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15 Incredibly Heart-Healthy Foods

2019.05.27 21:56

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Heart disease accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide (1Trusted Source).

Diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your risk of heart disease.
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In fact, certain foods can influence blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Here are 15 foods that you should be eating to maximize your heart health.

1. Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

In particular, they’re a great source of vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and promote proper blood clotting (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).

They’re also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels (4Trusted Source).

Some studies have also found a link between increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables and a lower risk of heart disease.

One analysis of eight studies found that increasing leafy green vegetable intake was associated with up to a 16% lower incidence of heart disease (5Trusted Source).

Another study in 29,689 women showed that a high intake of leafy green vegetables was linked to a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease (6Trusted Source).

SUMMARY
Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K and nitrates, which can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function. Studies show that a higher intake of leafy greens is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains include all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain: germ, endosperm and bran.

Common types of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa.

Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fiber, which may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).

Multiple studies have found that including more whole grains in your diet can benefit your heart health.

One analysis of 45 studies concluded that eating three more servings of whole grains daily was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease (10Trusted Source).

Similarly, another study found that eating at least three servings of whole grains significantly decreased systolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg, which is enough to reduce the risk of stroke by about 25% (11Trusted Source).

When purchasing whole grains, make sure to read the ingredients label carefully. Phrases like “whole grain” or “whole wheat” indicate a whole-grain product, while words like “wheat flour” or “multigrain” may not.

SUMMARY
Studies show that eating whole grains is associated with lower cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.
3. Berries
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are jam-packed with important nutrients that play a central role in heart health.

Berries are also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease (12Trusted Source).

Studies show that eating lots of berries can reduce several risk factors for heart disease.

For example, one study in 27 adults with metabolic syndrome showed that drinking a beverage made of freeze-dried strawberries for eight weeks decreased “bad” LDL cholesterol by 11% (13Trusted Source).

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

Another study found that eating blueberries daily improved the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which help control blood pressure and blood clotting (14Trusted Source).

Additionally, an analysis of 22 studies showed that eating berries was associated with reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, body mass index and certain markers of inflammation (15Trusted Source).

Berries can be a satisfying snack or delicious low-calorie dessert. Try adding a few different types to your diet to take advantage of their unique health benefits.

SUMMARY
Berries are rich in antioxidants. Studies show that eating them can reduce multiple risk factors for heart disease.
4. Avocados
Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease (16Trusted Source).

One study looked at the effects of three cholesterol-lowering diets in 45 overweight and obese people, with one of the test groups consuming one avocado per day.

The avocado group experienced reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol, including lower levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol, which are believed to significantly raise the risk of heart disease (17Trusted Source).

Another study including 17,567 people showed that those who ate avocados regularly were half as likely to have metabolic syndrome (18Trusted Source).

Avocados are also rich in potassium, a nutrient that’s essential to heart health. In fact, just one avocado supplies 975 milligrams of potassium, or about 28% of the amount that you need in a day (19).

Getting at least 4.7 grams of potassium per day can decrease blood pressure by an average of 8.0/4.1 mmHg, which is associated with a 15% lower risk of stroke (20Trusted Source).

SUMMARY
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats and potassium. They may help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of metabolic syndrome.

5. Fatty Fish and Fish Oil
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits.

In one study in 324 people, eating salmon three times a week for eight weeks significantly decreased diastolic blood pressure (21Trusted Source).

Another study showed that eating fish over the long term was linked to lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure.

Additionally, each 3.5-ounce (100-gram) decrease in weekly fish consumption was associated with a 19% higher likelihood of having one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity (22Trusted Source).

If you don’t eat much seafood, fish oil is another option for getting your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).

Other omega-3 supplements like krill oil or algal oil are popular alternatives.

SUMMARY
Fatty fish and fish oil are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.
6. Walnuts
Walnuts are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper and manganese (27).

Research shows that incorporating a few servings of walnuts in your diet can help protect against heart disease.

According to one review, eating walnuts can reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 16%, lower diastolic blood pressure by 2–3 mm Hg and decrease oxidative stress and inflammation (28Trusted Source).

Another study in 365 participants showed that diets supplemented with walnuts led to greater decreases in LDL and total cholesterol (29Trusted Source).

Interestingly, some studies have also found that regularly eating nuts such as walnuts is associated with a lower risk of heart disease (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).

SUMMARY
Studies suggest that walnuts can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure and may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
7. Beans
Beans contain resistant starch, which resists digestion and is fermented by the beneficial bacteria in your gut (32Trusted Source).

According to some animal studies, resistant starch can improve heart health by decreasing blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol (33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source).

Multiple studies have also found that eating beans can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease.

In one study in 16 people, eating pinto beans reduced levels of blood triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol (36Trusted Source).

One review of 26 studies also found that a diet high in beans and legumes significantly decreased levels of LDL cholesterol (37Trusted Source).

What’s more, eating beans has been linked to reduced blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart disease (38Trusted Source).

SUMMARY
Beans are high in resistant starch and have been shown to reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation.
8. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health.

Interestingly, several studies have associated eating chocolate with a lower risk of heart disease.

One large study showed that those who ate chocolate at least five times per week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-chocolate eaters (39Trusted Source).

Another study found that eating chocolate at least twice per week was associated with a 32% lower risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries (40Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that these studies show an association but don’t necessarily account for other factors that may be involved.

Additionally, chocolate can be high in sugar and calories, which can negate many of its health-promoting properties.

Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

SUMMARY
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants like flavonoids. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.
9. Tomatoes
Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties (41Trusted Source).

Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which can contribute to heart disease.

Low blood levels of lycopene are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke (42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source).

One review of 25 studies showed that a high intake of foods rich in lycopene was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke (44Trusted Source).

Another study in 50 overweight women found that eating two raw tomatoes four times per week increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol (45Trusted Source).

Higher levels of HDL cholesterol can help remove excess cholesterol and plaque from the arteries to keep your heart healthy and protect against heart disease and stroke (46Trusted Source).

SUMMARY
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.
10. Almonds
Almonds are incredibly nutrient-dense, boasting a long list of vitamins and minerals that are crucial to heart health.

They’re also a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, two important nutrients that can help protect against heart disease (47Trusted Source).

Research suggests that eating almonds can have a powerful effect on your cholesterol levels, too.

One study in 48 people with high cholesterol showed that eating 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of almonds daily for six weeks reduced belly fat and levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, two risk factors for heart disease (48Trusted Source).

Another small study had similar findings, reporting that eating almonds for four weeks resulted in significant decreases in both LDL and total cholesterol (49Trusted Source).

Research also shows that eating almonds is associated with higher levels of HDL cholesterol, which can help reduce plaque buildup and keep your arteries clear (50Trusted Source, 51Trusted Source).

Remember that while almonds are very high in nutrients, they’re also high in calories. Measure your portions and moderate your intake if you’re trying to lose weight.

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