Nuts (cashews) as example of heart-healthy food

Heart-healthy foods: plant-based and animal-based foods for the heart

Medically reviewed on June 27, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people every year than cancer, lower respiratory disease, and diabetes [1]. But a few simple steps can go a long way toward preventing it, starting with a consistent diet of heart-healthy foods.

Keep reading to learn more about 10 of these foods and the benefits you can expect from incorporating them into your regular eating habits.

Plant-based foods

Studies show that a heavily plant-focused diet is linked to a drastically reduced risk of heart disease, making plant-based foods a staple of heart-healthy eating. Let’s take a look at some of them now.

Fruits and vegetables

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. You can prepare them in a variety of ways, but you should always remember to cook or wash them first to reduce the risk of foodborne illness [4].

Look for fruits high in fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, like fresh or frozen berries [5]. They’re a filling, flavorful addition to cereal, oatmeal, and yogurt, or a solid snack choice on their own.

Low-calorie, nutrient-rich leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale also pack a punch when it comes to your heart health thanks to their strong anti-inflammatory properties [6]. Like berries, they’re a versatile option for meals and snacks.

Legumes

lowered risk of heart disease is one of several benefits linked to a diet high in legumes like:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils

They’re full of fiber, protein, and other nutrients shown to improve heart health like potassium, magnesium, and folate [7].

Nuts

Though high in calories, nuts like walnuts, almonds, and pecans can help prevent heart disease by reducing your risk of blood clots, lowering heart disease-linked inflammation levels, and improving your arterial lining [8]. You can enjoy nuts on their own or mix them with fruit or yogurt. However, they may not do your heart health many favors when baked into sugary treats like cookies or pie.

Seeds

Many of the same benefits associated with nuts apply to seeds. Nuts and seeds are both high in monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease [9]. You’ll typically get more nutritional value out of ground or milled seeds than whole seeds [10].

Whole grains

Oats, brown rice, quinoa, and other whole grains improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease [11]. Unlike refined grain products like white rice and wheat flour, whole grains contain dietary fiber and important nutrients for bodily functions like:

  • Thyroid regulation
  • Immune system maintenance

You should try to eat at least three ounces of 100% whole grain foods each day [12].

Oils

Vegetable oils are a heart-healthy alternative to cooking products high in trans fatty acids like butter and margarine [13]. You can use them for stir-frying, sautéing, or as dressing for a meal.

Studies link a daily intake of more than half a tablespoon of olive oil each day with a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease and a 15% lower risk of developing any other type of cardiovascular disease. Vegetable, nut, and seed oils all carry similar heart health benefits [14].

Animal-based foods

A heart-healthy diet includes limited animal protein sources like fatty fish and lean cuts of skinless poultry and red meat. These are low in saturated fat, a contributor to increased heart disease risk when consumed excessively [15].

Fish

The heart health benefits of fish stem from the omega-3 fatty acids they contain, and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and cod offer the highest concentration of them [16]. Grilling, broiling, or baking these fish are the best ways to retain their nutritional value.

Poultry

Many people include poultry products like chicken and turkey in their standard diet, but often in the form of deep-fried wings, deli meat, and other unhealthy foods. Breast cuts are a lean choice, but if you’re cooking a whole chicken or turkey, remove as much skin and fat as you can. Then, bake, broil, or roast it for optimal benefits.

Lean red meat

If you’re following a heart-healthy diet, red meat consumption should be kept infrequent. Red meats like beef, pork, and lamb contain more saturated fats than poultry and fish, but leaner cuts pose a reduced risk of heart disease than fattier ones.

Tenderloin, sirloin, and shoulder cuts are common lean cuts to look for. When possible, avoid cuts with marbling and take steps to remove fat when you prepare red meat [17].

Maintain your heart health with Everlywell

Want to track how your eating habits are affecting your cardiovascular health? Our At-Home Heart Health Test helps you measure your heart disease risk factors from the comfort of your home with comprehensive, easy-to-understand results.

With a personalized, physician-reviewed report, a live webinar where you can learn more about your results from a healthcare professional, and additional resources, you’ll have the insights you need to take meaningful steps toward better heart health.

How to keep your heart healthy: key points to know

5 things to do every day to keep your heart healthy

93 Heart Disease Facts and Statistics to Know for 2022


References

1. Leading Causes of Death. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

2. Eating a plant-based diet at any age may lower cardiovascular risk. American Heart Association. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

3. New study indicates that eating more fruits and veggies may help lower markers of heart disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

4. Fruit and Vegetable Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

5. Berry Good for Your Heart. Johns Hopkins Medicine. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

6. Kale vs. Spinach: Which Is Heart-Healthier? Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

7. Love those legumes! Harvard Health Publishing. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

8. Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

9. 5 Superfoods to Improve Heart Health. Penn Medicine. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

  • 12 Heart-Healthy Foods to Work into Your Diet. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

    10. Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber. American Heart Association. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

    11. Whole Grains. Harvard School of Public Health. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

    12. Heart-Healthy Oils. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

    13. Olive oil may lower heart disease risk.American Heart Association. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

    14. Picking Healthy Proteins. American Heart Association. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

    15. Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

    16. Cuts of beef: A guide to the leanest selections. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed June 27, 2022.

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