Health Crush Contributor
The best foods for heart health are those that you enjoy eating while preventing disease and promoting health.
There are lots of heart healthy options for food that you can enjoy eating while preventing disease and promoting health. Fortunately, there are so many heart healthy foods out there that keep your arteries clear, you can literally take your pick. I’ve compiled a list of foods, spices, and herbs that you can integrate liberally into a heart healthy diet.
Here’s My Go-To List of Heart Healthy Foods
You probably have one of my favorite cholesterol-fighting foods in your pantry right now: oats. They’re a wonderful source of soluble fiber, a nutrient which helps your lower your LDL levels (aka “bad” cholesterol”). A serving of rolled oats or steel cut oats has about three grams of soluble fiber per serving. Aim to consume at least eight grams of soluble fiber per day.
2. Whole Grains
Keep in mind, you should be integrating about 25-30 grams of total fiber into your heart healthy diet every day. Barley, buckwheat,quinoa, wheat berries, spelt — any whole or “ancient” grain is going to pack more fiber per serving than refined sources of carbohydrates. Swap out your white flour consumption with whole wheat, and you’ll see your total cholesterol levels drop by an average of 4.6%.
There’s a reason why beans can be found in culinary traditions all around the world: they are cheap, accessible, versatile, and delicious. They also happen to be a great source of soluble fiber. If you’re forgoing red meat in an effort to lower your cholesterol levels, whether you choose lima, pinto, kidney black, lentils, or chickpea, beans are a great food to incorporate into your diet to get your protein and iron.
The American Heart Association published a study exploring the ways that soy protein helps to lower cholesterol levels. I recommend staying away from processed soy proteins (“mock meat”). Instead, go for edamame,tofu, seitan, and tempeh.
Psyllium husk, a component of fiber supplements, is a great source of soluble fiber. If you’re not getting enough soluble fiber each day, you might want to consider taking a teaspoon or two of psyllium husk powder to support your heart health.
Harvard Health lists eggplant as one of it’s favorite heart-healthy foods. It’s low in calories, but high in soluble fiber.
A handful of nuts packs a concentrated dose of heart healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, and antioxidants. Not all nuts are created equal, though. The American Heart Association recommends almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts. I also recommend brazil nuts in that daily handful!
High in lignans, flaxseed (but not flaxseed oil) has been shown to suppress the development of atherosclerosis. This is an easy one to mix into your oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothies. Recently flaxseed milk has also become available.
9. Vegetable Oils
Trade out fats sourced from animals and hydrogenated oils (butter, lard, shortening, and palm oils) with plant-based oils like canola, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, and olive oils for cooking. Unlike artery-clogging saturated and trans fats, these poly- and monounsaturated fats help to lower you LDL and even raise your HDL (aka “good” cholesterol).
10. Hempseed Oil
Not to be confused with psychotropic cannabis oil, this affordable green oil is high in linoleic acid, which has been shown to reduce LDL and raise HDL.Hemp Seed oil may work against the development of atherosclerosis, though more studies need to be completed to confirm this benefit. Keep hempseed oil in your refrigerator and use it tableside or in salad dressings.
11. Fatty Fish
Fatty coldwater fish like salmon,black cod, sardines, trout, and arctic char are packed full of with omega-3 fatty acids that can lower LDL levels. Eat at least two or three servings of these fish each week.
12. Oranges, Apples, Strawberries, Grapes
Fruits that make for good jams and preserves are great for your cholesterol when eaten raw. That’s because of their high pectin content, which is a type of soluble fiber.
Note: You won’t get the fiber you’re looking for in fresh juices, since fiber is in the pulp/pith of these fruits. If you are juicing, save the pulp for baked goods.
Pomegranate is said to have existed in the Garden of Eden. In modern times, I’d say it has a place in everyone’s fruit bowl. It helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, fending of atherosclerosis, and its antioxidant content offers so many other cardioprotective benefits.
Of course, kale makes my list for heart healthy foods. A 2008 study showed that kale lowers cholesterol, in addition to its other myriad heart protective qualities.
This is one of my favorite heart healthy ingredients to recommend. Garlic is inexpensive, tasty, and has so many health benefits. Not only does it lower cholesterol levels, but it also has been shown to reduce the chances of developing atherosclerosis and prevents platelet aggregation which can lead to blockages in your arteries.
Among its other beneficial qualities, ginger has been shown to reduce LDL levels and raise levels of HDL. While there are ginger supplements out there, fresh ginger is so easy to keep and use in your kitchen.
Cayenne is used by herbalists to stimulate blood circulation. In the context of heart health, cayenne can cut through mucus that is jamming up your veins, helping to lower your blood pressure.
18. Red Wine
This one tends to be a crowd-pleasing revelation: depending on your gender, a glass or two of red wine each day has been shown to boost HDL levels. In fact, non-drinkers are more likely to develop heart disease than those who do drink moderately. Keep in mind though that drinking heavily is accompanied by deleterious health effects that offset any heart healthy benefits you might get from wine.
19. Dark Beer
As with red wine, moderate consumption of dark beer can boost your HDL levels, due to its flavonoid content. Moderate would be a two beer daily limit.
20. Dark Chocolate
Here’s another crowd pleaser: dark chocolate may be part of a heart healthy diet. While many studies show that flavonols lower blood pressure, dark chocolate may also prevent atherosclerosis. Ideally dark chocolate should contain more than 70 percent cocoa butter.
While this ayurvedic ingredient is best known as an anti-inflammatory,turmeric may also inhibit atherosclerosis and other heart complications.
Used as an oil or fresh, this versatile ingredient is made up of monounsaturated fats that can lower your LDL levels and raise your HDL levels.
23. Coconut Water
While coconut oil and milk is made up of saturated fat that have experts doubting its unconditional health benefits, both young and mature coconut water has been shown to lower LDL levels in recent studies.
24. Dandelion Root and Leaf
Conventionally considered a weed in the Western world, dandelion actually has so many health benefits that have been acknowledged in Eastern medicine for quite some time. Both the leaf and root can reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis. Eat the leaf fresh in salad, sautéed as a side, or prepare the root as a tea.
25. Ginkgo Biloba
While not a food, per se, dried or fresh ginkgo biloba can be brewed into a tea that prevents blood clotting and dilates your blood vessels where they are constricted, among other cardioprotective benefits. If you take blood thinners or aspirin, speak with your doctor or pharmacist first.
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