The Best Foods to Eat If You Have Heart Disease
No matter how hectic our lives get, our health—specifically, our heart health—should always be a top priority. After all, we know that smoke-free, active lifestyle is the ticket to keeping our tickers working properly and to lowering heart disease profiles. However, if you already have cardiovascular disease, you are likely doing whatever you can to manage it. You might be having ongoing conversations with your cardiologist, taking medication, exercising safely, and re-thinking your diet. If you're not, we can help with that last point: In addition to maintaining a balanced lifestyle, introducing a few disease-fighting foods into the mix can also combat heart health problems, explain Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., FAHA, a senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston (she also helped write the newest AHA Dietary Statement) and Bridgette Becker, a functional nutritionist, holistic health practitioner, and yoga instructor at The Ranch.
Before we jump into the particular foods that help combat heart disease, Becker notes that opting for whole foods and following an anti-inflammatory diet is ideal for those who are predisposed for heart disease (you might have a family history, perhaps) as well as those actually diagnosed heart disease. "Heart disease is clearly a condition with pronounced inflammation, so reducing inflammation is key. This means minimizing sugar, fried foods, hydrogenated fats, alcohol, coffee, gluten, and dairy," she notes. Limiting processed foods and reaching for foods rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients can, in turn, reduce inflammatory pathways in the body. "High fiber is another priority, as diets that are high fiber and plant based will reduce blood pressure, lower inflammation, and lower cholesterol levels," concludes Becker. Below, discover the exact foods both she and Dr. Lichtenstein advise stocking up on now.
Beans, Grains, Legumes
Yes, we all love our carbohydrates—particularly, bread. The good news? A diet that incorporates whole grains (as opposed to refined grains, notes Dr. Lichtenstein) can help improve cardiovascular disease; the antioxidants, potassium, dietary fiber, and magnesium built in may lower blood pressure and assist with healthy weight maintenance. In addition, beans and legumes are superb sources of vitamin B and fiber. "Beans and legumes provide both soluble and insoluble fiber and also are a great source of protein for those who want to maintain a plant-based diet," adds Becker.
Certain seeds are excellent for heart health. Becker advises increasing your intake of hemp, chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds, since all have a better fat profile than nuts. As for how to incorporate these tiny wonders into your daily diet? Sprinkle them on top of oatmeal or over a salad to reap the benefits of their omega 3s, fiber, vitamins, and minerals (all of which bolster your ticker).
Healthy Fats and Oils
Not all oils and fats are bad for the heart and body. Dr. Lichtenstein says to pick non-tropical liquid plant oils (olive, sunflower, and soybean) over tropical iterations (coconut, palm, and palm kernel) when cooking. As for fats? When you meal prep, elect for healthy fats (avocado, flaxseed, fish, and nuts) as opposed to animal fats (lard and butter) and hydrogenated oils for cleaner, heart-healthy ingredients.
Fresh Berries and Local Vegetables
Eating the rainbow is not only a modern-day food trend: There are major cardiovascular health benefits to snacking on fresh berries as well as a diverse blend of locally-sourced vegetables. Becker shares that seven to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day day are needed to lower inflammation in the body, as well as help it absorb nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fibers, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.
Salmon and Avocados
Both foods are rich in omega 3 fats; our experts reveal that these fats may assist in lowering blood pressure, preventing strokes, and reducing triglycerides. "Approximately 70 to 80 percent of Americans are deficient in omega 3s and often experience pronounced improvement by optimizing their fat profile," shares Becker. She adds this pro-tip: "Do make sure your salmon is wild-caught and not farmed."
Turmeric, famed for its golden yellow hue, is a flowering plant (it's part of the ginger family). Studies show that ingesting the spice may slow the development of arteriosclerosis, as well as improve the lining of blood vessels. Our experts note that it is also a mighty antioxidant, as well as an anti-inflammatory ingredient. While some take turmeric in the form of supplements, Becker suggests making yourself an evening golden milk latte infused with hemp; the beverage can potentially lower serum cholesterol levels in the body.