Heart-Healthy Diet: 10 Foods to Eat and 10 Foods To Avoid

Heart disease is the leading cause of death across the world. The dietary pattern we choose to have plays a significant role in our heart health. It may either cure or facilitate health disease depending on food choices. That’s why we talk about a heart-healthy diet.

Eating a heart healthy diet can prevent diseases such as high blood pressure. It has an effect on high cholesterol and heart failure. Thus, a heart healthy diet plays a vital role in keeping away coronary disease, atherosclerosis, and much more.

In addition, changing your diet can help stop or even reverse heart disease. In this article, you’ll dive into basic recommendations to keep your heart healthy for longer. How to do it? With a healthy diet or cardiac diet. To make it easier, we’re giving you a list of foods to eat and avoid.

What is a heart-healthy diet?

A heart healthy diet includes all essential foods to keep your heart functioning and your blood flowing. A fitting example would be the Mediterranean diet, which uses healthy fat instead of trans fat and avoids processed food.

Heart healthy food is enriched with minerals, vitamins, macronutrients, and micronutrients. It contains soluble fibers, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, unsaturated fats, and resistant starch.

If you prefer recommendations over food lists, here’s what you need to follow (1): 

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables

  • Always prefer foods low in saturated fat and trans fat

  • Limit salt intake

  • Eat at least two servings of oily fish every week

  • Limit drinks and foods with a load of sugar.

How does your diet impact the health of your heart?

Your diet impacts your heart health directly. Healthy eating reduces blood pressure levels and bad cholesterol in the blood. The risk of metabolic syndrome drops, and inflammation improves.

This changes the disposition and function of cells lining in the blood vessels. They are more efficient and avoid damage. All of this results in a decrease in cardiovascular disease and heart complications. Heart failure, stroke, and calcified plaque in the arteries are reduced.

But, if you’re consuming unhealthy food excessively, such as red meat, bacon, cold drinks, deep-fried foods, and baked goods, it’ll lead to high blood pressure, high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, diabetes, obesity, and heart complications (1).

10 foods to eat

Using examples is probably the best way to explain how heart healthy eating works. Thus, let us go through 10 food recommendations to keep a healthy heart:

1) Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are the most recommended foods for your cardiovascular system. They’re enriched with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Thus, they improve your immune system, reduce blood pressure, and decrease arterial stiffness. They provide the nutrients your body needs, but you may want to eat more vegetables than fruits if you’re trying to achieve a healthy weight. Fruits have a higher calorie count, but they are nutrient-rich foods all along. Keep that in mind and look beyond the number of calories.

2) Whole grains

Whole grains include all parts of the natural grain. They are known as germ, endosperm, and bran. The most common whole grains are whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa.

These whole grains are enriched with fibers and decrease cholesterol levels, reducing heart diseases. Eating whole grains regularly is associated with a 21% lower chance of heart disease (2).

3) Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are enriched with antioxidants. One example is anthocyanins. These antioxidants can protect you against oxidative stress and lower blood pressure and inflammation.

When these are gone, there are no triggers leading to heart diseases. People who eat berries regularly are at low risk of high cholesterol and other heart complications (3).

4) Avocados

These fatty fruits are the primary source of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. They are healthy fatty acids that lower blood pressure levels. They also reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and LDL cholesterol in your blood.

Avocados also contain lots of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which also help to keep your heart healthier. Yes, they are full of fat, but healthy fat will contribute to your heart (4).

5) Fatty Fish and Fish Oil

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are enriched in omega 3 fatty acids. This is probably the best type of fatty acid, and we usually do not have enough of it.

Salmon consumption three times per week for eight weeks may reduce blood pressure, blood fat levels, and fasting blood sugar levels. All of this lowers the risk of heart complications.

If you don’t eat a lot of seafood, fish oil is another way to get your daily dose of omega 3 and polyunsaturated fats (5).

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6) Walnuts

Nuts are excellent snacks, especially walnuts. They contain fiber, copper, magnesium, and manganese. These micronutrients reduce LDL cholesterol, diastolic blood pressure, stress, and inflammation.

People who eat walnuts regularly are at low risk of heart diseases. It is definitely a healthy way to cut away unhealthy snacks such as French fries and processed potato chips.

7) Beans

Different types of beans are high in resistant starch, which favors digestion in your gut. This resistant starch improves your heart health by decreasing triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood.

People with a diet high in beans and legumes are at lower risk of heart diseases. One of the reasons why beans are recommended is that they are full of soluble fiber.

This type of fiber contributes to the gastrointestinal system. They also drain your blood from excess cholesterol by binding bile and taking it out of your system (6).

8) Dark chocolates

If you like chocolate, this is probably good news as long as you don’t overdo it. Chocolate contains antioxidants known as flavonoids. They contribute to your heart health.

But, before picking up, be sure of the quality of dark chocolates. They should not have added sugar or a high sugar count. Otherwise, they could create insulin peaks, trigger inflammation, and favor fat accumulation in the blood.

9) Almonds

Almonds are nutrient-dense and high in vitamins and minerals. These are vital to your heart health. They also contain monounsaturated fats and fibers, which are crucial to protect you from cardiovascular disease. As noted above, fiber lowers cholesterol levels in the blood by sweeping bile out of your system.

10) Olive oil

The benefits of olive oil for our overall health, including heart health, are infinite. It contains antioxidants that relieve inflammation, resulting in a decrease in heart diseases.

People who use olive oil regularly are at 48% lower risk of having heart diseases, high blood pressure, and high LDL cholesterol in their bloodstream (7).

10 foods to avoid

If you’re worried about your heart health, then you should keep these foods out of your table. You may save them for occasional indulgences, but not every day. Try to replace them with heart-healthy swaps whenever possible. The black list includes:

1) Sugar, salt, and unhealthy fat

This includes an extensive group of foods and cooking methods. A higher intake of sugar, salt, saturated fats, and unrefined carbs in your diet is responsible for your heart problems such as heart attack or stroke. So, these shouldn’t be included in your diet above a reasonable limit.

The recommended limit is 1 tablespoon of salt, 6 tablespoons of sugar, and 10% of total calories in saturated fat. Remember that obesity is one of the most common heart disease risk factors. It may lead to coronary heart disease and much more.

Thus, healthy weight loss through a reduction of sugar will do a great favor to your heart. If you’re serious about your health, also consider increasing your physical activity levels.

Also, remember that sodium intake increases your blood pressure almost immediately. It should be controlled, especially if you prefer salty food.

2) Bacon and cold meat

This type of meat is enriched with saturated fat, which raises your blood cholesterol. It also contains salt, which increases your blood pressure and can lead to stroke, heart disease, and heart failure.

Moreover, cold meats are processed foods, and you will see this type of food listed in the items below.

3) Red meat

People who overeat beef, lamb, and pork may have a higher risk of heart diseases. This is not because eating red meat is bad by itself. It is due to saturated fat, which increases cholesterol in our blood.

Moreover, red meat causes digestive problems and changes in the gut microbiota. If you’re ever consuming this type of food, make sure it is lean meat.

That is, make sure it doesn’t have many fatty portions. Take out the fatty portion and use poultry as an option whenever possible.

4) Soda

Consumption of a small amount of sugar daily is not harmful to our health. The limit of added sugar is 6 tablespoons, which sounds quite a lot.

However, a single can of soda exceeds that permissible limit and is unhealthy for our hearts. People who drink soda daily are at a higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases.

5) Baked goods

Cookies, cakes, and muffins are loaded with sugar. They are made with refined flour, which takes out the germ and bran of whole grains. Thus, they are absorbed differently and increase the triglycerides levels in the blood.

Consuming these products frequently increases the risk of obesity and heart disease. Moreover, they also contain white flour, which spikes your blood glucose and makes you feel hungrier.

6) Fast food

These include pizza, burgers, pasta, snack foods, and many others. They all have staggering amounts of sodium, white flour, refined grains, and fat. Refined grains in fast food quickly convert into sugar and store your body as fat.

This fat stored in the belly leads to diabetes and heart diseases. Even if you exercise trying to burn the extra calories, the effect is not eliminated.

Fast food will still cause endothelial dysfunction and trigger atherosclerosis. As noted above, it is not only about calories (8).

7) Deep-fried food

These include French fries, fried chicken, nuggets, among others. They are enriched with oil, sodium, and fat. These are closely linked to high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and, eventually, heart diseases. 

8) Ice cream

They are delicious but not healthy at all. Ice cream is packed up with fats, artificial coloring, sodium, and lots of sugar. These ingredients increase the risks of heart diseases, obesity, inflammation, and much more. In addition, ice cream is high in a type of fat that takes longer to digest. In combination with lactose, ice cream can cause gastrointestinal problems in many of us.

9) Processed meat

They include hot dogs, sausage, salami, and lunch meat. What they have in common is a high concentration of salt and saturated fats. As you have read above, they increase our blood pressure and cholesterol. In turn, this leads to heart complications in the long term.

10) Flavored yogurt and butter

Yogurt and butter are enriched with vitamins and minerals, which are vital for our health. However, these days, flavored yogurt and butter contain several ingredients to enhance flavor. Saturated fats, salts, added sugar, and more. One apparently healthy can of yogurt may contain more sugar than the permissible limit per day. Instead of being healthy, it causes obesity and diabetes. Most dairy products have a similar problem, so stay vigilant.

Conclusion

According to health authorities, heart disease is the leading cause of death globally. However, a healthy diet with regular exercise can reduce the risks of heart diseases.

This heart-healthy diet should be enriched with nutrients and minerals to promote heart function. Choosing unhealthy food leads to many heart complications, usually preceded by diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Thus, before planning your next meal, be careful to consider your food picks and learn to read the labels.

Avoid saturated fat, added sugar, and excess salt. Eat fresh foods instead of processed and make sure that you get your daily dose of antioxidants, vitamins, and micronutrients.

Sources

  1. Dinu, M., Pagliai, G., & Sofi, F. (2017). A heart-healthy diet: recent insights and practical recommendations. Current cardiology reports, 19(10), 1-7.
  2. Mellen, P. B., Walsh, T. F., & Herrington, D. M. (2008). Whole grain intake and cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 18(4), 283-290.
  3. Cassidy, A. (2018). Berry anthocyanin intake and cardiovascular health. Molecular aspects of medicine, 61, 76-82.
  4. Bhuyan, D. J., Alsherbiny, M. A., Perera, S., Low, M., Basu, A., Devi, O. A., … & Papoutsis, K. (2019). The odyssey of bioactive compounds in avocado (Persea americana) and their health benefits. Antioxidants, 8(10), 426.
  5. Ramel, A., Martinez, J. A., Kiely, M., Bandarra, N. M., & Thorsdottir, I. (2010). Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction. Nutrition, 26(2), 168-174.
  6. Anderson, J. W., Smith, B. M., & Gustafson, N. J. (1994). Health benefits and practical aspects of high-fiber diets. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(5), 1242S-1247S.
  7. Guasch-Ferré, M., Hu, F. B., Martínez-González, M. A., Fitó, M., Bulló, M., Estruch, R., … & Salas-Salvadó, J. (2014). Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC medicine, 12(1), 1-11.
  8. Tucker, W. J., Sawyer, B. J., Jarrett, C. L., Bhammar, D. M., Ryder, J. R., Angadi, S. S., & Gaesser, G. A. (2018). High-intensity interval exercise attenuates but does not eliminate endothelial dysfunction after a fast food meal. American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 314(2), H188-H194.

 

 

 

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