Heart Health Tips for Beginners – Part 3 – Heart-Healthy Foods
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In this third part of the Heart Health for Beginners series, I wanted to give you my list of top choices for a diet full of heart-healthy foods and tell you a little about WHY they’re good for your heart.
Check out my top 15 food picks for a healthy heart below, and then add them to your regular shopping list, if you’re not eating them already. Enjoy!
- Avocados | fiber, healthy fats, potassium
Avocados are considered “good” (monounsaturated) fats, which lower your “bad” cholesterol and they have an anti-inflammatory effect. They are high in calories, so be sure to keep your portions modest.
Alternative options: Nuts and sunflower oil.
- Bananas | potassium
Bananas are rich in potassium, a mineral that can lower blood pressure and helps the heart maintain proper rhythm. They make for a great snack, but if you’re looking for a way to use up your ripe bananas, you can use them for baking or try freezing them to use later blended into a smoothie.
- Broccoli | fiber, potassium, vitamin E
Whether you have it raw or steamed, broccoli is high in both nutrients and fiber. Overcooking broccoli can break down some of the fiber content, but don’t worry too much because cooked broccoli does have a higher fiber content than raw broccoli does!
- Chickpeas | soluble fiber
Soluble fiber can lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol. Look for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties.
Alternative options: Other legumes (lentils, other kinds of beans), eggplant, okra, apples, and pears
- Dark Chocolate | flavonoids, antioxidant
Cacao is rich in flavonols, which can help lower your blood pressure and prevent blood clots. It also acts as an antioxidant, which can keep “bad” cholesterol from sticking to your artery walls. Aim for dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa to get more flavonols and less sugar.
Alternative options: Choose natural cocoa powder or unsweetened cacao nibs.
- Fat-Free or Low-fat Milk or Yogurt | potassium
Dairy is high in potassium, which can lower blood pressure. And by choosing low-fat or fat-free, you get little to no saturated fat, the kind of fat that can raise your cholesterol. Just be sure to watch out for yogurts that are high in sugar.
Alternate options: Bananas, oranges, and potatoes are good sources of potassium.
- Flax | fiber, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Flax seeds have anti-inflammatory properties, promote bone health, and may help protect against heart disease and diabetes. Studies have shown that nutrients in flax seeds can help prevent and lower high blood pressure and cholesterol. You can add one to two tablespoons of flaxseeds to just about any smoothie.
- Oatmeal | fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium
Oats have a type of fiber (called beta-glucan) that lowers your LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber can absorb cholesterol in the digestive tract so it can be eliminated from the body instead of absorbed into the bloodstream. Stay away from instant oatmeal and instead go for old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats.
Alternate options: You can also find beta-glucan in barley, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed.
- Olive Oil | monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), vitamin E
Olive oil is a great choice when you need to limit saturated fat (found in meat, whole milk, and butter). Fats from animal products and trans fats (“partially hydrogenated oils”) raise your “bad” cholesterol and can make fat build up inside your arteries. If you replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), you may gain certain health benefits. MUFAs, which are plant-based fats found in foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, oils, and dark chocolate, have been found to lower total cholesterol and may also control blood sugar, which can be beneficial to type II diabetics
Alternate options: Canola oil and safflower oil.
- Raspberries | fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C
Berries have been found to have the highest antioxidant amongst fresh fruits. Raspberries, in particular, are high in fiber, vitamin C, and manganese. Raspberries have high levels of polyphenols, which can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Alternate options: Any berries — blackberries, blueberries, strawberries.
- Red Grapes | resveratrol
Resveratrol helps keep platelets in your blood from sticking together, which is how blood clots can form and lead to a heart attack.
Alternate options: Black grapes, red wine.
- Salmon | omega-3 fatty acids
Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and isn’t high in saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart by decreasing triglyceride levels, slowing the growth plaque buildup in the arteries, and slightly lowering blood pressure. You should aim to eat two 3.5 oz servings of oily fish each week.
Alternate options: Tuna, trout, sardines, and mackerel.
- Spinach | B vitamins, fiber
This dark green, leafy vegetable is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Spinach can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Tea | flavonoid
Green tea contains plant chemicals called flavonoids. Flavonoids are known to help suppress inflammation, and that in turn may reduce plaque buildup inside arteries.
- Walnuts | monounsaturated fats
Monounsaturated fats cut your “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise your “good” HDL cholesterol. Eating 5 ounces of nuts each week may cut your risk of heart disease in half.
Alternate Options: Almonds, cashews, pistachios, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
So there you have it, my list of 15 top Heart-Healthy Foods! Feel free to download the FREE cheat sheet so that you can print it and keep it as a handy reference. I’ve also included some BONUS recipes, one for each food on the list, in the download!
In the next part of this series, I will give you a list of some foods that you should try to stay away from or eat in moderation when it comes to a heart-healthy diet.
In case you missed any other parts in this series, you can find the entire 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!