In a fast-paced world where convenience trumps (more time- and labor-intensive) healthy home cooking, the battle is on to protect your heart. The food choices you make can drastically affect your heart health, energy and appetite control. Keep your heart in tip-top shape with choices that are tasty, healthy and convenient for the entire family. From berries and nuts, to fish and leafy greens, here are some of the best foods for your heart:
Salmon and other fatty fish such as sardines and mackerel are the superstars of heart-healthy foods. That's because they contain copious amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, shown in studies to lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and decrease triglycerides. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish and preferably fatty fish at least twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available as dietary supplements.
Satisfy your sweet tooth while chomping on a slice of watermelon, a low-calorie treat that is high in fiber and a great source of antioxidants, according to Dr. Sarah Samaan, cardiologist with Legacy Heart Center in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. “It’s a fabulous source of lycopene, which has been linked to a lower risk for heart disease and cancer,” Samaan says. “Watermelon also supplies citrulline, which may improve the health of our blood vessels and may even have benefits for people with erectile dysfunction and diabetes.” Watermelon is also a source of vitamins C and A, as well as potassium and magnesium.
Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol. "It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract and soaks up the cholesterol so it is eliminated from the body and not absorbed into the bloodstream," says Lauren Graf, a registered dietician and co-director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Graf recommends avoiding instant oatmeal, which often contains sugar, and heading instead for old-fashioned or even quick-cooking oats. Other whole grains such as bread, pasta and grits are also good for the heart as long as they still contain the entire grain
For a sweet and savory treat that won’t clog your arteries, opt for a cup of yogurt, which will protect more than just your heart, says Dr. Andrea Paul, a physician and chief medical officer at Boardvitals.com, an online medical question bank. “Yogurt protects against gum disease, which can increase your risk of heart disease,” she says. In addition to reducing your risk of heart disease, according to Paul when you eat low-fat yogurt, you also absorb powerful antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and probiotics that are beneficial to your overall health, digestion and well-being. Top with fresh or frozen berries for a sweet and healthy treat during the day.
Not just blueberries, but strawberries and other berries as well. According to a 2013 study women aged 25 through 42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less. The authors of the study attributed the benefit to compounds known as anthocyanins, flavonoids (which are antioxidants) that may decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Anthocyanins give plants their red and blue colors.
Avocados are full of healthy monounsaturated fats and are a source of potassium, a mineral also known for controlling blood pressure, according to Bridget Swinney, a Texas-based registered dietitian. “They are also a great source of vitamin C, fiber and carotenoids,” Swinney says. “Carotenoids have been associated with a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.” In addition to offering a beneficial dose of fiber, avocados have been shown to help the body absorb other antioxidants when eaten with veggies such as spinach and carrots, she says.
While deaths due to heart disease have dropped in recent years, it's still the No. 1 killer of Americans. The good news is that we now know a ton about how to prevent cardiovascular disease, which includes both strokes and heart attacks. It's clear that healthy eating and living (like exercising more!) can make a huge difference in your health so hop to it because it’s never too late to take care of yourself.