Allow me to cut to the chase: Going on a heart-healthy diet isn’t nearly as grim as you probably think it will be. Think it’s all chicken breasts and broccoli? Think again. According to leading nutritionists and the latest studies, you can eat chocolate, pasta, and wash it all down with some wine. (That is, of course, if you’re springing for the healthy options of all these so-called “bad” foods. More on that later.) What follows is a comprehensive compendium of all the mouthwatering cuisine—whether it’s a new dietary addition or a simple swap for an existing staple—you should eat to build a ticker as strong as steel. And for more ways to keep your heart safe, learn the 30 Best Ways to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk.
One of the best ways to keep your heart healthy is to reduce your intake of refined carbs—pastas, crackers, breads. As such, any health-savvy person will tell you to that you should spring for whole wheat options wherever possible. But these days, there are even healthier options: Food made from almond-flour.
These substitutes have fewer carbs, more healthy fats, and even a touch of protein. At your local grocery store, you’ll be able to find at the very least almond-flour crackers and tortillas—and the stuff by its lonesome, if homemade bread is your thing. And for more healthy living advice, here’s What It’s Like to Be Allergic to Sounds.
When it comes to heart-healthy grains, you’re likely well aware of the basics, like brown rice or quinoa, and their inherent benefits. But have you considered pearled barley? It’s steeped in fiber—about 10 grams to the 2.8 in quinoa—which, according to the Mayo Clinic, slashes your LDL cholesterol levels. (That’s the bad kind.) For more advice on your ticker, here are the 40 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease After 40.
Coffee (with cinnamon)
On one hand, coffee spikes your heart rate—to scary levels, if you consume enough. But on the other, the early-morning beverage is chock full of heart-healthy antioxidants. (Remember: Your average cup isn’t unhealthy because of the coffee but because of the added cream and sugar.)
Swap out your traditional add-ons for a dash of cinnamon. According to a study in Diabetes Care, a mere half a teaspoon of cinnamon per day can set your blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides levels straight—and will reduce your calorie intake by 70 calories per cup. Small wonder that this simple swap is one of the 15 Best 60-Second Health Hacks.
Chocolate lovers, rejoice: Your favorite treat could be working wonders for your heart—as long as you’re eating the right kind. According to a study in Circulation Heart Failure, women who consume one or two servings of dark chocolate saw their risk of heart disease decrease by 32 percent. For best results, spring for chocolate that has 70 percent cacao or higher; you’ll find more flavanols there. And for more fun facts on “decadent” foods, Here’s Why Sandwiches Taste Better When They’re Cut in Half.
Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, has been shown to keep artery walls clean, minimizing the risk of blockage and build-up. So get some more red into your diet. And no, ketchup doesn’t count: The sheer amount of sugar within offsets any heart-healthy benefits.
Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory spice. Seeing that heart disease has been directly and repeatedly linked—alongside Alzheimer’s and depression—to inflammation, keeping your levels down is a good thing. So slate more of the orange dust into your diet. And for more benefits of turmeric, learn How Using Turmeric Can Make Your Teeth Whiter Than They’ve Ever Been.
Full of lycopene and potassium—a nutrient that’s proven to reduce blood pressure—plus a not-too-shabby source of Vitamin C, Watermelon is the do-it-all pinch hitter of heart-healthy foods.
Yes, the liver plays an essential role in filtering toxins out of the body, but you needn’t worry: It’s not full of them by any means. Instead, the liver is full of Vitamin B12, which can help improve arterial function and flow. Just be sure to treat the stuff as a dietary rarity, since liver is loaded with cholesterol. You’ll hit your USDA-recommended daily value by consuming just one 3-ounce serving. And for more healthy eating tips, Here’s the Safest Way to Thaw Frozen Meat.
When it comes to eating meat, it’s always best to spring for the lean stuff—chicken, fish, pork—but few cuts are better for your heart than pork tenderloin. In addition to having a healthy amount of potassium, you’ll also find magnesium, another beneficial blood-pressure-lowering nutrient.
Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats that help work to reduce LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad kind, the kind that leads to heart disease) levels. Plus, they’ve been shown to reduce inflammation in the arteries—and are delicious, to boot.
According to a study in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, eating just two-and-a-half serving of whole grains—like pearled barley—can slash your risk of heart disease by more than 20 percent. So start your day off right with the tastiest early-morning grain: Oatmeal. For best (in other words: tastiest) results, cover it in berries and cinnamon, both of which have heart-boosting benefits.
According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, folks who get a three-ounce (or more) serving per day of black beans saw their risk of heart attack decrease by nearly 40 percent, thanks to an all-star lineup of nutrients, including magnesium, Vitamin B, fiber, and potassium.
Flaxseeds have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol (that’s the good, heart-enforcing kind) levels. Plus, just one serving comes with 3 grams of appetite-sating fiber.
Omega-3s are widely celebrated for their heart-healthy benefits. And you’re likely aware of the so-labeled best source: Fresh-off-the-line salmon. (The farm-raised stuff generally has lower levels than the wild stuff.) But if you’re looking to boost your omega-3s to stratospheric levels, don’t sleep on chia seeds. According to The Institute of Medicine, you’re supposed to get at least 600mg daily, to reap any heart-healthy benefits. One tablespoon of chia seeds contains a staggering 2,250mg. And for more ways to live a healthier life, check out 20 Nighttime Habits Guaranteed to Help You Sleep Better.
All leafy greens are good for your health, but spinach may take the top spot. In addition to being stacked with potassium and magnesium, spinach also contains a healthy dose of lutein, an antioxidant that experts say might help unclog blocked-up arteries.
If you can’t stomach spinach—we can’t all be Popeye—then kale is the next best leafy green you can eat, thanks to an anti-inflammatory nutrient combo of Vitamins A, C, and K; fiber; iron; and calcium.
As it turns out, the old “one a day keeps the doctor away” adage rings true. Apples are full of pectin, a compound that helps prevent your body from absorbing cholesterol. The best part? All apples—from Golden Delicious to Granny Smith—contain pectin, so you can stick to your favorite type and still reap the benefits.
According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, folks who eat at least 100 grams of fruit per day—about half an apple, or a whole banana—saw their heart attack risk plummet by about 33 percent. While apples contain cholesterol-busting pectin, bananas are an excellent source of blood-pressure-slashing potassium. Slating both into your diet is a solid choice. And for more ways to be a smarter eater—and all around person—bone up on the 20 Things Your Doctor Is Likely to Get Wrong.
Edamame is an excellent source of fiber and potassium, two nutrients that help bolster heart health. Plus, these green beans are a total blast to eat. To maximize any benefits, resist the impulse to salt your edamame to death; high sodium levels in your bloodstream will do your ticker approximately zero favors.
From the richest Syrah to the most complex Cabernet, all blends of red wine are full of a compound called resveratrol, which reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and helps fight blood clots. In fact, this libation is so good for your heart the American Heart Association recommends drinking it—up to two glasses per day. Bottoms up! And if you need more reasons to kick back with a glass or two (as if), learn the 80 Amazing Benefits of Drinking Wine.
According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, folks who eat an ounce-and-a-half of nuts four times or more per week slashed their risk of heart disease by 37 percent. So go nuts! For our money, walnuts are the best for you; they’re relatively low in fat, loaded with Omega-3s, and irresistibly mouthwatering.
If you’re among the folks who find walnuts to be annoying—thanks to tough-to-crack shells—we wouldn’t blame you. Instead, we’ll point you toward almonds, a heart-healthy substitute that also happens to be full of magnesium.
Peanuts by their lonesome are fine; healthy levels of protein and fiber see to that. But if you boil them, you’ll unleash secret stores of resveratrol, the stuff that makes red wine good for your heart.
Potatoes, like bananas and watermelon, are a great source of potassium. But sweet potatoes have the added benefit of being loaded with carotenoids, which help keep your blood-sugar levels on a steady plane.
According to the American Heart Association, individuals who get merely 2 percent of their total calorie intake from yogurt reduce their risk of developing hypertension by 31 percent. That amount to one six-ounce cup every three days. For our money, spring for protein-rich Greek yogurt. You’ll experience higher energy levels and stronger muscle function.
Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries—all are are antioxidant-rich foods that happen to be low-glycemic as well. In other words, eating berries won’t spike your blood sugar levels, and you’ll still get a quick fix of sweetness.
Whole wheat options
According to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, getting just three daily servings of whole grains reduced the risk of developing dangerous levels of blood pressure. Better yet, slating whole grains into your diet is effortless. Swap white rice for brown rice, white bread for seven-grain, and semolina pasta for the whole wheat stuff.
According to a study in the International Journal of Cardiology, just one teaspoon of ginger per week can help improve artery function—meaning that you’ll get blood moving efficiently around your body. So, next time you get sushi, don’t skimp on adding the ginger to your roll.
Don’t look know, but kamut is going to be your go-to grain in no time. In addition to being full of Omega-3s and fiber, kamut is also a trusty source of protein; just one cup yields 10 grams. What’s more, per research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, high-cholesterol-ridden folks who swapped kamut in place of refined grains (say, rice) saw their total cholesterol levels plummet to normal within two months.
Beets are rich in nitrates, a chemical that, according to the Mayo Clinic, reduces blood pressure and loosens artery walls. You’ll also find a healthy dose of heart-healthy potassium in these rouge veggies.
Per the folks at the American College of Cardiology, raisins can help reduce the risk of hypertension, due to their high inherent levels of potassium.
Broccoli has minimal levels of cholesterol, boatloads of fiber, and works in any savory dish, whether it’s a tossed salad or a steaming stir fry. What’s not to love?
As long as you don’t prepare them in the style du jour—in other words, tossed with mounds of greasy bacon and doused in piles of salt—Brussels sprouts can help reduce arterial inflammation, due to high levels of kaempferol, one of the stuff’s main antioxidants.
Most folks reach for an orange during cold and flu season. But the fruit—and all citruses, for that matter—has an bonus heart-healthy benefit. Citrus is loaded with a chemical called hesperidin, which many experts say helps improve blood flow.
Olive oil is loaded with monounsaturated fats—as long as it’s all-natural and not hyper-processed, of course—that, when drizzled over leafy greens, like kale or spinach, create “nitro fatty acids” that help keep blood pressure levels in check. But be careful, and make sure to go light: Just one tablespoon has a whopping 119 calories.
Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, is a substance that’s known to help prevent heart disease and reduce LDL (remember: that’s the bad kind) cholesterol. The stuff is primarily found in a green tea. But if you don’t like the flavor of this piping beverage, you needn’t worry: You can pick up EGCG supplements at your local pharmacy.
Soy milk, unlike lactose milk, doesn’t contain any cholesterol, so it’s already a good idea to swap from regular milk. But soy milk, unlike almond milk, another healthy substitute, is also a good source of niacin, a substance that helps improve circulation.
Getting a healthy, regular dose of garlic can help prevent the build up of plaque among artery walls, leading to improved blood flow. Small wonder that, according to legend, ancient Egyptians used the stuff as a ceremonial aphrodisiac.
Among some nutritionists, eggs are verboten; they’re thought to be loaded with cholesterol. To a certain extent, this is true. Egg yolks indeed have high levels of cholesterol. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: Toss the yolks, and eat egg-whites—which have no cholesterol—instead.
You’ve heard it a million times, and you’re going to hear it again: Few things are better for you than constantly staying hydrated. By maintaining a healthy intake—that’s six 8-ounce glasses or more, daily—you’ll see better skin, increased energy, and, yes, augmented blood flow. What’s more, recent research indicates that staying hydrated can cut your risk of developing heart disease by a mind-boggling 60 percent. It might be high-time to pack up and move to The U.S. Cities with the Best Drinking Water.
To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to sign up for our FREE daily newsletter!