Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for one in every four deaths. As of 2018, 30.3 million adults in the United States were diagnosed with heart disease. Fortunately, studies consistently show that a heart healthy diet can lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Since February is American Heart Month, we wanted to highlight some foods you can include in your eating pattern to support your heart health. In order to help prevent heart disease, start placing a focus on these heart-healthy foods!
Fruits and Vegetables
While filling up on fruits and vegetables is no secret for a healthy diet, you may not know exactly how they can play a role in heart health. 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
Produce is an important part of a heart healthy diet because it can lower your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevent plaque from building up along your artery walls. A diet high in fiber has been linked to lower blood pressure and a decrease in LDL cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables are not only high in fiber, but also contain numerous polyphenols—such as antioxidants and flavonoids—that can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Whole grains are made from the whole-grain kernel, which includes three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran is where most of the fiber and antioxidants are housed, whereas the germ is the inner layer with a lot of the vitamins and minerals. Refined grains are stripped of the bran and germ and made up of the endosperm only, which can remove some important nutrients. Whole grains, on the other hand, may play a part in lowering your risk of heart disease.
A meta-analysis study by Aune et al concluded that three one-ounce servings of whole grains a day may reduce your heart disease risk by 22 percent. Swapping out refined grain-heavy foods for their whole-grain counterparts is an easy way you can make to protect yourself against heart disease.2
While eating fat may still feel controversial to some, it’s all about consuming the right kinds of fat. Replacing saturated and trans fats with heart-healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds can reduce your risk of heart disease and keep you feeling full and energized.
Monounsaturated fats help our heart health by lowering levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Some foods that are high in monounsaturated fats are olives, avocados, nuts, and the oils and butters derived from them—such as peanut butter and olive oil.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in a variety of plant and animal foods and are composed of two varieties: omega-6 and omega-3. Our bodies cannot make these essential fats on their own, so we need to make sure we are getting enough polyunsaturated fats in our diet. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for many functions in the body—including helping develop and maintain your body’s cells.
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 important to get a good balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats. While most of us get enough omega-6 in our diets, it’s harder to get enough omega-3s.
Omega-3 fats help to reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering triglycerides, a type of fat that is linked with clogged arteries. They can also lower your heart rate, improve 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.
As you can see, there are numerous foods that can be included in your eating pattern to help support your heart. There continues to be a strong connection between diet and heart disease. What you eat has an impact on almost every area of heart health, such as blood pressure, inflammation, and cholesterol levels. By including a wide variety of these heart-healthy foods in your diet, you will be supporting your heart and reducing your risk of heart disease!
Eating for YOUR Heart Health
Although the science presented in this blog post has been proven over the years through reputable studies, trials, and reports, nothing can tell you how to eat for your bio-individuality like a personalized DNA report. Discover which foods are right for your body and learn how to tailor your diet to your custom, genetics-based needs in our article, "How Do You Know Which Foods Are Right for Your Body?"
Didn't have time to read the whole article? Here’s what you need to know. As heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, including heart-healthy foods in your diet can help support your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease. These foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Aim for a wide variety of foods in order to set yourself up for success!
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.