Essential Nutrients for a Heart-Healthy Diet
When you’re in your 20s, you feel like you’re invincible! You don’t really worry about what you’re eating, you have a faster metabolism, and you can easily bounce back after a night of drinking beers and a midnight pizza snack. At least I know I did! Things like high-cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, were definitely NOT on my radar. I knew my family had a history of all of them, but I had time to worry about it later. Thinking about eating a heart-healthy diet was not at the top of my list.
Then I got into my 30s and my heart was something I started thinking about more and more, especially after seeing some of my family members struggling with their weight and heart-related diseases. And now that I’m 40, it’s become a lifestyle for me. I still enjoy my beer and pizza, but more in moderation. I also find that when I’ve been eating too much junk, I do start to crave veggies and would give anything for a big old spinach salad. As a former junk food junkie, I never thought I’d be saying that!
What to Consider for a Heart-Healthy Diet
Starting to eat a diet full of heart-healthy foods doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of only eating boring grilled chicken and steamed broccoli. You can start by making small changes and small diet swaps (like whole grain bread for white).
My goal is to always make meals that are delicious and full of flavor, while still helping me maintain my heart health, and you can too! Start by focusing on foods that are:
- Nutrient dense
- High in fiber
- Rich in omega-3s
- Lean meats
- Low-fat dairy
- A colorful variety of vegetables and fruits
Not only do these types of foods provide the nutrients your heart needs, but they can also help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Making sure you diet it full of all the vital nutrients your heart needs is essential. Below is a summary of some of the essential nutrients that support a heart-healthy diet. I’ll also include some of my top picks of foods that you might want to consider adding to your diet in order to get your daily recommended amount of nutrients naturally, through food.
Flavonoids are a group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in a wide variety of fruits and veggies. They’re known to help suppress inflammation, reduce plaque buildup inside the arteries, and help protect cells from damage.
Top Picks: Dark chocolate, nuts, red wine, soy, tea, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables (like apples, blueberries, cherries, plums, spinach, and strawberries)
Magnesium is an essential mineral for your heart health. It helps muscles work properly, including your heart, which is a muscle. Magnesium also helps control blood sugar, blood pressure, and is necessary for maintaining a regular heartbeat.
Look for magnesium-rich foods that are also high in fiber in order to get their cholesterol-lowering benefits as well.
Top Picks: Almonds, Avocado, Black beans, Bran cereal, Brown rice, Cashews, Cereal (shredded wheat), Edamame, Kidney beans, Oatmeal, Peanut butter, Peanuts, Potato with skin, Pumpkin, Raisins, Soymilk, Spinach, Whole grain bread, Yogurt
Niacin, or Vitamin B, is used in your body to turn food into energy. It’s also been used to increase HDL (or “good”) cholesterol levels. B3 can be found naturally in foods and most people don’t need a separate supplement*.
Top picks: Eggs, fortified cereals, green leafy vegetables, milk and other dairy products, nuts, poultry, and seeds.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Flaxseeds have anti-inflammatory properties, promote bone health, and may help protect against heart disease and diabetes. Studies have shown that nutrients in flaxseeds can help prevent and lower high blood pressure and cholesterol. You can add one to two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal.
Research shows that a heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean Diet, can help reduce the risk of heart disease and has been linked to lower levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. And it’s no wonder because this diet is rich in oily fish which is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids decrease triglyceride levels, which slows the growth of plaque buildup in our arteries, lowering blood pressure.
Top Picks: Oily fish (like tuna, trout, sardines, and mackerel), nuts, seeds, seed oils
Polyphenols are compounds that naturally exist in plants and plant products. They have antioxidant properties and may help reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Top Picks: Apples, coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, tea, turmeric
Potassium is a mineral that helps the heart maintain a proper rhythm. Getting the right amount of potassium in your diet can be achieved by eating plenty of fruits and veggies and can also be found in dairy, whole grains, and fish.
Top Picks: Avocados, bananas, broccoli, oranges, potatoes, and spinach.
Resveratrol acts the same way as antioxidants to protect the body against damage. It can help keep platelets in your blood from sticking together, which is how blood clots form and may lead to a heart attack.
Top Picks: Grapes, peanuts, berries.
By eating a balanced heart-healthy diet, you can get most of these nutrients naturally through whole foods. If you have a concern about the daily recommended intake and whether you are getting enough, talk to your doctor first before taking any kind of supplements. Request a blood test to check your levels for any nutrient deficiencies. Your doctor will then be able to make some recommendations on diet change or adding in supplements.
Which of these heart-healthy foods will you add to your next grocery list? Trying something new is a great way to keep things interesting in the kitchen. For some tasty new recipes to try, download my Top 15 Heart Healthy Foods List and get cooking! Feel free to comment below and let me know which recipes are your favorites, I’d love to know!
To get more heart-healthy diet tips, check out my 5-part Heart Health for Beginners blog series linked below:
1) Part 1: Heart Health Tips for Beginners
2) Part 2: Heart Healthy Diet Myths BUSTED
3) Part 3: Top 15 Heart Healthy Foods
4) Part 4: What NOT to eat!
5) Part 5: Get up and Get Moving!