Do you start panting after walking for just five minutes? Are you often out of breath before the song you are dancing to ends? Well, it means your heart is not as fit as before. Years of unhealthy habits and food choices can actually make your heart weak and worn out.
An unhealthy heart can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, and related diseases. But, don’t worry, I have listed out 30 heart-friendly foods that can help lower the bad cholesterol levels, repair the heart muscles, strengthen the immune system, and regulate the blood pressure. So, read on to find out what you should eat and avoid to keep your heart fit as a fiddle.
Fish are rich in lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation and prevent cardiovascular diseases. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential. However, our dietary intake does not fulfill the body’s requirement of omega-3s. So, consume salmon, sardine, and other fatty fish to improve your heart’s condition (1). You can have grilled or baked fish for lunch or dinner. Make sure to use light dressing if you have fish in your salad. You may consume 3-5 oz of fish per day.
2. Olive Oil
Olive oil is widely used in various cuisines these days. It is rich in antioxidants and healthy fats and has anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil consumption has been found to reduce the risk of myocardial infarction, stroke, and cardiovascular disease (2). Use olive oil to stir-fry veggies or lean protein sources. Make a light dressing for salads with olive oil, lime juice, herbs, salt, and pepper. You can safely consume 7-8 tablespoons of olive oil per day.
Oranges are rich in vitamin C, minerals, flavonoids, and have anti-inflammatory, lipid-lowering, antiallergic, and anti-tumor properties. Scientists have found that consuming orange juice can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) levels (3). The lower the LDL cholesterol, the lower the chances of arterial blockage. So, have an orange or a glass of freshly pressed orange juice to keep your heart healthy. You can also add orange juice to desserts, salads or chicken to give them a delicious flavor and aroma.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that is loaded with vitamins A, C, K, and folate, dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Researchers have found that the phenols found in broccoli can act efficiently against cardiovascular diseases and cancer cell proliferation (4). Have blanched, grilled, baked or stir-fried broccoli with other veggies or mushroom/chicken/fish/lentils. You can also have it in a soup to satiate your hunger and keep your heart healthy. Have one cup of broccoli per day.
Carrots are rich in vitamins A, K, E, and folate and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Interestingly, they are also a good source of antioxidants that prevent DNA damage, reduce inflammation, and lower the cholesterol and triglyceride levels (5).
You can snack on a raw carrot. Grill/bake/stir-fry it and have it with other veggies with a source of lean protein (fish/chicken/legumes), or add it to chicken stew or vegetable soup. Make sure not to overeat carrots to avoid health issues. You can have half a cup of carrot per day.
6. Green Tea
Green tea contains active polyphenolic compounds called catechins. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antihypertensive, lipid-lowering, and anti-thrombogenic properties. The catechins help scavenge the harmful oxygen radicals, prevent vascular inflammation, reduce the risk of atherogenesis, and inhibit lipid synthesis and absorption (6).
Have 2-3 cups of green tea per day. You may have it in the morning or 20 minutes before lunch or dinner. Add cinnamon, lemon, honey, tulsi, or other herbs to make your own flavored green tea.
Strawberries are rich in antioxidants that help to lower high blood pressure and blood lipid levels, prevent hyperglycemia, and decrease the LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (7). These attributes make strawberries one of the most potent foods to prevent cardiovascular disease. Include strawberries in your breakfast cereal or smoothies or have them with other fruits a couple of hours after lunch. You can also have strawberries with yogurt or sour cream as dessert.
8. Chicken Breast
Chicken breast without the skin is a great source of lean protein. Proteins are the building blocks of muscles. Since heart works 24*7, it is quite natural that there is muscle wear and tear. Consuming chicken breast will supply the body with protein that can be used to repair the heart muscles. Have 3-4 oz of chicken breast per day. You can grill, poach, bake, boil or stir-fry chicken and have it with lots of green leafy and other colorful veggies to balance your meal.
Consuming nuts can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 40-50%. Nuts contain vitamin E and monounsaturated fats that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Researchers have found that consuming almonds, in-shell pistachios, walnuts, pecan nuts, and peanuts can help reduce LDL cholesterol (8).
You can have nuts in the morning with your breakfast so that you can use the energy generated to carry out your daily activities. You can also toss a few nuts into your salad or eat them as a snack in the evening with a cup of green tea.
10. Whole Grains
Whole grains are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients that help to reduce the LDL cholesterol levels, prevent inflammation, regulate blood pressure, and increase insulin sensitivity (9). These attributes help lower the risk of fat accumulation, which in turn reduces the risk of heart or cardiovascular diseases.
You can have oatmeal, oats bran, muesli, broken wheat, and quinoa for breakfast. Have brown rice with veggies and a lean protein source for lunch or dinner. You can have 2-3 servings of whole grains per day.
Researchers have found that consuming apples can help lower inflammation, increase lipid metabolism, reduce weight, and regulate blood pressure (10). So, have an apple every day to keep your heart fit. Include apples in your breakfast cereal or smoothies. You can also have an apple as a mid-morning or evening snack. Add a few pieces of apple to your salad to give it an exotic flavor.
12. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that helps to reduce inflammation, oxygen radical formation, and blood cholesterol levels (11). They are also rich in dietary fiber that aids weight loss. Have 2 -3 tablespoons of ground flax seed powder per day. You can also add flax seed powder to your cereal, smoothies, juices, and salads.
Asparagus contains steroidal saponin that helps to reduce the cholesterol levels. It also has antioxidant properties that act against atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases (12). Make sure not to discard the section near the roots because all the heart protective nutrients are concentrated in that part.
You can blanch, grill or stir-fry asparagus and have it along with veggies and a source of lean protein. You can also make asparagus juices. You can safely have a cup of asparagus or 7-8 asparagus tips per day.
Garlic contains allicin, a phytonutrient that helps lower cholesterol and high blood pressure (13). Have a clove of garlic every morning before breakfast. Or you can add garlic to your whole wheat toast, salads, lettuce wraps, brown rice, stir-fries, etc. You can have 6-7 cloves of garlic per day.
Spinach is loaded with dietary nitrate that helps to lower blood pressure, improve exercise performance in people with peripheral arterial disease, inhibit platelet aggregation, and reduce inflammation and arterial stiffness (14). Have blanched, baked, stir-fried or boiled spinach in salads, soups, and smoothies to keep your heart healthy. You can have 1-1 ½ cups of spinach per day.
Legumes are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. They have antioxidant, lipid-lowering, and LDL cholesterol-lowering properties that help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (15). Include soy, chickpeas, bean sprouts, peas, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, etc. in your salads, burritos, or soups. You can have 1-2 servings of legumes per day.
17. Red Wine
Red wine helps to increase good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol), has antioxidant properties, and suppresses platelet aggregation (16). Scientists have concluded that these attributes of red wine make it one of the best drinks to keep your heart healthy. Have a peg of red wine with your dinner. Make sure not to consume it in excess as doing so and not working out can lead to obesity and heart disease.
Papayas are rich in antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help lower high blood pressure and strengthen the blood vessels (17). Have a medium bowl of ripe papaya for your breakfast or evening snack. You can also make papaya smoothie for breakfast.
Avocados are rich in healthy fats, vitamins A, E, K, C, B6, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, potassium, magnesium, sodium, phytosterols, riboflavin, and other phytonutrients. They reduce bad cholesterol, lower blood lipid levels, improve antioxidant activities, suppress inflammation, and normalize blood glucose levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart diseases (18). You can have an avocado smoothie for breakfast or include it in salads or wraps for lunch.
Tomatoes contain antioxidants that help protect against DNA mutation, unlimited cell proliferation, and cardiovascular diseases. Scientists have found that tomatoes improve post-ischemic heart function and reduce myocardial infarction (19). You can have tomato juice or smoothie for breakfast or as an evening snack. Add tomatoes to your salad, curries, stir-fries, baked veggies, and grilled chicken to add a tangy flavor to your food.
Citrulline is one of the compounds found in watermelons that helps to decrease inflammation and arterial stiffness, lower LDL cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, and reduce body weight (20). Have watermelon juice or smoothie for breakfast. You can also have a bowl of watermelon as an evening snack. Do not eat more than 1 ½ cups of watermelon in a day to avoid stomach upset.
22. Rice Bran Oil
Rice bran oil is rich in vitamin E, plant sterols, oryzanol, and healthy fats that help lower the LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (21). You can use rice bran oil for all cooking purposes. However, do not use it for salad dressing. You may have 4-5 tablespoons of rice bran oil per day.
Rich in vitamins A, C, K, folate, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, omega-3-fats, dietary fiber, and antioxidants, kale helps to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease (22). You can have kale smoothie for breakfast. You can also add kale to your salad, but make sure to blanch it. Add black pepper, salt, lime, and flax seed powder along with veggies and a medium portion of protein source to make your kale salad exciting and tasty.
Beetroot is a great source of nitrate that helps to reduce inflammation. It also has antioxidant properties and helps to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure and improve lipid profiles (23). Have beetroot juice or raw beetroot as an evening snack. You can also toss beetroot into your chicken stew or vegetable soup. Have half a cup of beetroot every day for better heart health and improved overall health.
Watercress is loaded with phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that help to improve heart health and blood circulation (24). The best way to consume watercress is to juice it. You can have it the first thing in the morning, for breakfast, or as a post-workout drink.You can have one glass of watercress juice per day.
Blueberries are rich in a cardioprotective polyphenol called resveratrol. Resveratrol helps prevent cardiac heart failure, has anti-thrombolytic properties, and helps repair any damage caused to the heart morphology (25). Add blueberries to your smoothie or breakfast cereal along with nuts to give it a rich flavor. You can have up to half a cup of blueberries per day.
Cauliflowers are rich in sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate that triggers many antioxidant enzymes. These enzymes help prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol, inhibiting vascular inflammation, which, in turn, prevents atherosclerosis (26). Blanch, boil, stir-fry or add cauliflower florets to your soup for lunch or dinner. You can have one cup of cauliflower per day.
Pomegranate is loaded with anthocyanins and tannins that possess antioxidant properties. This makes it a potent cardioprotective fruit. It helps to lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce inflammation (27). Have pomegranate juice or the fruit for breakfast or as an evening snack. You can also add it to your salad for a Mediterranean touch.
29. Low-Fat Yogurt, Cheese, And Milk
Many scientific studies have confirmed that consuming low-fat yogurt, milk, and cheese reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The calcium present in dairy helps prevent stroke and coronary heart disease (28). Have milk with your breakfast cereal or smoothie. Add low-fat cheese to your salad, grilled veggies, or soup. Add seasonal fruits to low-fat yogurt and have it has dessert.
30. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is a rich source of catechins, theobromine, and procyanidins that prevent platelet aggregation, lower blood pressure, and improve endothelial function. Hence, having a piece of dark chocolate will help protect your heart from cardiovascular diseases (29). Consume dark chocolate that contains 80% or more cocoa. Have a piece after dinner to satiate your sweet tooth without risking weight gain or any harm to your health.
You should also make sure to avoid the following foods to keep your heart healthy.
Foods To Avoid For A Healthy Heart
- Saturated fats and trans fats.
- Processed foods, such as salami, hot dogs, sausages, etc.
- Flour and white bread.
- Simple carbs like refined sugar.
- Junk foods, such as potato chips, deep fried foods, burgers, etc.
- Aerated and sweetened beverages.
Start taking care of your heart health by including these heart-friendly foods in your diet. Also, make sure to workout regularly to strengthen your heart muscles. If you have any questions, please leave a comment in the box below.