The leading cause of death in the United States is coronary heart disease. Nearly 13 million Americans suffer from it and more than half a million die from it each year. So what can you do to prevent this disease and help improve your heart?
Along with a healthy diet, you also need to keep your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure under control. Don't settle for bland foods that you have to force yourself to eat. Instead, here is a list of delicious heart healthy foods that will improve your health!
1. Tomatoes: Long linked to heart health, tomatoes have been proven to lower cholesterol and prevent the clotting of platelet cells in your blood. They're also full of vitamins A, C and K and potassium. Snack on grape tomatoes while watching TV or enjoy them in your salads, sandwiches or meals. Try using heart healthy tomatoes in our Skinny Cobb Salad!
2. Oatmeal: Oatmeal is such a diverse food. You can take it and make it suitable for all taste buds. It lowers LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), helps keep arteries clear and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Opt for steel-cut oats over the instant varieties because they contain more fiber. Enjoy heart healthy oatmeal in our Slow Cooker Apple Pie Oatmeal (pictured below)!
3. Sweet potatoes: They're inexpensive, easy to cook and have numerous health benefits. They're loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C and a day's worth of vitamin A. Make sure not to skip on eating the skin because it's also packed with fiber and potassium! For a fun crunch, try our Skinny Baked Sweet Potato Chips.
4. Olive oil: Using olive oil when you cook is definitely a smart decision. It's free of cholesterol, salt, sugar and trans fat while being full of monounsaturated fat, the good kind of fat! It helps prevent heart disease, helps digestion and promotes healthy aging. Use olive oil in your recipes in place of butter or cooking oil.
5. Papayas: This fruit is high in vitamins E and A and helps limit the oxidation of cholesterol in the blood stream, which is associated with a lower risk for heart attack and stroke. And one medium-size papaya generates more than twice the adult RDA of vitamin C, so eat up!
6. Oranges: Oranges aren't just full of vitamin C; they also reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart failure. A soluble fiber called pectin acts as a giant sponge which soaks up all the cholesterol in food and blocks its absorption. The potassium found in oranges also counterbalances your salt or sodium levels, keeping blood pressure troubles at bay.
7. Soybeans: These foods are one of the most nutritious plant foods available and can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Soy lowers levels of the artery-clogging LDL cholesterol without reducing levels of the beneficial HDL cholesterol.
8. Soy milk: Unlike regular milk, soy milk is naturally cholesterol-free and contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can reduce your cholesterol level. If you're a milk lover, it can be hard to get used to the taste of soy milk, but it's definitely worth it to help prevent heart disease.
9. Flaxseed: This tiny seed is packed with a variety of nutrients and has a pleasant nutty flavor. Flax also contains a soluble fiber which helps lower cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of heart disease. Learn more about flaxseed by clicking here!
10. Whole grains: Along with reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers, whole grains can also help with weight management. They provide your body with carbohydrates, which is your main energy source, so your brain, heart and nervous system will function better throughout the day! Have a bowl of Cheerios with soy milk and your favorite berries in the mornings to help kickstart your day. Enjoy heart healthy whole grains in our Quinoa Mexi-Lime Salad (video below)!
11. Shellfish: These water-dwelling creatures' protein, different from warm-blooded animals, is actually very low in fat. Oyster, lobster and shrimp all contain omega-3 fatty acids and contribute to a healthy heart. Enjoy heart-healthy shrimp in our Quick Shrimp and Vegetable Stir Fry!
12. Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or whatever berry you prefer are super fruits! They increase HDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and are full of anti-inflammatories to help reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. According to a recent Harvard Health study, women who ate large amounts of blueberries and strawberries were 34 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack. Aim for three servings of a half a cup of these berries each week to reap their benefits.
13. Mushrooms: Mushrooms are one of the best plant-based sources of niacin, which is an essential nutrient for our bodies. Three ounces of portobello mushrooms provide almost 20 percent of your daily niacin requirement.
14. Salmon: The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of salmon a week for a multitude of health benefits and to reduce your risk of a heart attack by up to one third. It's so easy to prepare and cook and is also rich in omega-3s, which can reduce blood pressure and clotting. Enjoy heart healthy salmon in our Honey Mustard Glazed Salmon!
15. Granola: Not only is granola delicious in your yogurt, it's great for your heart, too! Granola is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids and contain monounsaturated fats that lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
16. Yogurt: A recent study found that older women who regularly ate yogurt had less thickening of their carotid arteries walls which means they have a lower risk of stroke and heart attack. It also helps protect against gum disease which, if left untreated, can increase a person's risk for heart disease.
17. Broccoli: Here's another green veggie that's good for your heart. Broccoli has detoxifying and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as being an excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium and fiber.
18. Cantaloupe: This fruit is packed with nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium and niacin. The potassium helps prevent hypertension and works as an anti-coagulant which helps prevent clot formation. Cantaloupe is good at any time of day, just cut and enjoy!
19. Chia seeds: The word chia actually comes from the Mayan language and means strength. Chia seeds have one of the highest plant sources of essential fatty acids such as omega-3s. They also help to reduce blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar and boost metabolism.
20. Avocado: Did you know that the avocado is virtually the only fruit that contains monounsaturated fat? This is a good fat that lowers LDL cholesterol while raising the amount of HDL cholesterol. Add a cut up avocado to your salads, sandwiches or toast, or just eat it plain! Enjoy heart healthy avocados in our Skinny Avocado Tuna Salad!
21. Dark chocolate: Healthy chocolate? Yes, it's true! Eating a small amount a few times each week can help to lower your blood pressure, improve blood flow, prevent clotting and improves cognitive functioning. Just remember to enjoy in moderation!
22. Red bell peppers: These peppers are a great source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, powerful antioxidants, vitamin C and potassium. Enjoy them raw or cook and stuff them with quinoa or brown rice with veggies. Not sure how to cut a bell pepper? Watch the video below!
23. Apples: An apple a day keeps heart attacks away? A recent study found that eating an apple daily lowers cholesterol levels. The skin of apples especially are packed with antioxidants that prevent damage from free radicals. Make it a habit to enjoy an apple each day at breakfast or lunch.
24. Red wine: Okay, so it's not a food, but red wine has long been linked to heart health when consumed in moderation. It can help prevent against heart disease by increasing your HDL cholesterol (that's the good kind) and protecting against artery damage. Red wine contains antioxidants called polyphenols that help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A more particular polyphenol in wine is resveratrol which helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces LDL cholesterol, and prevents blood clots. So, enjoy, but remember to drink in moderation and stick to a 5-ounce serving size!
25. Lentils: These little legumes have huge health benefits. They're a wonderful source of protein, stabilize blood sugar, increase energy, regulate digestive health and reduce your risk of heart disease. They're relatively quick and easy to prepare, and a whole cup of cooked lentils is just 230 calories!
26. Kale: Here's another dark leafy green that is a superfood for your heart! Kale contains many antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folate, potassium and vitamin E. It also contains a protein that creates a coating in your arteries to keep plaque from sticking. For a nutritious snack, eat a serving of kale with cashews, olive oil, and lemon juice. Check out 5 ways to add kale to your diet for more ideas.
27. Coffee: Good news for all you caffeine junkies! Coffee can actually help your heart by improving blood circulation, helping small blood vessels work better and decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. It's also full of antioxidants. Of course this doesn't include coffees that are packed with sugar, cream and syrups. Try getting used to enjoying your coffee black and see if you can feel the difference.
28. Garlic: Garlic provides us with more than just stinky breath to help to keep vampires away. It can help prevent heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and boost your immune system.
29. Raisins: This food fights the bacteria that causes inflammation and gum disease. As stated before, people with gum disease are more likely to suffer from heart problems. With raisins, you can kill two birds with one stone, protecting your gums and your heart! They also help to lower blood pressure.
30. Carrots: We've all heard that carrots are good for our eyes, but did you know they can also reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack? They help protect against coronary artery disease and are full of vitamin K and antioxidants such as beta-carotene.
31. Nuts: More specifically, almonds and walnuts should be part of your healthy diet. They reduce your risk of developing blood clots, improve the lining of your arteries and lower LDL cholesterol. They're a great food to snack on throughout the day.
32. Spinach: Not only did spinach give Popeye his giant muscles, it gave his heart extra strength, too! Recent findings suggest that spinach reduces the risk of heart attack and increases survival rates by a third for those who suffer an attack. It's packed with vitamin K and vitamin A. Include at least a half a cup of this leafy green about two times a week in your diet. Choose spinach instead of lettuce for your salads and sandwiches.
33. Green tea: This is considered one of the world's healthiest drinks and contains the most antioxidants out of any other tea. There are an infinite number of health benefits for green tea, including bone health, weight loss, cancer prevention, lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Make it a routine to have a cup of green tea each morning.
» Recipe: Green Tea Smoothie
Use these foods and share your favorite heart-healthy recipes in the comments below!