American Heart Month officially begins in February. This initiative to raise awareness about what can be done to improve heart health is critical, as the statistics on cardiovascular diseases (CVDs)—which the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels that includes coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease, and other conditions—are bleak.
Living an active lifestyle combined with a healthy diet is the most effective preventative measure you can take to support heart health and ensure you live a long, healthy life. You can gradually incorporate these elements into your routine. When developing the best habits to support cardiovascular health, something as simple as selecting the right foods and beverages now can benefit your heart significantly.
We asked dietitians which foods and drinks are ideal picks for lowering your risk of cardiovascular complications to help get you on the right track with your diet in ways that can effectively support your heart health. Here’s what they say!
Both the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommend eggs as part of a healthy eating pattern. In addition, the American Heart Association recommends that “healthy individuals include up to a whole egg or equivalent daily” as part of a heart-healthy dietary pattern.
Given eggs’ nutritional benefits and convenience, older normocholesterolemic patients can consume up to two eggs per day as part of a heart-healthy dietary pattern.
According to research, eating up to one egg daily may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. In addition, other research suggests that eggs have antioxidant properties that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Because these plant-based snacks can help regulate your cholesterol, eating nuts can be an excellent way to support your heart health.
According to research, people who eat nuts regularly are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who eat them infrequently. This is because nuts lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which accumulate in arteries and form plaques, which are linked to heart disease. For example, an analysis of over 210,000 people followed for up to 32 years discovered that those who ate an ounce of nuts five or more times per week had a 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who ate nuts rarely during the study period.
Pistachios are effective cardiovascular deterrents because their antioxidant properties help defend your body against free radicals, supporting heart health.
Pistachios are a food that may help the body combat the effects of free radicals, which can support heart health. Free radicals damage healthy body cells, which is thought to contribute to inflammation and the accumulation of oxidative stress. Collectively, this can accelerate cellular aging while also playing a foundational role in promoting chronic health conditions such as heart disease.
3. Green or black tea
Flavan-3-ols are a plant compound found in green and black tea. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently issued recommendations for how much flavan-3-ols we should consume daily to support many aspects of our health, including heart health. Two cups of green or black tea daily will supply enough flavan-3-oils to meet the 400-600 milligram recommendation.
4. Whole grains
Whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, rye, quinoa, and whole wheat, have been linked to lower systolic blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and a lower risk of heart disease. Three or more servings of whole grains daily were linked to a 22% lower risk of heart disease. Avoid refined, processed grains such as white bread and processed snacks, which can raise the risk of heart disease.
Because they are high in soluble fiber, a nutrient linked to cholesterol management, and a lower risk of heart disease, oats are an excellent whole grain to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Oats contain soluble fiber, which has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol levels. The FDA also has a health claim for soluble fiber that connects eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and grain products like oats, which contain soluble fiber. Adding to a low-saturated-fat diet may help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Fresh and frozen blueberries contain a variety of nutrients that promote heart health. A healthy diet with more fruits is linked to a lower risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
One cup of fresh blueberries, or 26 grams of freeze-dried blueberries, may lessen the acute cardiometabolic burden of high-energy meals. In the 24 hours following a high-calorie, high-fat/high-sugar meal, adding anthocyanin-rich blueberries results in lower insulin and glucose levels, lower total cholesterol, and improved good cholesterol (HDL-C). These findings are significant because elevated post-meal glucose and impaired glucose tolerance are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, which is already present in people with metabolic syndrome.
While more research is needed, the findings suggest that adding just one cup of anthocyanin-rich foods such as blueberries to high-fat/high-sugar and energy-dense meals can help reduce risk markers such as increased glucose, insulin, and cholesterol.
Wild blueberries’ anthocyanins, nutrients, and fiber have been linked to lower cardiovascular risk profiles. Their anthocyanins assist blood vessels in functioning better and remaining healthier, allowing the heart to work less hard to circulate blood throughout the body. Wild blueberries are sweet and delicious and great for baking and smoothies, topping cereal and yogurt, or simply eating on their own.
6. 100% orange juice
Orange juice (not a blend with added sugars) contains many heart-healthy nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, and folate. In addition, citrus fruits contain two distinct plant compounds: hesperidin and naringenin. Consumption of these compounds has been linked to various heart-health benefits, including a lower risk of stroke. In addition, according to one meta-analysis, chronic orange juice consumption positively affects blood pressure and good cholesterol levels in overweight and obese adults.
Tomatoes are high in heart-protective antioxidants and nutrients such as lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E. Tomato nutrients have been shown in studies to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, homocysteine—a measure of inflammation and an independent risk factor for heart disease—and make cells less sticky,’ allowing blood to flow more easily.
Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in the reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation damages blood vessels, resulting in heart attacks and strokes. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides, blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and the risk of stroke and heart failure.
9. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, are also excellent for strengthening your heart and lowering your risk of cardiovascular complications.
Increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease events such as heart attacks and strokes. Selenium and the potent antioxidant sulforaphane are two of broccoli’s key players in preventing heart disease.
Brussels sprouts are heart-healthy foods. According to research, cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts may help to prevent clogged arteries, which are a significant cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Many of Brussels sprouts’ heart-healthy benefits are attributed to their fiber, carotenoids, folate, fiber, and vitamins C, E, and K, as well as their sulfur compounds, known as glucosinolates, which have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help to protect cells from damage and lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
Try roasting Brussels sprouts in olive oil and garlic and adding them to salads, stir-fries, pasta, and rice dishes.