Best Foods for Your Heart and Arteries—Here’s What the Science Says

There are some risk factors for heart disease that we don't have control over, like genetics. But having a family history of this condition doesn't mean you're destined to develop heart problems. One of the single-most important risk factors for heart disease is a healthy diet, which is in our control. That means that healthy eating can largely shape the trajectory of our cardiovascular health.

Here are some of the foods that experts say can be a healthy part of a heart-conscious diet.

9 Foods That Can Be Part of a Heart-Healthy Diet

Most experts typically say that a heart-healthy diet should include:

  • Low sodium content
  • Minimal added sugar
  • An emphasis on filling, unprocessed foods

That isn't to say you can't enjoy a piece of cake or a hamburger here or there, but it's wise to keep servings of these foods to a minimum for optimal heart health. Foods that you can incorporate into your diet to help promote a healthier cardiovascular system include the following.

1. Avocados

Avocados are rich in unsaturated fats, and these fats can confer some cardiovascular health benefits. That may sound counterintuitive as health advice in the past unfairly gave all fats a bad reputation. The truth is, there are many different types of fats in our foods, and some can even be good for us.

Let's break it down:

If they are consumed in moderation, foods that have "healthy fats" like avocados can be enjoyed as part of a health-focused lifestyle.

2. Whole Grains

Grains can be a great source of dietary fiber and carbohydrates, giving your body the energy it needs to thrive. The right kinds of grains—that is, whole grains—may even come with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and more.

Whole grains are grains that include all parts of the grain kernel (bran, germ, and endosperm). Foods like quinoa, whole-grain bread, millet, and whole-wheat tortillas all contain whole grains, and experts recommend them over foods that contain refined grains (only contain the endosperm), such as white bread and flour.

3. Olive Oil and Canola Oil

Dieticians all over the world recognize the Mediterranean diet for its cardiovascular benefits. Some of the heart-healthy foods that are staples in this diet are canola and olive oil.

Like avocados, canola oil and olive oil contain unsaturated fats, or "good" fats. Plenty of research suggests that both types of oil are associated with lower risk of heart-related problems, and olive oil consumption in particular may be associated with lower all-cause mortality.

4. Legumes

Legumes include foods like soybeans, lentils, and black beans, and a healthy intake of these foods could be beneficial for the heart. Experts have found that legume consumption can lower the risk of coronary heart disease, lower blood pressure, and produce other positive health effects. The heart-healthy benefits of legumes may come from the fact that these foods can decrease LDL cholesterol, the type of cholesterol that increases poorer cardiovascular outcomes.

5. Fatty Fish

What do herring, mackerel, tuna, and sardines have in common? An abundance of essential fatty acids! Many fish contain hearty amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the overall risk of cardiovascular disease. While fish themselves are the best way to get these fatty acids, people who don't eat fish may be able to still get these heart-healthy benefits through fish oil/omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

6. Blueberries

Plenty of research links the delicious blueberry to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (and potentially give the brain a boost too). How blueberries reduce this risk is not entirely clear, although many experts believe that compounds known as polyphenols, found abundantly in blueberries, may play a role in reducing negative cardiovascular outcomes.

7. Flaxseed

Flaxseed is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based variety of omega-3 fatty acid. Like other varieties of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid can be involved in many processes that boost heart health. It's therefore no shock that research shows flaxseed consumption can help lower cholesterol levels and overall risk of heart disease and heart attack.

8. Leafy Greens

Veggies in general are great for you, but leafy greens are particularly packed with nutrients that help you thrive, such as magnesium, fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and folate. Here's why that's a big deal: plenty of the nutrients found in leafy greens have cardioprotective (or heart protecting) properties. Stock up on the kale, spinach, and bok choy!

9. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has it all: amazing flavor, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. That means that enjoying dark chocolate in moderation could lead to positive health benefits like reduced risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease.

Making Mealtime Special at St. Andrew's

At St. Andrew's, we know mealtime isn't just "mealtime." It's a time to relax, connect with others, enjoy mouth-watering flavors, and fill the body with the food it needs to thrive. That's why our culinary teams at all senior living communities in our network are dedicated to crafting meals that not only taste good, but are good for the body as well.

See just how special mealtime is with us. Prospective residents can tour our locations and receive a complimentary meal.

DISCLAIMERS: This article does not offer medical advice and cannot be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition. It should not replace the advice of a licensed medical professional. Do not make any dietary changes or start any supplements without first consulting your primary care physician or licensed dietitian/nutritionist.

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