Your heart plays a key role in your overall health. It is the main organ in your cardiovascular system, making it responsible for moving blood around the body, regulating your heartbeat and maintaining your blood pressure. You may be wondering, since the heart is such a vital organ, how can we keep it healthy? Turns out your diet has an important job to do.
Everyone from the American Heart Association to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends making specific dietary choices to support a healthy heart. Since heart health foods can reduce other potential cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, it’s worth keeping that in mind when planning your weekly meals.
Keep reading to learn what foods to look for, what foods you’re probably already eating, and what a heart-healthy diet looks like in general.
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What Is a Heart-Healthy Diet?
Studies have revealed two things: foods that are riskier to your heart and foods that strengthen it. Luckily, you’re not about to get hit by a bunch of curveballs. The best foods for heart health are those you probably already consider healthy. Likewise, the not-so-heart-healthy foods are probably already on your radar because they do your body no favours.
Before we dive in here, let’s say: everything in moderation. Unless you already know that you have a heart problem, you don’t have to cut out foods or make drastic changes. We’re not saying you can never have another piece of bacon or crack open another soda. Instead, being aware of what a heart-healthy diet looks like can help you include more of those foods in your meals.
Now let’s talk about details. According to the AHA and the Department of Health, a heart-healthy diet is rich in:
- Lean proteins
- Fiber-rich complex carbohydrates
- Healthy fats
A diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats gives your body the fiber, vitamins, and minerals it needs to support a healthy heart.
Conversely, if you’re trying to improve cardiovascular health, you’ll want to limit your intake of:
- Trans fats
- Saturated fats
- Meats (e.g. lunch meat, salami, and hot dogs)
- Excess salt
- Excess sugar
- Refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread and snacks)
- Red meat
- Excess alcohol
If many of your favorites are on the less heart-healthy list, don’t panic. You can still include them in your diet (unless your doctor tells you otherwise). Don’t let these foods take over every meal and try to add as many heart-healthy foods to your day as possible.
If you want to feel good about what your next grocery trip will do for your heart health, grab items in these specific categories.
1. Fruits and vegetables
Do you remember the food pyramid from back in the day? It was on to something. Your body benefits from eating quite a few products.
That’s because fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nutritional density per bite. Bananas and sweet potatoes provide potassium, an important mineral for heart health. Cruciferous vegetables can help prevent clogged arteries. Leafy greens provide fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Long story short, the more produce you pack, the better. And don’t worry if fresh produce doesn’t fit your budget or lifestyle. You can get plenty of nutritional benefits from frozen, dried, and canned options. Make sure they are marked low sodium.
2. Whole grains
Not all carbs are bad. Refined carbohydrates like those in white bread fly through your body and usually do you more harm than good. But complex carbs, like those you’ll find in whole grains, provide fiber, which we’ve already mentioned as a heart health booster.
In addition, they are often packed with vitamins and minerals such as iron, selenium, thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), folic acid (vitamin B9), and magnesium. If you’re looking for a heart-healthy diet, choose products with whole grains in their ingredient list. In addition, complex carbohydrates can also be found in beans, potatoes, peas and corn.
3. Lean and plant-based proteins
While certain proteins — such as red and processed meats — can be hard on your heart, others top the list of foods for heart health. The key here is to look for plant protein, lean animal protein, and fish. Experts recommend mixing up your protein sources. So you have plenty of options, stock up:
- Fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Low-fat dairy products
Swap some of your red meat and cured pork for the options above and you’ll be doing your heart a favor.
4. Healthy fats
You might think that fat causes heart problems, but it’s all about the type of fat. While trans and saturated fats have been linked to cardiovascular problems in countless studies, your body, including your heart, needs healthy fats. You can get these from fish, nuts and seeds, along with avocados and moderate amounts of vegetable oils such as:
- Olive oil
- sesame oil
- Soya oil
- Rapeseed oil
- corn oil
- Safflower oil
As a general rule of thumb, if the fat were solid at room temperature, it is probably saturated. If it were a liquid, it would most likely fall under the unsaturated variety. Think butter (controversial for health) vs. olive oil (an absolute part of a heart-healthy diet).
5. Foods that control your heart
The American Heart Association has certified certain foods for heart health and given them the Heart-Check seal, which you can find on some food packaging. Once you learn that seal, it can become easier to fill your shopping cart with heart health foods.
For best results, combine your heart-healthy diet with other heart health boosters like it regular exercise, sleep and stress management techniques. It can also be helpful to know your blood type and blood type what it means for your risk of specific cardiovascular conditions.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care professional if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.