Love Your Ticker with Five Heart Foods

Written by
Published in February 2011

Heart Foods

( When it comes to what to eat for a healthy heart, you've probably got a few ideas - but research continues to shed light on more reasons to eat heart foods that can help keep your risk for cardiovascular disease minimized. Read on to learn how to love your heart with the foods you eat.

Five Ways Heart Foods Can Keep You Healthy

  • Fill up on folate
    A June 2010 Japanese study found that women who ate the most dietary folate and Vitamin B6 were much less likely to die from stroke or heart or cardiovascular disease. Add to that, men in the study who ate the most of these same foods were significantly less likely to die from heart failure. But note the word dietary above: Study subjects got the most effective results from eating foods containing folate and Vitamin B6, not by popping vitamin pills. Heart foods like leafy green vegetables (such as spinach and kale), broccoli, beans and lentils, orange juice, and avocados are brimming in folate. And for rich sources of Vitamin B6, look to lean meats, fish, nuts, and some fruits and vegetables, like bananas, spinach, potatoes, and avocados, as well as legumes and whole grains.

  • Go low (glycemic index, that is)
    An April 2010 study from Italy demonstrated that foods with a high glycemic index (foods that cause your blood sugar to rise quickly) are associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease in women. Since foods with a higher glycemic index include soda, low-fiber and high-sugar cereals, regular pasta, and white bread, try instead to fill your diet with heart foods with a lower glycemic index like whole grain products, low-fat milk and yogurt, most fruits and veggies, nuts, and beans. If you're used to higher glycemic index foods, a good place to start the switch is by choosing the lower-glycemic version of the same product, like whole wheat bread instead of white bread.

  • Fix some fish. Omega-3 fats from marine sources can help reduce blood pressure, resting heart rate, and the inflammatory process – all things that can help improve overall heart health. These are likely some of the reasons behind June 2010 research results from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, which found that middle-aged and older women who eat 1-2 servings of omega-3 rich fatty fish (like salmon, herring, and mackerel) per week are less likely to have heart failure. Of course, you can get omega-3s from a supplement – but if you eat the fish you’ll also get the antioxidant power of the Vitamin D and selenium that fish provide. 

  • Shake off the salt
    One of the hottest nutrition topics at the moment is sodium, fueled by an April 2010 report by the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) that called for government regulation and reduction of sodium added to foods by manufacturers and the food service industry. And for good reason: Sodium is a significant contributor to high blood pressure, and according to the American Heart Association, one in three Americans struggle with high blood pressure at some point. Though the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (about one teaspoon), the American Heart Association recommends less: 1,500 milligrams (about 2/3 teaspoon). But since most Americans eat much more than that, either recommendation is a good place to start. Of course, reducing the amount of salt you add to food is one way to make a healthy change - but sodium really skyrockets in packaged and restaurant foods, so make it your goal to eat fresh foods you cook at home more often.

  • Get nutty
    Looking for a heart-healthy snack? Try a handful of nuts. A study from Loma Linda University published in May 2010 found that eating an average of 2.4 ounces of nuts per day can lower total cholesterol by 5.1% and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 7.4%. The best news according to the study is that most nuts - walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias, and pistachios - are great heart foods because all can be used to gain the same healthy benefits. Keep a small tin of almonds in your briefcase to pinch-hit when you're stuck without healthy snacks - or munch on shelled pistachios to get you through to dinnertime.

The Bottom Line

Besides eating a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats, heart foods like low-sodium and low glycemic index choices, as well as nuts, fish, and folate/B6-rich selections can help ensure you're taking the best care of your ticker.

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