You probably knew salmon, EVOO, and walnuts were good for your heart. Many of the foods on this list may surprise you, though…
Fresh herbs can help make other foods heart-healthy when they replace salt, sugar, and trans fats. These flavor powerhouses, along with nuts, berries — even coffee — can be part of heart-wise eating.
Fact: Rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme contain antioxidants.
Mild, tender black beans are packed with nutrients including folate, antioxidants, magnesium, and withfiber — which helps control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Tip: Canned black beans are easy to add to soups and salads. Rinse to remove extra sodium.
Red Wine and Resveratrol
If you drink alcohol, a little red wine may be a good choice. Resveratrol and catechins, two antioxidants in red wine, may help protect artery walls. Alcohol can also boost HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
Tip: Only drink in moderation: up to 1 glass a day for women, and 1-2 for men. Alcohol may cause problems for people taking aspirin and other medications. Too much alcohol is bad for your heart.
Salmon: Super Food
A top food for heart health, it’s rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA. Omega-3s may lower risk of heart rhythm disorders and reduce blood pressure. Salmon also lowers blood triglycerides and helps curb inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of salmon or other naturally oily fish a week.
Tip: Bake in foil with herbs and veggies. Toss extra cooked salmon into fish tacos and salads.
Tuna for Omega-3s
Tuna is another good source of omega-3s, and it generally costs less than salmon. Albacore (white tuna) has more omega-3s than other tuna varieties. Reel in these other sources of omega-3s, too: mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and anchovies.
Tips: Grill tuna steak with dill and lemon. Choose tuna packed in water, not oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This oil, made from the first press of olives, is especially rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which may help protect your blood vessels.. It’s also a good source of monounsaturated fats, which are a better choice than saturated fats (like butter) for your cholesterol.
Tips: Use a little bit for salads, on cooked veggies, or with bread. Look for cold-pressed and use within 6 months.
A small handful of walnuts a day may lower your cholesterol and ease inflammation in your heart’s arteries. Walnuts are packed with omega-3s, monounsaturated fats, and fiber. The benefits come when walnuts replace bad fats, like those in chips and cookies.
Tip: Walnut oil has omega-3s, too; try it in salad dressings.
Slivered almonds go well with vegetables, fish, chicken, and desserts. They’re chock full of plant sterols, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. Almonds may help lower LDL cholesterol, if you favor them over other fats. Grab a small handful a day.
Tip: Toast almonds to enhance their creamy, mild flavor.
These green soybeans have moved beyond Japanese restaurants, where they’re a tasty appetizer. They’re packed with soy protein, which can help lower blood triglyceride levels. A half cup of edamame also has 9 grams of cholesterol-lowering fiber — equal to four slices of whole-wheat bread.
Tip: Try frozen edamame. Boil and serve warm in the pod.
Serve up tofu, and you get a great form of vegetarian soy protein, with its heart-healthy minerals, fiber, and polyunsaturated fats. It can take on the taste of the spices or sauces you use to cook it.
Tips: Chop firm tofu, marinate, then grill or stir-fry, going easy on the oil. Add tofu to soups for protein with no added fat.
Swap white potatoes for sweet potatoes. With a low glycemic index, these spuds won’t cause a quick spike in blood sugar. They also have fiber, vitamin A, and lycopene.
Tip: Boost their natural sweetness with cinnamon and lime juice, instead of sugary toppings
This sweet, juicy fruit contains the cholesterol-fighting fiber pectin — as well as potassium, which helps control blood pressure. Medical research shows that OJ may improve blood vessel function and modestly lower blood pressure.
Tip: A medium orange averages 62 calories, with 3 grams of fiber.
The dark green, leafy vegetable is rich in potassium and magnesium, minerals that help control blood pressure. You’ll also get fiber, vitamin A, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin from these greens.
Tip: Serve with grilled meats or as a bed for fish. Saute with olive oil and garlic until wilted; season with herbs and pepper.
These sweet, crunchy veggies may help control blood sugar levels and make diabetes less likely. They may also help your cholesterol levels, since they’re a source of soluble fiber — the kind of fiber also found in oats.
Tip: Add shredded carrots to spaghetti sauce and muffin batter.
Try this nutty, whole grain in place of rice with dinner or simmer barley into soups and stews. The fiber in barley can help lower cholesterol levels and may lower blood sugar levels, too.
Tip: Hulled or “whole grain” barley is the most nutritious. Barley grits are toasted and ground — nice for cereal or as a side dish. Pearl barley is quick, but much of its fiber has been removed.
Oats in all forms can help your heart by lowering LDL, the bad cholesterol. A warm bowl of oatmeal fills you up for hours, fights snack attacks, and helps keep blood sugar levels stable over time — making it useful for people with diabetes, too.
Tips: Swap oats for one-third of the flour in pancakes, muffins, and baked goods. Use oats instead of bread crumbs in cooking
This shiny, honey-colored seed has three things that are good for your heart: fiber, phytochemicals called lignans, and ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants.
Tips: Grind flaxseed for the best nutrition. Add it to cereal, baked goods, yogurt, or mustard on a sandwich.
While low-fat dairy is most often touted for bone health, these foods may help control high blood pressure, too. Milk is high in calcium and potassium, and yogurt has twice as much of these important minerals. To really boost the calcium and minimize the fat, choose low-fat or non-fat varieties. Also, check the label to see how much sugar you’re getting — maybe more than you expected.
Tip: Use milk instead of water in instant oatmeal, hot chocolate, and dried soups.
Coffee and tea may help protect your heart. Studies show that people who drink 3-4 cups a day may be less likely to get diabetes, and even decaffeinated coffee works. But if you already have high blood pressure, be careful, since caffeine can worsen it.
Tip: Choose black coffee or a non-fat latte to limit fat and calories.
Cherries are packed with anthocyanin, believed to help protect blood vessels. Cherries in any form have that antioxidant: fresh sweet cherries, the sour cherries used for baking, as well as dried cherries and cherry juice.
Tip: Sprinkle dried cherries into cereal, muffin batter, green salads and wild rice.
Blueberries are simply brilliant when it comes to nutrition. Their anthocyanins give them their deep blue color and support heart health. Blueberries also have beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber.
Tips: Add fresh or dried blueberries to cereal, pancakes, or yogurt. Puree a batch for a dessert sauce.
Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD