Heart healthy foods are – in a nutshell – foods that are high in antioxidants, B vitamins, phytonutrients, fiber and good fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Please do click on the links to learn about how these nutrients greatly benefit your heart. The key to having a healthy heart is to follow a "whole-foods diet" which simply means to eat food in its natural form – the less processed the better. That means plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. There is such a great variety of delicious foods that are so good for your heart – and of course the rest of your body benefits very as well.
It is quite interesting to know what the beneficial nutrients in heart healthy foods are:
- Phytosterols are plant sterols that reduce cholesterol and are contained in all seeds and nuts as well as wheat germ.
- Polyphenols are antioxidants that reduce the bad LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure and protect blood vessels. Flavonoids are well known polyphenols and are found in fruits and vegetables.
- Carotenoids are fat soluble chemicals that are found in the pigment of many colorful fruits and vegetables. They are important heart-protecting anioxidants. Beta carotene is a carotenoid and is found in orange, carrots, sweet potato and squash for example. Lutein is found in dark green vegetables such as broccoli as well as the yellow in egg yolk and bell peppers. Lycopene is found in red tomatoes, apricots, watermelon, papaya and grapefruit to name a few.
- Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseeds help protect against heart attacks – but this is only one of many health benefits associated with these essential fats.
- Vitamins and minerals – especially antioxidant vitamins C and E which protect cells from free radical damage. Minerals that help lower blood pressure are calcium, magnesium and potassium.
- B-complex vitamins , specifically folic acid / folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B6 protect against hardening of the arteries and blood clots. Vitamin B3, known as niacin helps raise the good HDL cholesterol in the blood.
- Fiber is of course incredibly important to our general good health. One way it helps the heart is to help lower bad LDL cholesterol levels.
As we can see, there are some foods that are especially high in these heart healthy nutrients which protect your heart and blood vessels. These wonderful healthy foods are listed below. These are all everyday foods that we can very easily and delicately incorporate into our daily diet.
- Almonds – contain good fats that keep cholesterol levels in check and are also a great source of vitamin E, protein and fiber.
- Apples – contain quercetin which is an anti-inflammatory which will also help prevent blood clots. They are also high in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Asparagus – a good source of beta carotene and lutein (carotenoids), B vitamins, folic acid / folate and fiber.
- Beans – are high in fiber and B vitamins which keep the heart healthy.
- Berries – are high in flavonoids, beta carotene and lutein (carotenoids), polyphenols, fiber, vitamins and minerals which are great for heart health.
- Broccoli – a great source of beta-carotene (carotenoid), vitamins C and E, fiber and folic acid / folate.
- Brown rice – is high in fiber and B-complex vitamins which keep the heart healthy.
- Cantaloupe – a good source of alpha and beta carotene (carotenoids), antioxidant vitamins C and E as well as folic acid / folate and fiber.
- Carrots – are high in fiber and alpha-carotene which is a carotenoid.
- Dark chocolate – contains cocoa phenols and reservatrol which are flavonoids.
- Flaxseed (ground) – a great plant source for omega 3 fats and are also high in fiber.
- Oats / oatmeal – contain soluble fiber which helps reduce bad LDL cholesterol.
- Olive oil – is a wonderful source of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat which helps lower LDL cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Oranges – are high in carotenoids, flavonoids, folic acid / folate and fiber.
- Papaya – is high in carotenoids beta carotene, lutein, antioxidant vitamins, folic acid / folate and magnesium.
- Red bell peppers – are high in beta carotene and lutein (carotenoids), fiber, folic acid / folate and B vitamins.
- Salmon – is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids which protect your heart by reducing the risk of blood clots and inflammation. Omega 3's also keep cholesterol levels healthy.
- Spinach – is high in lutein (carotenoid), fiber, folic acid and B-complex vitamins.
- Sweet potato – is a good source of beta carotene (carotenoid), fiber and antioxidant vitamins A, C and E.
- Tomatoes – contain loads of vitamins as well as lycopene which reduces the risk of heart disease. Your body can absorb more lycopene from cooked tomatoes.
- Tuna – is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Limit intake to twice a month because of possible mercury contamination.
- Walnuts – are a great plant source for heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well as being high in fiber and folic acid.
- Whole grains – contain fiber and vitamins and minerals which help keep your heart healthy.
Following a heart healthy diet is actually really simple. By making a few healthy food choices we can very easily improve our diet to benefit our heart. Now that we know what foods are good for our heart, we can use them as often as possible, incorporating them into our meals and even creating meals and recipes based upon these foods – such as choosing a fresh fruit salad made from papaya, cantaloupe and apples for a delicious and healthy dessert.
For some more interesting and useful information on simple humble foods that pack a real nutrient punch, please visit my every day super foods page.