There’s no time like the present to consider the health of your heart. Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of Americans, claiming more lives than any other major cause of death, according to the American Heart Association. Cardiovascular diseases include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease (heart attack and angina), congestive heart failure, stroke, and congenital heart defects.
The good news is you can improve your heart’s health with simple food choices. Focusing on foods full of heart-healthy fats and antioxidants can decrease your risk of developing heart disease and reduce your chances of a heart attack.
These 10 foods will help improve your heart health:
1. Oatmeal: Grandma called it roughage. Start your day with a steaming bowl of oats containing soluble fiber, which can lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and help keep arteries clear.
2. Salmon: This fish is super-rich in omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce clotting and blood pressure. Try to eat two servings per week of salmon or other oily fish like mackerel, tuna, herring or sardines.
3. Olive oil: Full of monounsaturated fats, olive oil lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Look for extra-virgin or virgin varieties – they are the least processed – and use them instead of butter or margarine when cooking.
4. Avocado: Add a slice of avocado to a sandwich or salad to increase the amount of monounsaturated fat, a heart healthy fat which helps lower LDL while raising the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol in your blood.
5. Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are all full of omega-3 fatty acids and mono-and polyunsaturated fats as well as fiber.
6. Berries: Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are packed with vitamins and antioxidants which reduce the risk of both heart disease and cancer.
7: Legumes/Beans: Fill up on soluble fiber with lentils, chickpeas, black and kidney beans. In addition to the cholesterol-lowering fiber, they also contain calcium and other minerals.
8. Flaxseed: Sprinkle ground flaxseed on cereal for a heart-healthy breakfast because it provides fiber and both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
9. Soy: Soy may lower cholesterol, and since it is low in saturated fat, it is a good source of lean protein. Try tofu, tempeh, edamame, veggie burgers, and soy milk for meals and snacks.
10. Spinach: Popeye was right! Spinach contains fiber, folate, potassium, and lutein – all nutrients which help improve heart health. Increasing your servings of any vegetables will cut your risk of heart disease. Research has shown that those who ate at least 2 ½ servings of vegetables each day decreased their risk of heart disease by about 25 percent when compared to those who didn’t eat veggies.
C. Sue Johansen, RD, CDE, CD, is a clinical dietician. She currently works with the ALS Clinic at the University of Vermont Medical Center.