February is American Heart Month as well as Valentine’s Day, the love holiday, so in honor of taking care of your heart, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 heart healthiest foods. Food won’t singlehandedly cure heart disease, of course, but eating a diet high in choices that improve heart health as well as avoiding trans fats, refined carbohydrates (pasta, bread) and limiting saturated fats and salt, may be the key to getting and staying heart healthy.
Here are the top 10 heart healthiest foods
1.Fish or Seafood. “Salmon and other cold water fish are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that are well-recognized to promote heart health by producing the type of eicosanoids that actually reduce problems with blood flow through the vessels,” says Janet Colson, PhD, RD, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Although salmon and tuna are the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, any non-fried fish is a good choice as a protein source. Colson says some studies suggest that frying destroys the omega-3 fatty acids so they lose their heart benefits.
2.Nuts and seeds.“If fish is not part of your regular menu, consuming walnuts and flaxseeds also provides some omega-3 fatty acids. Not only that, but most nuts and seeds are high in monounsaturated and other polyunsaturated fats, which help keep our hearts healthy,” says Neal Malik, DrPH, MPH, RDN, assistant professor of the School of Natural Health Arts & Sciences at Bastyr University, California.
3.Oats. Oats, the real old-fashioned kind that must be cooked, contain soluble fiber that help blood cholesterol levels, and therefore are “heart healthy.” “The type of fiber in oats is considered to be viscous and forms a gel in your intestines–and the gel formation reduces the amount of cholesterol and fats that are absorbed,” says Colson. Also, oats are thought to actually decrease the amount of cholesterol your body makes.
4.Berries. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries or any type of fresh or frozen berry are packed with phytochemicals that have a variety of health benefits and are considered heart healthy. They’re also low in calories if eaten plain or atop light yogurt, not added to muffins or pancakes. “We need to keep in mind that heart disease is typically linked to obesity—and obesity is linked to eating too much food. Adding a healthy berry to a pastry or cake-type products does not make it healthier,” says Colson.
5.Yogurt. Yogurt made from skim or low fat milk is an excellent source of calcium and protein. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who ate at least 100 grams (slightly less than half a cup) of yogurt every day had significantly less plaque build-up on the walls of their carotid arteries.
6.Raisins. Research shows that antioxidants in raisins may help lower blood sugar, blood pressure and bad cholesterol (LDL) in people who regularly snack on the dried fruit. Raisins have also been tied to lowering gum disease risk, which is linked to inflammation and related to heart disease. They may help improve both conditions.
7.Beans. Nature’s miracle food, beans are a great source of protein, fiber, and disease-fighting compounds. “In fact, beans contain some of the highest concentration of antioxidants which may not only mean they may protect against most forms of cardiovascular disease, but possibly some types of cancer as well,” says Malik.
8.Greens. Salad and raw greens are packed with potassium and are virtually sodium-free, says Colson, which is a combination shown to be a mainstay for good health–including protecting against heart disease.
9.Colorful vegetables. Although, vegetables vary in their vitamin and mineral content, eating a variety of vegetables ensures that we consume plenty of nutrients. “Additionally, vitamin C, the carotenoids such as the orange beta-carotene found in carrots and bright red lycopene found in tomatoes, help to fight heart disease by acting as antioxidants—as do many of the other substances that make foods colorful,” says Colson.
10.Pomegranates. Studies find the fruit may help to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries as well as lower blood pressure. Pomegranate’s benefits come from its high concentrations of antioxidants, polyphenols and tannins (also found in wine and tea). Researchers found pomegranate juice had the highest antioxidant benefits over blueberry, cranberry juice and red wine.
Start planning whole menus incorporating these heart healthy choices:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with nuts and berries
Lunch: Salad with greens, black beans and raisins
Dinner: Baked salmon, squash and pomegranate juice