of your best choices, but macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans all are good bets too. Do watch your portions with nuts, because they are relatively high in calories. Try weighing out portions until you think you can correctly eyeball them, or count out individual nuts. 23 almonds or 14 walnuts halves are roughly one ounce.
Eating one serving a day of legumes can reduce your bad cholesterol, and therefore your risk of heart disease. Beans are affordable, nutritious, filling, and contain antioxidant polyphenols. Try different types and colors of beans. They are very versatile, and can be used to make hummus, chili, salad, and more.
Yes, what you’ve heard is true- red wine is great for your heart! The flavonoids in red wine reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, boost HDL (good) cholesterol, and reduce blood clotting. The wine highest in beneficial antioxidants is Cabernet Sauvignon, followed closely by Petit Syrah and Pinot Noir. However, don’t go crazy and drink a bottle a day. The benefits of wine come with some caveats. A serving is a 4 ounce glass, or half a cup. Try measuring your wine into your glass to see a serving before you start filling it to the brim. Men benefit from two glasses of wine a day, and women from just one. There are no benefits to drinking excessively, and you reap the most benefits if you drink your glass or two with a meal. If you do not already drink, you don’t need to start; you can get your heart healthy consuming plenty of other enjoyable foods (dark chocolate, for example).
Read up on other heart-healthy foods and mix them up so you don’t get bored. Enjoy trying out recipes with foods you haven’t tried before, or put a new spin on favorite ingredients. Enjoy your hearty meal and excellent health!
Note: eat a variety of heart healthy foods and moderation is key for everything.