Ten foods to eat for heart health
There are 7.6 million people in the UK living with heart and circulatory diseases and 450 deaths every single day (Source: British Heart Foundation. Many of these conditions are related to lifestyle so can be prevented or reversed by making some changes, such as to diet and physical activity levels.
In this article, we explore ten of the best foods you can include in your diet to help keep your heart healthy, according to Claire O’Brien, Holistic Nutritionist and Owner at Honest + Goodness Nutrition.
What is a healthy heart? What role does diet play?
The heart beats about 2.5 billion times over the average lifetime, pushing millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. A healthy heart brings a steady flow of blood carrying with it oxygen, vitamins, minerals, hormones, and other compounds. It also removes waste products.
Recognised risk factors of heart disease include; a family history of heart disease, dietary factors, diabetes, blood vessel inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, high alcohol intake.
Many people associate heart issues with older adults, there has unfortunately been an increase in heart disease in younger people including the 18-25 age group (AHA Journals).
A healthy heart is central to overall good health. Embracing a healthy lifestyle at any age can prevent heart disease and lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke. You are never too old or too young to begin taking care of your heart.
Nutrition and lifestyle interventions have been recognised in heart health for many years with large scale studies dating from the 1960s onwards.***
Ten foods to eat for heart health
Okay so fibre is not one food but it does have such enormous benefits for our heart health that it absolutely needs to be included. Studies have found that high fibre foods can help to reduce blood pressure and inflammation. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble and both help to improve heart health. Soluble fibre found in beans, oats, flaxseed and bran has been found to lower total LDL cholesterol.
2. Green Tea
Green tea contains a compound called ECGC that not only lowers inflammation but reduces triglycerides and may break up plaques that are linked to dangerous blockages.
Garlic has long been associated with health benefits. It contains a compound called allicin which is a type of antioxidant. This antioxidant has been found to lower blood pressure and reduce total cholesterol. It also adds flavour to meals particularly for those on a low salt diet.
Pomegranates are high in dietary fibre and antioxidants. Pomegranate juice has been found to protect the lining of the arteries and stop plaques from forming. Some small scale studies have also found that pomegranate juice can reduce cholesterol levels. This is not suitable for those on blood thinners
5. Oily Fish
Oily fish including mackerel, salmon and sardines are high in omega 3 which helps with blood circulation. Eating foods high in omega 3s could help to prevent heart attacks and strokes Aim for 2 portions per week. Plant-based sources of omega 3 include flaxseed and chia seed.
Tart cherries are another great source of heart health supporting flavonoids. Cherries contain anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. Not only do they lower cholesterol and support a healthy heart, but they have also been found to help with sleep.
Beetroot juice is one of the richest dietary sources of nitrates, which help lower blood pressures, improve blood flow and heart health and may lead to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and help lower LDL cholesterol and regulate blood pressure. Other nutrients in tomatoes including beta-carotene, potassium (important in blood pressure), vitamin C, B and E and flavonoids may boost your heart health.
9. Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is part of a Mediterranean Diet that has been widely regarded as the most heart healthy diet in the world. Olive oil contains a compound called oleic acid as well as other antioxidants. Oleic acid has been found to lower cardiovascular disease risk, reduce insulin resistance and reduce the risk of plaque buildup. However, it should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
10. Dark Chocolate
Studies show that dark chocolate – 75%+ without the added sugar or saturated fat — is a heart healthy chocolate treat. Cacao beans, which are used to produce dark chocolate, are rich in cardiovascular disease fighting antioxidants. Studies show it can help to reduce blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease.
Understanding your heart health right now
Research shows that diet plays a key factor in heart health, affecting blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol levels. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating a diet rich in nutrients and whole foods will help support your body and keep your heart healthy.
Our Health MOTs include heart health markers and give you insight into where your health is at right now and what changes you may like to consider making.
To find out more about our Health Assessments see our Health MOT packages.