Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for every 1 in 5 deaths as of 2020. Fortunately, studies consistently show that a heart-healthy diet can lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
So, what nutrients can help decrease your risk of heart disease? Here are some heart-healthy nutrients to include in your eating pattern.
5 Nutrients that Support Heart Health
Fiber is often promoted for its gut health benefits, but it is also extremely impactful for supporting your heart health.
Fiber is found in a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Studies show that eating fruits and vegetables–especially in your 20s and 30s—can help reduce your risk of heart disease later on in life.1 Fruits and vegetables are not only high in fiber but also contain numerous polyphenols—like antioxidants and flavonoids—that can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
A high-fiber diet is also linked to lower blood pressure and a decrease in LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol). Soluble fiber is able to bind to cholesterol so it can be removed from the body and prevent absorption.
A meta-analysis study concluded that three one-ounce servings of whole grains a day might reduce your heart disease risk by 22%. Swapping out refined grain-heavy foods for their whole-grain counterparts is an easy way you can protect yourself against heart disease.2
2. Omega-3 & Omega- 6 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fats help to reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering triglycerides, a type of fat linked with clogged arteries. They can also lower your heart rate, improve your heart rhythm, and reduce blood pressure.
Omega-3s are primarily found in oily fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, and sardines. Other good sources are ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soybeans, walnuts, and seeds. Omega-6 fats help lower LDL cholesterol and are found in vegetable oils derived from corn, soybeans, sunflower, safflower, and other nuts and seeds.
It’s essential to get a good balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats from food since our bodies do not produce them. While most people get enough omega-6 in their diets, it’s harder to get enough omega-3s strictly from food. Because of this, some people turn toward daily supplements to help get the right amount of omega-3.
3. Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Replacing saturated fat and trans fat intake with unsaturated fats has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Monounsaturated fats help your heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Some foods that are high in monounsaturated fats are olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, and the oils and products derived from them—such as peanut butter and olive oil.
Omega-6 and omega-3 are the types of polyunsaturated fats and are beneficial unsaturated fats to add to your eating pattern!
Folate is a B vitamin that plays an important role in your health by contributing to protein metabolism and helping form DNA. It is also needed to produce healthy red blood cells.
The amino acid homocysteine has been linked to the hardening of the arteries, which can cause heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, or blood clots. Studies suggest that lower serum homocysteine levels are associated with a reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease.
There has been promising research finding that folate supplementation has the potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and prevent stroke by lowering homocysteine levels in the blood. Folate is found in dark leafy greens, legumes, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fruits, and whole grains.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. It plays a role in nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.
Studies have found that magnesium intake is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease risk factors, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, higher levels of circulating magnesium have been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.4 Magnesium is found in pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, and black beans.
Eating for YOUR Heart Health
Getting the daily recommended amount of micronutrients will support not only your heart health but also your overall long-term health. The key to warding off chronic illness (or pursuing other health goals like healthy aging, losing and maintaining weight, and leveling up your health) is getting the nutrients your body specifically needs.
While a food-first approach to health and nutrition is ideal, it’s not always possible to get all the nutrients the human body requires from food alone. Demanding work schedules, social events, family obligations, and other requirements make it challenging to eat well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals daily. To offset busy lifestyles and to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, a multivitamin can help supplement your diet.
Alongside a daily supplement, meal planning and meal prepping can also help you get the micronutrients you need to maintain a healthy diet. Planning meals in advance (bonus points for incorporating foods on your recommended foods list!) so that you can shop appropriately is one step in the right direction.
Friedman GD, Cutter GR, Donahue RP, et al. Cardia: study design, recruitment, and some characteristics of the examined subjects. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 1988;41(11):1105-1116. doi:10.1016/0895-4356(88)90080-7.
Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. June 2016:i2716. doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716.
Li, Y., Huang, T., Zheng, Y., Muka, T., Troup, J., & Hu, F. B. (2016). Folic Acid Supplementation and the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association, 5(8), e003768. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.116.003768
Rosique-Esteban, N., Guasch-Ferré, M., Hernández-Alonso, P., & Salas-Salvadó, J. (2018). Dietary Magnesium and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review with Emphasis in Epidemiological Studies. Nutrients, 10(2), 168. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020168