A healthy and well-balanced diet is generally good for the heart, but if you want the best outcomes, you need to incorporate the following nutrients into your meals:
Dietary fiber – Not all carbs are bad for you. Take fiber, for instance. Dietary fiber is technically a type of carbohydrate, but one that your body cannot digest effectively. There are two types – soluble and insoluble fiber – and both are linked to a healthy cardiovascular system. Apart from helping lower your levels of bad cholesterol, fiber also keeps you full longer, helping you reduce your intake of food that would otherwise be harmful to your heart.
Fat – But not just any kind of fat. Trans fat, commonly found in margarine and some cooking oils, increase your risk of heart disease. The kinds of fat you'd want in your diet are monounsaturated fatty acids (such as those in olive oil) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as the omega-3s in salmon and nuts). These raise the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – the “good” cholesterol – that may protect you from both heart attack and stroke. Conversely, low levels of HDL are linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Antioxidants – These are compounds that help fight oxidative stress, which occurs when your body accumulates too many free radical molecules. Antioxidants reduce the number of free radicals and provide protection for your cells. Oxidative damage is linked to the development of the aortic plaques that characterize atherosclerosis. These plaques impede your blood flow and increase your risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. You will find antioxidants in fruits and vegetables.
Not surprisingly, you will need to avoid certain foods to keep your heart healthy. These include saturated fats and trans fats. Both increase the “bad” cholesterol in your body, raising your risk of developing heart disease. These are found in many foods in the Western diet, including red meat, organ meat, and processed meat products, butter, egg yolks, deep-fried foods, and fast food items. Trans fats are found in shortening and hydrogenated oils that are used in many baked products, such as cookies, pastries, cakes, and even energy bars.
Green and leafy vegetables – These give you vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while containing little to no harmful sugars and fats.
Whole grains – Brown rice, whole oats, quinoa, rye, and barley supply your body with the carbs you need for fuel, and fiber for optimal heart health.
Berries – Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and raspberries, among others, may be small, but they are among the best sources of antioxidants among fruits.
Avocados – In fruits, avocados are among the best sources of healthy fats. They also contain an abundance of potassium, which helps prevent hypertension by lowering your blood pressure.
Fish – Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids that help maintain heart health. Consuming fish is believed to have an antiarrhythmic effect, which means it prevents irregular heartbeats that can lead to a heart attack. Eating fish at least once a week has also been linked to a lower incidence of heart disease.
Nuts – Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts make for a great, heart-healthy snack because of their fiber and micronutrient content. Just a handful of them keeps you full for a long time, too.
Dark chocolate – This treat is rich in antioxidants and is associated with a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease. Dark chocolate should not be confused with milk and white chocolate, which contain plenty of sugar that may harm your heart.
Seeds – Chia, hemp, and flax seeds contain plenty of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, among other nutrients. Because of this, they can help manage your blood pressure, inflammation, and cholesterol levels.
Learn how to care for your heart through diet at Heart.news.