Here in the United States, there’s no more common killer than heart disease. It’s estimated that more than 633,000 people die from heart disease each year, which is more than cancer, and higher than accidents, stroke and diabetes combined. It’s also estimated that Americans with a high total cholesterol is around 13 percent, with more than 30 percent experiencing high LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Blood pressure plays a big role in heart health, too, with more than 30 percent of women and 33 percent of men experiencing high blood pressure. Many of these problems can be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle, but diet plays an even larger role. For this reason, we need to be focusing on foods that are better for our hearts, while avoiding processed junk foods packed with too much sodium. Which foods specifically are the best, though? Here are eight heart healthy foods that every diet needs.
Pretty much every common member of the berry family increases your heart health, as they’re packed with antioxidants and polyphenols. Out of the many berries available, professionals say that blueberries are likely the most beneficial, not just in the berry department, but above all other foods. The high concentration of antioxidants in blueberries have a direct link to reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol within your bloodstream, greatly reducing your chances of heart disease or stroke.
Another aspect of your heart’s health, including preventing cancer, is by attacking the free radicals in the body. Since blueberries are so effective in fighting free radicals because of their antioxidants, they’re perfect for all aspects of heart health. Experts say that one cup of blueberries per day is the perfect amount to keep you fighting fit.
Just like the berry family, just about any type of bean is beneficial for heart health. Much of this is attributed to the extremely high fiber content found in beans. It’s estimated that more than 90 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough fiber in their diet, Fiber is shown to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol while also improving your digestive system. Research has said that people who eat one serving of beans on a daily basis reduce their chances of heart attack by nearly 40 percent thanks to lower cholesterol.
Beans also attack high blood pressure, with studies saying that you cut chances of high blood pressure by nearly half with your daily dose of beans. Your blood vessels become more relaxed when eating fiber filled beans, and there are even helpful antioxidants to reduce your chances of heart disease. We hear a lot about how fiber is great for our digestion, but it’s just as beneficial for our hearts!
Doctors suggest that you eat plenty of seafood as part of a heart healthy diet, but salmon stands out as the best of the bunch. Salmon and other fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are unsaturated and benefit your heart in many ways. The first thing that omega-3 helps with is reducing inflammation in the blood vessels, leading to a reduction in blood pressure and chances of stroke.
Omega-3 is really a wonderful thing, as it helps you control your cholesterol, as well. Omega-3 is shown to lower triglycerides in your blood and control your heart rate, reducing your overall cholesterol. To get the biggest benefit of salmon, you should be eating around 3.5 ounces (not fried, of course) two to three times per week.
Just like the other foods we’ve looked at so far, walnuts are part of a bigger family of foods that are all heart healthy. Just like salmon and blueberries, though, walnuts are the king of their group when it comes to benefiting your heart. Walnuts are packed with helpful antioxidants, with a single serving containing more than most fruits and vegetables.
Doctors suggest combining walnuts and fruit as part of a heart health diet.
Some people get shocked by the high fat content in walnuts, since there are 18 grams of it in each serving, but this is actually great for your heart. That’s because the fats found in walnuts can actually lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. Eating walnuts twice per week reduce your chances of heart disease by more than 20 percent, and that amount each week isn’t going to be too many calories!
Oatmeal is another one of those foods that has a high concentration of fiber that increases your heart health. Not only that, but oatmeal has plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Other compounds in oatmeal include a fair amount of potassium and folate, as well, which can help you reverse heart disease and prevent it in the first place. Potassium soothes your blood vessels while also flushing out excess sodium, improving your blood pressure.
Research has found that eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast everyday makes it much more likely that you’re going to meet your daily recommendation for protein. Even if you already have heart disease, you can get back to normal by eating oatmeal since it opens up your arteries, and many have found they’ve been able to get off of medication thanks to oatmeal’s nutrition.
We usually think of the cartoon character Popeye opening up a can of spinach to immediately build muscle and energy. While spinach is indeed great for those two aspects, Popeye never told you how great spinach was for your heart. Spinach is one of the best foods in terms of containing antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and free radicals that cause heart disease. They also have the potassium and magnesium that your heart needs.
Research shows that spinach specifically has a role in reducing your chances of heart disease, thanks to the high amount of nitrites. These studies showed that people who have had a heart attack are less likely to suffer from another one when eating several servings of spinach per week. Spinach also reversed damage by more than 30 percent in heart attack patients!
Some foods that are considered to be an indulgent treat might actually be good for your heart, including dark chocolate. Getting one or two servings per week helps your heart, delivering both antioxidants and flavanols. Flavanols are the most common type of flavonoid that’s been shown to lower blood pressure and increase blood flow, clearing out plaque that can cause heart disease.
Milk chocolate and some of the other forms that might be packed with sugar won’t be as good as dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains healthy monounsaturated fats that lower your LDL cholesterol. To get the maximum benefit, try limiting yourself to one ounce at a time just a couple of times per week, as dark chocolate is still high in calories.
Another indulgence that can help your heart when consumed in moderation is red wine, and doctors suggest that you can drink one glass per day. Red wine can balance your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, and they also contain something that you can’t find in many other sources. This is known as resveratrol, an antioxidant that specifically targets LDL cholesterol.
Resveratrol also blocks newly introduced fat cells from developing in your body, which not only helps your heart, but can also burn stubborn belly fat. Studies showed that blood flow improved dramatically for those that drank wine on a daily basis for three weeks. It also killed many of the harmful cells that caused heart disease, so drink up! But just once per day, of course!