The foods we eat each day matter for our health. And one of the most important organs you can nourish with a healthy diet is working for you every single second: your heart! To help you support your ticker this year, here are some of the top heart-healthy foods to work into your regular diet.
1. Fish for Omega-3s
Oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which your body can’t make on its own. Omega-3s have many benefits, including an anti-clotting effect that helps keep blood flowing to your heart. They can also help lower triglycerides, which are a type of blood fats that contribute to heart disease.
Good fatty fish options include:
The American Heart Association recommends getting at least two servings of these fish per week. A serving is 3.5 ounces cooked or ¾ cup flaked. For those with heart disease, doctors may recommend even more omega-3s per week.
Should You Worry About Mercury in Fish?
It’s true that some types of fish can contain environmental contaminants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Risks are higher for children and pregnant women, while for most adults the benefits of eating fish outweigh potential risks.
Mercury and other contaminants are typically found most in bigger and more predatory fish like swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel. If you’re concerned about mercury in fish, avoid these options and stick with fish that are low in mercury like canned light tuna, salmon, shrimp, catfish, and pollock.
2. Walnuts for Plant-Based Omega-3s
If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or just want a non-meat option for healthy fats, walnuts are a good source of monounsaturated “good” fats like omega-3s. They contain a different type of omega-3 from fish.
Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while fish contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Your body must convert ALA into EPA or DHA before it can be utilized, which makes ALA a less efficient form of omega-3. However, it is still beneficial.
A serving of walnuts is a small handful.
3. Flaxseeds and Chia Seeds
Both flaxseeds and chia seeds are another plant-based form of omega-3s. Both also contain fiber and protein, and flaxseeds contain phytoestrogens, making them heart-healthy foods.
One to two tablespoons of flaxseeds or chia seeds is a good way to add omega-3 healthy fats to a meal or snack. Just make sure you consume flaxseeds in milled or ground form; otherwise, you may not absorb their benefits at all.
4. Oatmeal for Cholesterol and More
Oatmeal is a delicious breakfast option and a friend of your heart for several reasons:
- For years, oatmeal has been known for lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol, which is an important heart health number to know.
- Recent research has shown oats may also be helpful against type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
- Anti-inflammatory properties due to antioxidants in oats have been demonstrated in high amounts from lab tests.
A serving of oatmeal is ½ cup dry oats. For an even healthier heart boost, add some flax seeds or chia seeds to your cooked oatmeal!
5. Broccoli and Other Greens
Broccoli and other leafy green vegetables are packed with fiber and other nutrients and antioxidants like folate, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin B6.
Some good greens to eat daily include:
- Collard greens
- Romaine lettuce
6. Colorful Veggies
Don’t just stick with the greens! Vegetables in a variety of colors provide important vitamin and minerals that support the health of your heart and whole body. Think in the rainbow: red bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow squash, leafy greens, red cabbage, potatoes, eggplant, and more.
Beans, lentils, and peas are all good plant-based sources of protein and fiber. Plus, they contain no cholesterol and very little fat, making them superb heart-healthy foods.
If you buy your beans canned, choose no-salt-added (or at least low-sodium) options to reduce the salt content—as excess sodium may increase blood pressure.
A serving of beans is ½ cup cooked.
Berries are small, colorful, and flavorful fruits that pack a healthy punch too! They’re rich in soluble fiber and heart-healthy phytonutrients. Try adding blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or cranberries to your oatmeal or cereal, or eat them alone as a snack.
A serving of berries is about ¼ cup.
9. Bananas and Other Fruits
Bananas are a good source of potassium, which is an important electrolyte for heart health and has a blood pressure-lowering effect. Oranges are also good sources, and many other fruits contain helpful vitamins and minerals. Like with vegetables, aim for a variety of colors.
10. Low-Fat Dairy
Dairy products are another great source of potassium as well as protein. To reduce your intake of saturated fat from traditional dairy, you can choose low-fat versions. Greek yogurt is a great dairy source with very little fat and no added sugars (as long as you buy it plain and unsweetened).
Bottom line: A variety of fruits and vegetables (emphasis on vegetables), healthy fats, and good protein make up the top heart-healthy foods. Above all, focus on whole foods like these and your cardiovascular health will love you for it.