7 Heart Healthy Foods to Include in Your Diet
Did you know cardiovascular diseases (including heart disease) are the leading causes of death worldwide? (1). Luckily, there are many steps you can take to reduce your risk, including following a healthy, balanced diet. According to research, there are also certain heart-healthy foods that can improve heart health in several ways, for example reducing inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and more.
Here are 7 of the best foods for heart health, and tips on how you can include these in your everyday eating plan.
Best foods for heart health to keep in the fridge
Whether it’s spread on toast, or tossed through your favourite salad, what’s not to love about this delicious heart-healthy food?
Avocados are a fantastic source of monounsaturated fat, a type of fat which can improve your heart health. How? Lowering LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” or “lousy” cholesterol, reduces your risk of stroke and heart disease (reference). They’re also a great source of potassium, a nutrient that’s essential for the basic functioning of the heart and has been found to lower blood pressure (2).
This creamy fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit, not a vegetable) is so versatile and can be enjoyed in so many ways. Here are 5 ways you can include more avo in your day:
- Spread on toast and serve with eggs or your veggies like mushrooms and spinach
- Make guacamole to serve with your favourite Mexican dish
- Dice and toss through a salad
- Layer with tomato and cucumber on a multigrain cracker
- Try it in a dessert eg. avocado mousse
2. Green Leafy Vegetables
Foods include: rocket, spinach, lettuce, kale, bok choy mustard greens, cabbage
Remember the saying “Eat your greens”? Well, it turns out there was some merit in it after all. Green leafy vegetables are heart-healthy foods, packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals, fibre and antioxidants. They are also a good source of Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin which promotes blood clotting and is thought to play a role in heart health by preventing the thickening of the arteries within the heart (3).
Luckily, most leafy greens are available all year round, meaning they can be easily incorporated into your meals and snacks each day.
Here are 5 simple ways to add more greeny leafy veg to your plate:
- Add a bag of spinach or frozen spinach cubes to pasta sauces, curries or dishes like chilli con Carne
- Top your reduced-fat cheese and vita wheat crackers with a sprinkle of rocket
- Add bok choy to your favourite stir-fry
- Add some crunch to Taco Tuesdays by serving green or purple sliced cabbage
- Throw some kale in your favourite soup during winter, like Minestrone
Tip: As Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, its best absorbed when consumed with fat, so add a drizzle of oil to your green leafy veg
3. Oily fish
Oily fish including salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are fantastic sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that has been extensively studied for its heart health benefits. According to research, omega 3’s can have a number of positive effects on heart health including:
Looking for ideas to add more oily fish to your day? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Cook salmon on the bbq and serve with homemade chips and salad for a healthier fish and chips night
- Enjoy sardines straight out of the can for a snack, or served with a slice of grainy toast
- Opt for salmon or tuna patties with salad for a quick and easy lunch option
Healthy heart foods to keep in the pantry
Foods include: Oats, brown and wild rice, wholemeal grain pasta, crackers and bread, quinoa, popcorn, rye, barley and buckwheat
Before we dive into the benefits of whole grains and how they’re heart-healthy foods, it’s important to understand the difference between whole grains and refined grains. Firstly, wholegrains still have all three layers of the grain intact – the bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grains (e.g. white bread) have been milled, meaning two layers (the bran and germ) have been removed during processing. While this offers a finer texture and may improve the shelf life of foods, this process removes the nutritious layers of the grain that provide fibre, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium and B vitamins – all of which contribute to heart health (5).
According to research, consuming whole grains can improve heart health in several ways, for example by lowering triglycerides, total and LDL cholesterol levels, and lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease (5). Also, one review which included 45 studies found a 22% lowered risk of heart disease when 3 or more servings of whole grains were consumed each day (6).
Here are 5 simple ways to add more whole grains to your eating plan.
- Add oats to your breakfast rotation e.g. porridge or muesli with yogurt and fruit
- Opt for wholemeal pasta on spag bol night
- Add popcorn to your list of crunchy snacks
- Toss quinoa or barley in a salad with roast veggies and a reduced-fat feta
- Add barley to winter warmers like stews, soups and casseroles
5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – undeniably one of the best heart-healthy foods
There’s no denying Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) belongs is one of the best foods for heart health. Featuring as a staple in the Mediterranean diet, it boasts an impressive nutrition profile packed with antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats and also contains modest amounts of vitamins E and K. According to research, EVOO has been found to reduce inflammation, protect “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidising and improve the lining of blood vessels. It’s also been shown to prevent and reduce blood pressure, and reduce the risk of stroke (7). Not bad right?
Here are some simple ideas to boost your intake of this heart-healthy food:
- Drizzle on a salad or add to your favourite salad dressing to boost the flavour
- Toss on freshly cooked pasta -it will add flavour but also prevent the pasta from sticking together!
- Top your veggies with oil and herbs before roasting in the oven
Legumes – a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils – are nutritional powerhouses, jammed packed with nutrients such as iron, folate, and magnesium. They are also a great source of protein, fibre, and low GI carbohydrates, all of which help keep you feeling fuller for longer after eating. Also, several studies have found that consuming legumes has been linked to reduced blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol and can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease (2). Need we say more?
Here are 5 simple ideas to get more of these healthy heart foods in your day:
- Add black beans to a burrito bowl or taco night
- Opt for a butterbean mash instead of a potato
- Add lentils to your spaghetti bolognese – you won’t even know they’re there!
- Enjoy as a snack eg. roasted chickpeas
- Add a can of 4 bean mix to your salad at lunchtime. So simple!
7. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds, in particular walnuts and almonds, offer an impressive nutrient profile. They are a great source of unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), protein, omega-3 fatty acids and fibre – all of which are beneficial for heart health. They also contain a range of vitamins and minerals such as folate, calcium and magnesium and antioxidants, which may offer protective effects against heart disease (8).
According to research, consuming just 15g of nuts and seeds per day decreases the risk of Coronary Heart Disease by 20% when compared to those who consume a diet containing little or no nuts and seeds (8). This equates to just 3-4 handfuls a week!
Here are 5 simple ways you can add these heart-healthy foods to your day:
- Add sliced almonds or walnuts to your salad for some extra crunch
- Top your stir-fry with a sprinkle of sesame seeds
- Enjoy a small handful (30g) for a quick and nutritious snack on the go
- Add sunflower seeds or almonds to your morning muesli and fruit
- Opt for natural nut butter. These are a great option on a slice of grain toast to start your day