Heart disease kills some 610,000 Americans every year, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths. Fortunately, a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to help prevent the vast majority of cases. Here are some of the heart healthy foods to add to your shopping list.
Fruits and Veggies
Eating a produce-packed diet is one of the best ways to reduce your risk for heart disease. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, those who eat more than than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day have about a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease, compared to individuals who eat less than three servings per day. Unfortunately, nearly 80 percent of adults in the U.S. fail to eat the recommended amount of these heart healthy foods.
Population-based studies show eating diets that feature lots of low-calorie, nutrient-rich produce reduces the risk of heart disease. Fruits and veggies provide plenty of potassium, magnesium, B-vitamins, vitamins A, C and K, and antioxidants that temper inflammation and relax the lining of blood vessels, so your heart works more efficiently. Their high fibercounts also help to keep your weight in check.
How much: Aim for at least three servings – where a serving amounts to 1 cup fresh, or 1/2 cup cooked – veggies every day and at least two servings of fruit (one serving equals one medium-sized piece of fresh fruit, 1/2 cup sliced fruit or 1/4 cup dried fruit). While 100 percent juice counts as a serving, because it lacks fiber and is a more concentrated source of calories from fruit’s natural sugars, eat your produce servings instead of drinking them. For a perfect sweet and savory side, try this Kale With Orange Salad.
Decades of research reveals that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts, fish and plant-based oils, can help keep your heart healthy. In fact, one European study estimates that a 3 percent reduction in saturated fat (as a percent of total energy and replaced by unsaturated fats) would result in up to a 7.5 percent reduction of deaths from cardiovascular disease.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 7 percent of total calories and choosing plant-based fats and oils in place of saturated fats. The AHA guidelines state you should get 25 to 35 percent of your total daily calories from these heart-smart unsaturated sources.
To meet this recommendation, limit fats that are solid at room temperature — butter, lard, coconut oil, shortening — and opt for fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive or canola oil. Canola oil has the least saturated fat of any culinary oil – half that of olive oil – and is the most versatile plant-based oil for cooking and baking; we used it to make these healthier black bean brownies.
How much: Aim to get 25 to 35 percent of total calories from unsaturated fats. That equals about 55 to 77 grams of unsaturated fat for a 2,000-calorie per day diet.
Want to cut the risk of dying from heart disease by more than a third? Make sure that fish, such as salmon, tuna, shrimp and halibut, find their way to your plate at least a couple times a week, according to a major study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Worried about mercury and other contaminants often associated with seafood? For a list of fish that are lower in contaminants, check out this guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
How much: Strive to eat at least two seafood servings (3 to 4 ounces cooked) per week.
Whole grains are one of nature’s heart helpers. According to one clinical trial, the risk of heart disease can be reduced by up to 25 percent by including three daily servings of whole grains in your diet. Researchers believe that the nutrient-rich bran and germ contain essential nutrients, such as B-vitamins, fiber and antioxidants that temper chronic inflammation that can lead to heart disease. Whole grains also help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood pressure and promote stable blood-sugar levels to keep Type 2 diabetes at bay.
How much: Aim for at least three servings a day of whole grain pasta or bread, oats, millet or other whole grains.
Water, Coffee and Tea
OK, we’re cheating a little here – water, coffee or tea are not foods, but your beverage choices can have a big impact on your risk for heart disease. According to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, those who got 10 to 24.9 percent of calories fromadded sugar had a 30 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to those who got less than 10 percent of their calories from added sugar. Those who consumed more than 25 percent of calories from added sugars had more than double the risk of dying from heart disease.
Since soda, energy drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages provide nearly half of all the added sugars we consume, the most effective way to ditch sugar is to drink calorie-free and sugar-free water, coffee or tea in place of sugar-sweetened beverages. There are also surprising perks to having a morning cup of joe: A 2015 study published in the journal Circulation found that drinking even one cup of coffee per day is associated with a reduced risk of dying from heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Numerous studies have also documented improvements in LDL cholesterol and blood pressure from drinking green or black tea.
How much: Drink water as your primary beverage and enjoy up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day from calorie-free coffee or tea. If you currently don’t have caffeine in your diet, health professionals don’t recommend that you start for potential health benefits.