The Best 8 Foods for Your Heart, Say Dietitians
First, the bad news: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Luckily, there’s some good news: There are so many things you can do to reduce your risk, starting with adding these heart-healthy foods to your shopping cart.
“Approximately 80% of heart illnesses are preventable with the right diet,” says registered dietitian Wendy Lord, medical content author at Health Reporter. “If your diet is healthy, your heart is healthy.”
In fact, the American Heart Association recognizes a healthy diet as a key component in preventing and managing heart disease, and research has shown that these efforts can even reverse heart disease.
More good news: These are commonly available foods you may already enjoy. If not, or if you only have them once in a while, now’s the time to stock up and include them more often.
Here are some foods to focus on for optimal heart health.
1. Fatty fish
Salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel are just a few examples of fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help increase the beneficial HDL cholesterol. Not only that, but omega-3s also can lower triglycerides, a type of fat that can increase your risk of heart disease when levels are too high, says registered dietitian Brookell White, the nutrition database curator with MyFitnessPal.
According to Lord, omega-3 fatty acids are helpful for preventing blood clots, controlling high blood pressure, keeping the blood vessels open, and reducing inflammation.
“I recommend looking for seafood from Alaska because it’s guaranteed to be sustainably caught, and eating their natural diet in the wild ensures the fish have healthier omega-3 ratios than many farmed species,” says registered dietitian Cara Harbstreet.
In case you needed another reason to dig into some guacamole, avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, potassium, and magnesium, and many other vitamins and minerals that support heart health, according to registered dietitian Krishna Dragan, director of nutritional wellness at Nudj Health.
A large 2022 study found that people who ate at least two servings of avocados per week had a 16% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 21% lower risk of heart attacks or related problems compared to people who rarely or never ate them.
To maximize the benefits for your heart, consider spreading some creamy avocado onto fiber-rich whole-grain toast, or tossing it into a kale salad.
Whole grains contain a special type of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan, says registered dietitian Juliana Tamayo. Research has shown that beta-glucan can help lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar levels, and reduce inflammation.
Plus, beta-glucan is an excellent source of antioxidants, which can help to ward off heart disease by neutralizing free radicals.
According to a 2018 review, consuming more tree nuts — like walnuts — is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related events and death. Not only that, but specific risk factors linked to the development of cardiovascular disease — like dyslipidemia and hypertension — seem to also improve with regular tree nut consumption.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, Harbstreet says they have the highest level of alpha-linolenic acid (an essential omega-3 fatty acid) of any food, with 2.5 grams per one-ounce serving.
Almonds are also a good choice, thanks to their high levels of fiber and monounsaturated fats.
According to Lord, 1 cup of cooked mushrooms has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. But that’s just one of the many ways in which mushrooms support heart health. They’re also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
A 2018 review revealed that mushrooms contain nutrients that can reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and prevent your arteries from hardening. In one of the studies, researchers examined people with type 2 diabetes who ate oyster mushrooms and found significant decreases in blood pressure and cholesterol.
6. Black beans
“Black beans are a heart health superfood,” says Megan Wong, a dietitian at AlgaeCal. “They’re one of the best food sources of soluble fiber, providing 5.4 grams per a 3/4-cup serving. This specific type of fiber becomes gel-like in the body, slowing down the digestion of food to help with blood sugar management, and helping to lower cholesterol levels.”
Research has linked bean consumption to reduced inflammation and blood pressure — two risk factors for heart disease.
It’s also worth mentioning that one serving of black beans packs a whopping 485 milligrams of potassium, according to Wong, which helps to lower blood pressure by balancing the harmful effects of excess sodium.
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan, recommends choosing canned black beans with no added salt. Or, she suggests rinsing canned beans in water to reduce the sodium content by 40% or more.
You’re probably already well aware that spinach, and other dark leafy greens, are nutrient powerhouses. But when it comes to heart health, they have some especially beneficial vitamins, minerals, and other compounds.
For example, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps to protect your arteries.
“Spinach supplies nitrates, compounds that the body converts to nitric oxide to promote blood flow and normalize blood pressure,” explains Ward. “This leafy green also contains phytonutrients, fiber, and folate — a B vitamin that protects blood vessels from dangerous clots.”
All this might help to explain why a 2016 review found that increases in leafy green vegetable intake are associated with a 16% lower incidence of heart disease.
According to Ward, soy-based foods are loaded with heart-healthy nutrients like isoflavones, plant-based compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
A 2020 study found that people who ate just one serving of tofu a week had a 19% lower risk for heart disease than those who rarely consumed it.
Research has shown that consuming soy protein can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors.
If you can’t get on board with the taste or texture of tofu, try edamame or tempeh, both of which can offer the same heart-protective benefits.