Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Tennessee. And you may be surprised to hear that plaque buildup inside your heart’s arteries actually starts in childhood, so it’s never too early to start eating better for your heart’s health! In fact, 80% of heart disease and stroke can be prevented. Start your prevention plan today by checking out my 10 foods for a healthier heart:
1. FRUITS AND VEGGIES. An easy first step to eating better for heart health is to include more fruits and vegetables at your meals and snacks. Fruits and veggies are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. Try enjoying colorful produce that’s in season. Spring brings some fruit and veggie favorites like asparagus, collard greens, corn, pineapple, and strawberries.
2. PULSES. You may be more familiar with beans, lentils, and chickpeas – also known as pulses! Research has shown that eating these plant proteins can lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and help with weight management — all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Try them in replace of ground meat or on top of salads.
3. BERRIES. While it’s true that any fruit or vegetable can benefit your heart, blueberries and blackberries may be particularly beneficial thanks to their anthocyanins, which give the fruits their rich color. Studies show that these anthocyanins reduce blood pressure and help protect your artery walls so we develop less plaque. Top your yogurt, cereal, or salad with blueberries and blackberries or enjoy them as-is for an on-the-go snack.
4. LOW-FAT DAIRY. Dairy foods can be an important source of calcium, vitamin D, and protein, but also minerals like magnesium and potassium that can help keep your blood pressure within a healthy range. When choosing dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese, go for low-fat or no-fat options to reduce your saturated fat intake and improve your cholesterol levels.
5. LIQUID VEGETABLE OILS. Of the fats we eat, we want them to be heart-healthy. Using liquid vegetable oils, such as olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, and even walnut oil when cooking is an easy way to accomplish this. You can bake, saute, and stir-fry foods with your favorite liquid vegetable oils.
6. WHOLE GRAINS. Whole grains (like corn, oats, quinoa, and rice) and whole-grain products are higher in B vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber than their refined counterparts. Because of this, people who eat three servings of whole grains a day have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36% and stroke by 37%! Try using whole cornmeal for cornbread and buy whole-grain bread and pastas for busy weeknight meals.
7. WALNUTS. Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids (the same heart-healthy fat found in fatty fish), but are a lot easier to stash in your pocket or purse. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help decrease triglyceride levels and slow plaque buildup in your arteries. Try adding walnuts to oatmeal and salads or have a handful of walnuts as a satisfying snack.
8. FATTY FISH. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming 3.5 ounces of cooked fish twice a week. Fatty fish in particular, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, lake trout, albacore tuna (in water), and herring, are great catches that contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that these fats decrease risk of abnormal heartbeats and lower blood pressure slightly.
9. FLAXSEEDS. These small seeds are best ground so that our bodies get the benefit of their alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another type of omega-3 fat. Try a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed in your oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothie.
10. GREEN TEA. Adopting a regular tea time can be good for your heart thanks to the antioxidants found in tea! Green tea, in particular, may help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels. Brew it hot or cold as a new and flavorful way to hydrate and help out your heart.
Lindsey is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from Nashville, TN. She graduated from the Dietetic Internship program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and prior to this, earned her Bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a weight management expert, meal planning master, and TN Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Nashville Media spokesperson. Lindsey is passionate about helping people ignite the healthy that makes them happy and you can follow all her food-filled adventures at @themealplanningmethod!
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