10 Heart health foods that can save your life

Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, affecting millions each year [1]. Maintaining heart health through diet is critical.

Scientific research has consistently demonstrated that what you eat directly influences your cardiovascular health. 

With heart disease statistics climbing, understanding how to nourish your body to prevent, manage, or even reverse heart conditions is more crucial than ever. 

This guide provides evidence-based dietary recommendations to support heart health and showcases the power of food as medicine in combating heart disease.

What is the importance of diet in heart health?

Heart disease refers to various conditions that affect the heart’s function, leading to severe health complications, including death. Your diet can either alleviate or exacerbate these conditions.

Consuming foods high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and sugars can lead to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and enhance overall heart health, reducing health risks.

Scientists and nutritionists advocate for a strategic approach to eating, suggesting that making informed choices about what you consume can prevent and reverse some forms of heart disease. 

This approach positions diet as a critical element in the fight against heart disease, offering hope and actionable solutions to those seeking to improve their cardiovascular health through what they eat.

What are 10 healthy foods for your heart?

1. Fatty fish 

Fatty fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps reduce inflammation in the body, particularly in the arteries. This, in turn, results in lower blood pressure and a decreased risk of heart disease.

Studies have shown that people who consume at least two servings of oily fish a week have a significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who consume less.

The AHA (American Heart Association) suggests consuming at least two servings of oily fish a week, with one serving being approximately 3.5 ounces cooked [2].

Examples:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Herring
cooked salmon on top of vegetables with fork on a black plate

2. Berries 

Berries are a powerhouse of antioxidants, which protect your heart by increasing your blood antioxidant levels and decreasing markers of inflammation.

A study highlighted that a high intake of blueberries and strawberries over time was associated with a lower risk of heart attack in middle-aged women [3].

Integrating 1 to 2 cups of berries into your daily diet is advised for optimal cardiovascular protection.

Examples:

  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries

3. Leafy green vegetables 

Leafy greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which help reduce blood pressure, improve artery function, and promote overall heart health. 

Observational studies consistently show that high consumption of leafy greens is linked to a lower risk of heart disease [4].

Striving for at least two servings of leafy greens daily benefits heart health.

Examples: 

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Swiss chard
  • Collard greens

4. Whole grains 

A rich source of dietary fiber, whole grains help reduce cholesterol levels and lower heart disease disk.

Research has found that consuming three servings of whole grains daily can lower heart disease risk by up to 25% [5].

Aim for at least three servings of whole grains daily for heart health.

Examples:

  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat

5. Nuts and seeds 

Nuts and seeds offer healthy fats, protein, and fiber. These nutrients work together to lower LDL cholesterol and improve heart health.

Studies show that eating nuts several times a week is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease [6].

A handful of nuts or about 2 tablespoons of seeds daily is beneficial for heart health.

Examples:

  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds

6. Legumes 

Legumes are rich in fiber and plant-based protein, leading to improved cholesterol levels and blood pressure, ultimately lowering the risk of heart disease with regular consumption.

Research has found that consuming legumes 4 times a week lowers the risk of heart disease by 22% compared to consuming them less than once a week [7].

Incorporating at least four servings of legumes into your diet weekly is recommended.

Examples:

  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Peas

7. Avocado

Avocados’ monounsaturated fats can reduce bad cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Studies show they improve LDL and HDL cholesterol and blood triglycerides [8].

Adding half an avocado to your daily diet can provide heart health benefits.

8. Dark chocolate 

Dark chocolate is abundant in flavanols, which can enhance heart health by reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow. Studies suggest that moderate consumption can reduce heart disease risk [9].

Enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher (about one ounce) several times a week can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

9. Garlic

Garlic has been found to significantly reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, risk factors for heart disease.

Clinical trials have demonstrated that garlic supplements can potentially lower blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure [10].

Consuming 1 to 2 cloves of fresh garlic daily can provide health benefits.

10. Green tea

Rich in antioxidants known as catechins, green tea can help reduce inflammation and improve blood lipid levels.

Epidemiological studies have linked regular green tea consumption to lower cardiovascular disease and stroke risk [11].

Three to five cups of green tea daily is recommended for optimal heart health benefits.

What are the worst foods for your heart?

Maintaining optimal heart health involves incorporating beneficial foods into your diet and being mindful of what to limit or avoid. 

Certain foods and components have been consistently linked to negative cardiovascular outcomes.

Trans fats

Found in many processed foods, trans fats are notorious for increasing the risk of coronary heart disease by raising LDL cholesterol levels and lowering HDL cholesterol levels. 

The AHA recommends minimizing the intake of trans fats to protect heart health.

High sodium

Excessive salt intake is associated with increased blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. 

Studies, including those published by the AHA, advise reducing sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg daily, reaching an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams for most adults [12].

Added sugars

Eating excessive amounts of added sugars can result in type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, which all increase the risk of developing heart disease

Studies indicate that added sugars should account for less than 10% of daily calorie intake [13].

Avoiding or limiting these components can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease. To ensure a heart-healthy diet, read labels carefully and opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible. 

churros sprinkled with powdered sugar

Can you reverse heart disease with a change in diet?

The evidence for plant-based diets in preventing and treating heart disease, focusing on heart failure (HF), presents a compelling case for dietary intervention as a key component in managing cardiovascular health. 

Research consistently indicates that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains offer significant protective benefits against the development and progression of heart failure.

Plant-based diets

Diets such as the Mediterranean diet and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), are highlighted for their role in reducing heart failure (HF) incidence and severity. 

These diets emphasize low-fat, high-fiber foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and limit red meat and processed foods intake.

A study involving 198 patients with established cardiovascular disease showed that those who adhered to plant-based nutrition experienced a significantly lower rate of subsequent cardiac events [14]. 

Specifically, only one stroke was reported among adherent participants over an average follow-up of 3.7 years, indicating a potential for these dietary patterns to halt or even reverse heart disease progression.

The research supports the efficacy of plant-based diets, particularly those high in antioxidants, micronutrients, nitrate, and fiber but low in saturated and trans fats, for heart disease reversal. 

The DASH diet, with its focus on fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy, and the Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on healthy fats and whole grains, are both associated with reductions in HF risk and mortality [15].

Alongside dietary changes, other lifestyle modifications are critical in heart disease management and reversal. 

It is essential to engage in regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, and adhere to prescribed medication regimens to maximize the benefits of a heart-healthy diet.

Exercise, in particular, complements dietary efforts by improving heart function, reducing blood pressure, and helping manage weight.

The evidence supports the significant impact of plant-based diets on reducing the incidence and severity of heart failure. When combined with other healthy lifestyle choices, these diets offer a viable strategy for reversing heart disease. 

These findings underscore the importance of dietary and lifestyle interventions in managing heart health, with plant-based diets standing out for their potential to prevent and reverse heart failure. 

Future research, particularly well-designed randomized controlled trials, is needed to validate these findings further and integrate them into clinical practice.

Closing thoughts

Adopting a heart-healthy diet enriched with foods like oily fish, berries, leafy greens, and whole grains while avoiding trans fats, high sodium, and added sugars, can markedly influence cardiovascular health. 

This guide illustrates the profound potential of dietary choices to prevent and potentially reverse heart conditions. 

Embracing such dietary modifications, complemented by lifestyle adjustments and physical activity, emerges as a cornerstone in combating heart disease. 

This comprehensive approach underscores the transformative power of nutrition in heart health management, encouraging individuals to leverage diet as a pivotal tool for sustaining a healthy heart.

FAQs

Is egg good for heart?

Eggs, in moderation, can be part of a heart-healthy diet due to their high-quality protein and nutrients. However, excessive consumption may increase risk for heart disease in some individuals.

Which drink is best for the heart?

Green tea is highly recommended for heart health due to its antioxidants that can improve blood flow and lower cholesterol. It also aids in reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

Is coffee good for the heart?

Moderate coffee consumption, up to 3-4 cups per day, may benefit heart health, reducing the risk of certain heart diseases. However, excessive intake should be avoided.

Does drinking water help heart health?

Yes, drinking sufficient water is crucial for heart health as it aids in maintaining blood volume, allowing the heart to pump more efficiently and supporting proper vascular function.

[1] https://www.who.int/health-topics/cardiovascular-diseases
[2] https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids 
[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/eat-blueberries-and-strawberries-three-times-per-week
[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/keep-heart-disease-at-bay-with-a-salad-a-day
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20685951/
[6] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635
[7] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/649612
[8] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/avocados/
[9] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/dark-chocolate/
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6966103/
[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35345998/
[12] https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/shaking-the-salt-habit-to-lower-high-blood-pressure
[13] https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/be-sugar-smart.html
[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25198208/
[15] https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/heart-healthy-foods-what-to-eat-and-what-to-avoid

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.