The American Heart Association recommends a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and legumes. Making healthy food choices doesn’t have to be a chore. Adding these tasty and nutritious foods to your diet can keep your heart robust.
Blueberries are tasty little morsels packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. The flavonoids in these little gems are powerful antioxidants that protect your body against the ravaging effects of free radicals. Blueberries can improve your cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, and may prevent heart attacks. Treat your heart to blueberries several times a week. Start your day off with a refreshing berry and yogurt smoothie or sprinkle them on your oatmeal. Snack on a handful of fresh blueberries or add them to leafy greens for a sweet salad addition.
Tart and tasty, cherries are high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron, fiber, and folate. Like blueberries, cherries contain flavonoids called anthocyanins. Heart-protective flavonoids are linked to lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease, and decreasing inflammation. These tangy treats are fat and cholesterol free. Enjoy a refreshing handful of cherries when they are in peak season. Dried cherries can be added to trail mix, added to a salad, or sprinkled on oatmeal. Whip up a batch of oatmeal cherry cookies for a sweet treat that benefits your heart.
The rich, vibrant, colorful beet is a root vegetable that is packed with heart-protective antioxidants. These red or purple veggies contain manganese, folate, and vitamin B2. The potassium found in beets helps decrease sodium levels in your bloodstream that can contribute to high blood pressure. Tasty beets can be enjoyed shredded on top of a salad, roasted in the oven, or pickled for a tangy treat. Try pureeing beets with chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and olive oil for a tasty beet hummus. Serve with veggies or pita chips.Related: Benefits of Eating Beets
The colorful skins of purple grapes are rich in anthocyanins, which protect your heart against the buildup of cholesterol. A compound called resveratrol is a polyphenol found in the skin of purple or dark red grapes. Polyphenols appear to act as antioxidants in the body, decreasing inflammation, lowering bad cholesterol, and preventing heart attacks. In addition, the pulpy flesh of the grapes themselves also contains phenols, which offer cardiac protection, so the lighter-colored green grapes are good for your heart as well. Pop them by the handful, flash freeze a batch to add to smoothies, or enjoy them as a refreshing snack in the heat of summer.
Tomatoes are a delicious source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, and potassium. Rich in antioxidants, they prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Eating tomatoes can also help lower your cholesterol and prevent high blood pressure. Sweet and juicy tomatoes come in a variety of sizes. You can chop them to enjoy in salsa, slice them on top of a salad, or pop bite-sized grape tomatoes as a snack.
14. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease and stroke. They are also high in fiber and in lignans. Lignans are plant polyphenols that may play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease. Flax seeds can be sprinkled on oatmeal or salads, mixed into muffin batter, or blended into a smoothie.
A study at Harvard showed that people who ate walnut-enriched diets had lower total cholesterol levels, a greater decrease in LDL cholesterol, and lower triglyceride levels than people on other diets. Walnuts contain antioxidants that protect your heart against disease. Although these nuts contain healthy fats, you may want to limit yourself to about one ounce per day. Enjoy them sprinkled on oatmeal, roasted in the oven, or on top of a salad.
Another heart-healthy nut is the almond. Almonds are high in unsaturated fat, vitamin E, and fiber. Enjoy almonds in crunchy granola, on top of yogurt, or as a nut butter served with apple slices. Other healthy nuts include pecans, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts. Choose nuts that are unsalted and raw or dry-roasted for the most health benefits.Related: 5 Tasty Nuts for Healthier Living
The soluble fiber in oatmeal is great for lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol.” Whole oats are rich in antioxidants that offer heart-protective benefits. When choosing oatmeal, avoid the instant oats that are highly processed and result in a less nutritious, mushier meal. Enjoy your morning oatmeal with fruit, nuts, and a dash of real maple syrup for a great heart-healthy start to the day.Related: 12 Health Benefits of Oatmeal
Quinoa is rich in protein, fiber, and iron. It contains antioxidants for cell repair and heart-healthy unsaturated fats that increase your high-density lipoprotein, the “good cholesterol.” Cooked quinoa can be added to soups and stews. Serve warm mixed with apples and cinnamon for a sweet dessert. Combine cooked quinoa with cucumber, spinach, chopped red pepper, onions, and red wine vinegar for a tasty salad.
9. Leafy Greens
Lush green vegetables like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are rich in antioxidants. Furthermore, the vitamin K1 found in these leafy greens may also protect against heart disease. Enjoy these nutrient-packed veggies as a salad, in green smoothies, or sautéed with garlic as a side dish. Drizzle kale with olive oil and bake in the oven for crispy kale chips.
8. Red Cabbage
Red cabbage contains the same anthocyanins found in the colorful skins of red grapes. These flavonoids offer protection against heart disease. The antioxidant effects of this cruciferous vegetable prevent the inflammation that can lead to heart conditions. Potassium found in cabbage can lower your blood pressure. Enjoy red cabbage in a crunchy coleslaw or fry them up with apples and onions for a delicious southern-style side dish.
7. Black Beans
These tasty legumes are high in fiber and protein. They contain potassium, folate, and vitamin B6, which contribute to a healthy heart. Black beans also contain anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce atherosclerosis. Some canned beans contain added sodium. Therefore, when purchasing canned black beans, be sure to choose low-sodium varieties and rinse them well to avoid counteracting the effects on your blood pressure.
Salmon is a tasty fish packed with heart-healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids. Try grilling salmon with lemon and herbs, enjoying smoked salmon on whole wheat crackers, or adding it to leafy greens for a tasty salad.
Tuna is another fish loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamin D. The selenium found in tuna fish protects your body from damage caused by free radicals and infections. Don’t let concern over mercury levels keep you from enjoying this heart-healthy fish in moderation, as canned tuna contains less mercury than a tuna fillet or steak. Enjoy it mixed with lemon juice and olive oil for a delicious Mediterranean-style tuna salad.
4. Olive Oil
Olive oil contains the monounsaturated fatty acids that help lower cholesterol. Used in place of butter, olive oil is a healthy addition to your diet. Mix with lemon juice, vinegar, and garlic for a tasty salad dressing. Use olive oil to saute veggies for a healthy stir fry. Drizzle over sweet potato slices and roast in the oven for a delicious side dish.
Avocados are a delicious and nutritious source of healthy fats. Furthermore, this fruit contains powerful antioxidants, an array of vitamins, and anti-inflammatory phytosterols. Mash up the avocado with lemon juice and garlic for a delicious spread on toast. Chop up the avocado and mix it with grape tomatoes, quinoa, spinach, and red wine vinegar for a flavorful salad.Related: 11 Avocado Facts You Should Know Before Eating Another One
2. Dark Chocolate
Protecting your heart doesn’t have to mean missing out on treats. Cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, those antioxidants that protect our bodies against damage from free radicals. In moderation, eating dark chocolate with 70 percent cacao or higher can be good for your heart.
1. Red Wine
If you enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner, you may be benefiting from its heart-protective antioxidants called polyphenols. The resveratrol found in the skin of red grapes lends red wine some of its cardiac benefits. Resveratrol promotes healthy blood vessels, lowers cholesterol, and prevents blood clots. Moderation is key, but when you raise a glass of red wine, you may truly be drinking to your health.Related: 7 Ways to Prevent the Mother of All Heart Attacks