As we know, diet is a crucial part of not only our overall health but also for the health of our heart. Evidence suggests that we should maintain a diet of high fiber, lean protein, and whole grains while staying away from saturated fats, sugar, and salt. That being said, there are many foods that are specifically good for the heart. Here is a small breakdown of some of the heart friendly foods:
Leafy Green Vegetables:
- Collard Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
These fiber rich foods contain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. In addition, many vegetables have antioxidants that fight free radicals and vitamin K which helps to protect your arteries. High intake of leafy green vegetables has been linked to lower risk of heart disease.
- Citrus Fruits
Fruits are also a good source of fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. Berries are very high in antioxidants and can lower inflammation. There is also evidence to suggest that berries aid in the reduction of LDL (the bad) cholesterol. Overall, they can help to lower multiple factors that lead to heart disease. Pomegranates and apples contain polyphenols and anthocyanins which both ward of plaque build-up and promote blood flow through the arteries. Citrus fruits are rich in flavonoids and vitamin C, both of which are connected to lowering risk of heart attacks.
- Brown rice
Whole grains are again a good source of fiber and can decrease bad cholesterol, decrease risk for heart disease, and improve blood pressure. Oatmeal in particular contains soluble fiber that helps absorb and eliminate cholesterol from the blood. Make sure to avoid instant oatmeal, as it often contains sugar, and opt for old-fashioned oats. Also, be aware that products say whole-grain or whole-wheat whereas multigrain or whole-flour may be misleading.
- Fish, especially salmon
- Lean chicken and turkey breast without skin
- Egg whites
- Nuts and seeds
Protein is a substantial part to any diet and this is also true of a heart healthy one. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which help to decrease blood pressure, improve arterial function, and reduce sugar in the blood. This effect can also be found in nuts and legumes (e.g., walnuts and lentils). All of these proteins have been strongly linked to lowering risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Extra-virgin Olive Oil
- Green and Black Olives
- Flax and chia seeds
These good fats contain monosaturated fats and omega-3 fats. This fat helps to reduce LDL cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, and improve blood sugar. It is also linked to lowering your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Overall, this is not an all-inclusive list of heart healthy foods. There are many more out there and I encourage you to explore. Instead, I tried to break it down by food groups and highlight the most significant foods that are available in most areas. The basic idea is to choose foods that aid in blood flow, decrease blood pressure, and decrease LDL cholesterol. Now that we have a base knowledge, let’s choose foods that provide not only sustenance but benefits to our whole selves.
By: Kathryn Chambers
Olive Branch Counseling Associates