Here’s a scary statistic – every 40 seconds somebody in the United States suffers from a heart attack.1 This common but debilitating condition occurs when oxygen-rich blood supply is suddenly cut off from a section of your heart. Coronary heart disease, a condition where plaque builds up inside arteries which supply blood to your heart, is the most common cause of heart attacks. Plaque inside your artery may eventually rupture, leading to the formation of a blood clot which, if it’s large enough, can block blood flow and cause a heart attack.2
The Need For Heart-Healthy Foods
Fortunately, the major risk factors for a heart attack like high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and being overweight can be controlled through diet, exercise, and sometimes medication.3 Naturally, what you eat can have a significant effect on your risk of heart attack. Which is why having a heart-healthy diet is crucial to keeping your ticker running smoothly.
Consuming a diet that rich in fruits, vegetables whole grains, fish, dairy products that are fat-free or low in fat, poultry, lean meats, nuts, eggs, legumes, seeds, soy products, and healthy fats can help your heart. You also need to limit the consumption of trans fats saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and alcohol.4
Aside from a heart-healthy diet, some specific foods have a protective effect on your heart. Here’s a list of foods you should eat.
1. Dark Chocolate
Cocoa contains flavanols, which are organic chemicals with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant property. These flavanols also improve your levels of nitric oxide, which can lower your blood pressure by dilating blood vessels. One study found that people who had dark chocolate, which is particularly rich in flavanols, for 15 days experienced both a decrease in their blood pressure and improved glucose sensitivity.5 So if your heart’s pining for some dark chocolate, go ahead and indulge!
Pomegranates can do your heart a world of good. Studies have found that can it lower blood pressure and cholesterol.6 The oxidation of LDL cholesterol – which is the bad kind of cholesterol as opposed to HDL cholesterol – is a critical step in the development of heart disease. One study found that when patients with diabetes and hyperlipidemia had 40 g of concentrated pomegranate juice their LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels were significantly lowered while their HDL cholesterol levels weren’t impacted.7
Research has also found that these amazing fruits can increase the activity of an enzyme known as serum paraoxonase which works against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.8
A few cloves of garlic can amp up the flavor of any dish. But did you know that this common spice is also great for your heart? According to research, it’s quite effective at lowering blood pressure. So how does garlic work? When garlic is crushed, a reaction is triggered that forms a compound known as allicin. This compound can dilate blood vessels and inhibit angiotensin II, a hormone that makes blood vessels constrict, leading to a reduction in blood pressure.9 So spice up your cooking with some garlic to please your taste buds and your heart!
Your morning glass of orange juice is bursting with flavonoids that are good for your heart. Studies have found that having orange juice can improve HDL cholesterol levels while lowering LDL cholesterol levels.10 But that’s not all – one study found that consuming orange juice daily can also lower your blood pressure. Interestingly, it was observed that commercial orange juice was more effective at this than natural orange juice. The researchers suggest that this might be because commercial products, which are concentrated forms of the fruit, tend to have a higher content of flavonoids, essential oils, and pectin when compared to natural juice.11
5. Oily Fish
Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of polyunsaturated fat. These are healthy fats that help to keep your heart healthy by lowering blood pressure, slowing down the accumulation of plaque in your arteries, and reducing levels of triglycerides, a kind of fat that’s present in your blood. Omega 3s also bring down your chances of getting an irregular heartbeat. Go for at least a couple of servings of omega 3-rich fish in a week to keep your heart running like a well-oiled machine.12
If you’re fond of yummy berries, know that they’re great news for your heart too. One study looked at the relation between the risk of heart attack and the consumption of strawberries and blueberries among women. Those who had the most quantity of these berries were 34% less likely to get a heart attack than those who had the least. Flavonoids known as anthocyanins present in berries are credited with being especially heart-healthy though other compounds may also play a part in their heart-protective properties. Have half a cup of strawberries or blueberries 3 or more times a week to reap their full benefits.13
7. Red Wine
If you enjoy a glass of red wine once in a while, it may have a protective effect against coronary heart disease. According to research, ethanol and the bioactive compounds quercetin and trans-resveratrol present in red wine work well as blood thinners and lower the risk of blood clots forming.14
However, do keep in mind that this is a treat that needs to be enjoyed in moderation. Having more than a drink a day if you’re a woman or a couple of drinks a day if you’re a man can actually be harmful to your heart. One drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine with an alcohol content of 12 percent.15
Kale is rich in flavonoids that protect your heart and also contains omega 3 fatty acids. One study found that when men with high cholesterol levels were supplemented with kale juice for a period of 3 months, their LDL-cholesterol concentration fell by 10% and their atherogenic index, which takes into account the amount of triglycerides in your blood, fell by 24%.16 Include this green leafy vegetable in your salads to keep your heart healthy.
Oats is another food that can have powerful benefits for your heart. The soluble fiber in oats binds to cholesterol and eliminates it from your body before it clogs up your arteries.17 Oats has also been found to lower blood pressure.18 So start your day with a heart-friendly breakfast of oatmeal.
Nuts like pecans, almonds, peanuts, and walnuts can reduce LDL cholesterol as well as total cholesterol. However, do keep in mind that nuts are high in calories and should not be overindulged in. Aim for 50 to 100 g of nuts 5 times a week as part of a healthy balanced diet, where the total amount of fat that you consume is not greater than 35% of the energy consumed.19
Barley is another cereal that can help your heart by improving both blood pressure and cholesterol levels. According to a study, people who had 20% of their total energy needs met by barley for 5 weeks experienced a reduction in the blood pressure.20 Research has also found that beta-glucan in barley can help lower LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides without affecting HDL cholesterol levels significantly.21 Incorporate barley into your meals on a regular basis to keep your heart happy.
Beetroot can help your heart in more ways than one. They are a rich source of nitrates, which help manage blood pressure after being converted into nitric acid by the body. One study found that 3 hours after participants had 500ml of beetroot juice their blood pressure was significantly lower.22 Research also indicates that beetroot can reduce the clotting of blood.23 Incorporate beets into your main meals, salads, and soups. Drinking fresh beetroot juice regularly is also a good idea.
Curcumin, a compound present in turmeric, is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also prevents blood platelets from sticking together to form blood clots and may be able to block blood clots from forming on your artery walls. Turmeric can lower cholesterol levels and stop plaque from accumulating on your artery walls too.24 Use turmeric to make a mouthwatering curry for dinner or make turmeric tea or milk a daily ritual.
Tea contains flavonoids known as epicatechins and catechins which give it many beneficial properties. They help curb inflammation, which in turn can help reduce the build-up of plaque on artery walls. Tea can also lower levels of LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Drinking tea may improve the capacity of your blood vessels to respond to emotional or physical stress too. That’s definitely a power-packed drink! Don’t overindulge, though. Tea is also rich in oxalates which may cause kidney stones. So while a couple of cups a day might be good for you, going overboard is a no-no.25
Ginger is another spice that works at protecting your heart. According to research, it can help reduce the formation of blood clots as well as tackle metabolic syndrome. 26 Metabolic syndrome is a group of disorders like obesity, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol which act together to increase your risk of heart disease, as well as other dangerous conditions like type 2 diabetes and stroke.27 According to an animal study, subjects which experienced a considerable increase in body weight and levels of glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol due to a high-fat diet saw a significant lowering of these aspects when they were treated with ginger. The bioactive compounds 6-shogaol and 6-gingerol in ginger are thought to play a part in these beneficial effects. 28 So remember to dice up some ginger when you’re cooking. After all, this spice works on many levels to keep your heart healthy.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that may lower cholesterol and inflammation as well as prevent blood from clotting.29 In one study, participants were able to significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase the resistance of LDL cholesterol to oxidation when they had 30 mg of tomato ketchup and 400 ml of tomato juice daily for 3 weeks.30 High blood pressure is another condition that tomatoes can help tackle, lowering blood pressure and improving the levels of nitrates in the blood. This gives your blood vessels a chance to function better.31 So don’t skimp on the tomatoes.
|↑1||Heart Attack. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||What Causes a Heart Attack?. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3||Who Is at Risk for a Heart Attack?. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||Heart-healthy eating. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑5||Grassi, Davide, Giovambattista Desideri, Stefano Necozione, Cristina Lippi, Raffaele Casale, Giuliana Properzi, Jeffrey B. Blumberg, and Claudio Ferri. “Blood pressure is reduced and insulin sensitivity increased in glucose-intolerant, hypertensive subjects after 15 days of consuming high-polyphenol dark chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition 138, no. 9 (2008): 1671-1676.|
|↑6||Asgary, Sedigheh, Amirhossein Sahebkar, Mohammad Reza Afshani, Mahtab Keshvari, Shaghayegh Haghjooyjavanmard, and Mahmoud Rafieian‐Kopaei. “Clinical Evaluation of Blood Pressure Lowering, Endothelial Function Improving, Hypolipidemic and Anti‐Inflammatory Effects of Pomegranate Juice in Hypertensive Subjects.” Phytotherapy Research 28, no. 2 (2014): 193-199.|
|↑7||Esmaillzadeh, Ahmad, Farideh Tahbaz, Iraj Gaieni, Hamid Alavi-Majd, and Leila Azadbakht. “Cholesterol-lowering effect of concentrated pomegranate juice consumption in type II diabetic patients with hyperlipidemia.” International journal for vitamin and nutrition research 76, no. 3 (2006): 147-151.|
|↑8||Aviram, Michael, Leslie Dornfeld, Mira Rosenblat, Nina Volkova, Marielle Kaplan, Raymond Coleman, Tony Hayek, Dita Presser, and Bianca Fuhrman. “Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation: studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E–deficient mice.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 71, no. 5 (2000): 1062-1076.|
|↑9||Ried, Karin, Oliver R. Frank, Nigel P. Stocks, Peter Fakler, and Thomas Sullivan. “Effect of garlic on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMC cardiovascular disorders 8, no. 1 (2008): 1.|
|↑10||Mallick, Neelam, and Rafeeq Alam Khan. “Antihyperlipidemic effects of Citrus sinensis, Citrus paradisi, and their combinations.” Journal of pharmacy & bioallied sciences 8, no. 2 (2016): 112.|
|↑11||Asgary, Sedigheh, and Mahtab Keshvari. “Effects of citrus sinensis juice on blood pressure.” ARYA atherosclerosis 9, no. 1 (2013): 98.|
|↑12||Omega-3 fats: Good for your heart. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑13||Eat blueberries and strawberries three times per week. Harvard Health Publication.|
|↑14||Pace-Asciak, Cecil R., Susan Hahn, Eleftherios P. Diamandis, George Soleas, and David M. Goldberg. “The red wine phenolics trans-resveratrol and quercetin block human platelet aggregation and eicosanoid synthesis: implications for protection against coronary heart disease.” Clinica Chimica Acta 235, no. 2 (1995): 207-219.|
|↑15||Heart-healthy eating. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑16||Kim, Soo Yeon, Y. O. O. N. Sun, Soo Mi Kwon, Kye Sook Park, and Yang Cha Lee-Kim. “Kale Juice Improves Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors in Hypercholesterolemic Men11This research was supported by the Brain Korea 21 Project from the Korea Research Foundation.” Biomedical and Environmental Sciences 21, no. 2 (2008): 91-97.|
|↑17||Braaten, J. T., P. J. Wood, F. W. Scott, M. S. Wolynetz, M. K. Lowe, P. Bradley-White, and M. W. Collins. “Oat beta-glucan reduces blood cholesterol concentration in hypercholesterolemic subjects.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 48, no. 7 (1994): 465-474.|
|↑18||Keenan, Joseph M., Joel J. Pins, Christina Frazel, Antoinette Moran, and Lisa Turnquist. “Oat ingestion reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild or borderline hypertension: a pilot trial.” The Journal of family practice 51, no. 4 (2002): 369-369.|
|↑19||Mukuddem-Petersen, Janine, Welma Oosthuizen, and Johann C. Jerling. “A systematic review of the effects of nuts on blood lipid profiles in humans.” The Journal of nutrition 135, no. 9 (2005): 2082-2089.|
|↑20||Behall, Kay M., Daniel J. Scholfield, and Judith Hallfrisch. “Whole-grain diets reduce blood pressure in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106, no. 9 (2006): 1445-1449.|
|↑21||Talati, Ripple, William L. Baker, Mary S. Pabilonia, C. Michael White, and Craig I. Coleman. “The effects of barley-derived soluble fiber on serum lipids.” The Annals of Family Medicine 7, no. 2 (2009): 157-163.|
|↑22, ↑23||Webb, Andrew J., Nakul Patel, Stavros Loukogeorgakis, Mike Okorie, Zainab Aboud, Shivani Misra, Rahim Rashid et al. “Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite.” Hypertension 51, no. 3 (2008): 784-790.|
|↑24||Turmeric. University of Maryland.|
|↑25||Brewing evidence for tea’s heart benefits. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑26||Verma, S. K., J. Singh, R. Khamesra, and A. Bordia. “Effect of ginger on platelet aggregation in man.” The Indian journal of medical research 98 (1993): 240-242.|
|↑27||Metabolic syndrome. Healthdirect Australia.|
|↑28||Nammi, Srinivas, Satyanarayana Sreemantula, and Basil D. Roufogalis. “Protective effects of ethanolic extract of Zingiber officinale rhizome on the development of metabolic syndrome in high‐fat diet‐fed rats.” Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology 104, no. 5 (2009): 366-373.|
|↑29||Lycopene-rich tomatoes linked to lower stroke risk. Harvard Publishing.|
|↑30||Silaste, Marja-Leena, Georg Alfthan, Antti Aro, Y. Antero Kesäniemi, and Sohvi Hörkkö. “Tomato juice decreases LDL cholesterol levels and increases LDL resistance to oxidation.” British Journal of Nutrition 98, no. 06 (2007): 1251-1258.|
|↑31||Paran, Esther, Yechiel N. Engelhard, Inbal Hazan-Hallevy, Yoav Sharoni, and Joseph Levy. “P-565: effect of standardized tomato extract on blood pressure, endothelial function and plasma lycopene levels in treated hypertensive patients.” American Journal of Hypertension 18, no. S4 (2005): 213A-213A.|