Work these healthy foods into your diet.

By Betty Gold
Updated February 06, 2020
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Our diet plays a major role in heart health, but this can play in our favor. "The foods that we eat can either increase or decrease the risk of heart disease," says Dr. Roshini Malaney, cardiologist with Manhattan Cardiology. "It's all based on the particular ingredient's composition and its effects on our body."

According to Dr. Malaney, foods can actually have a direct effect on your blood pressure and even how your blood clots. And while obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol are all risk factors for heart disease related to what we eat, consuming a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber can significantly decrease our risk for heart disease.

Intimidated? Don't be. Eating for heart health does not mean you have to eat the same three things every day. There are many foods that can benefit your cardiovascular system that also taste great, Dr. Malaney says. Here are the top 10:

Oatmeal

Start your day with a steaming bowl of oats, which are full of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. This fiber-rich superfood can lower levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol and help keep arteries clear. One study showed that three or more servings of whole grains per day can decrease your risk of heart disease by over 20%.Opt for coarse or steel-cut oats, which contain more fiber and (typically) less sugar than instant varieties, and top your bowl off with a banana for another 4 grams of fiber.

Salmon

Super-rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can effectively reduce blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and help keep clotting at bay. Aim for two servings per week, which may reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack by up to one-third. "Salmon contains the carotenoid astaxanthin, which is a very powerful antioxidant," says cardiologist Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., the author of Lower Your Blood Pressure In Eight Weeks.But be sure to choose wild salmon over farm-raised fish, which can be packed with insecticides, pesticides, and heavy metals.

Not a fan of salmon? Other oily fish like mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines will give your heart the same boost.

Avocado

Add a bit of avocado to a sandwich or spinach salad to up the amount of heart-healthy fats in your diet. Packed with monounsaturated fat, avocados can help lower LDL levels while raising the amount of HDL cholesterol in your body. "Avocados are awesome," says Dr. Sinatra. "They allow for the absorption of other carotenoids―especially beta-carotene and lycopene―which are essential for heart health."

Olive oil

Full of monounsaturated fats, olive oil lowers bad LDL cholesterol and reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Results from the Seven Countries Study, which looked at cardiovascular disease incidences across the globe, showed that while men in Crete had a predisposition for high cholesterol levels, relatively few died of heart disease because their diet focused on heart-healthy fats found in olive oil. Look for extra-virgin or virgin varieties―they're the least processed―and use them instead of butter when cooking.

Nuts

Almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are all full of omega-3 fatty acids and mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Almonds are rich in omega-3s, plus nuts increase fiber in the diet, says Dr. Sinatra. "And like olive oil, they are a great source of healthy fat."

Legumes

Fill up on fiber-rich foods like lentils, chickpeas, and black and kidney beans. They're packed with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, plus they can reduce both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. "Fiber makes you satiated faster and for longer and also inhibits production of cholesterol by the liver and increases excretion of cholesterol and bile salts," explains Dr. Malaney.

Berries

Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries―whatever type you like best―are full of anti-inflammatory agents, which reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. "Blackberries and blueberries are especially great," says Dr. Sinatra. "But all berries are great for your vascular health."

Spinach

Spinach can help keep your ticker in top shape thanks to its stores of lutein, folate, potassium, and fiber. But upping your servings of any veggies is sure to give your heart a boost. The Physicians' Health Study examined more than 15,000 men without heart disease for a period of 12 years. Those who ate at least two and a half servings of vegetables each day cut their risk of heart disease by about 25 percent, compared with those who didn't eat the veggies. Each additional serving reduced risk by another 17 percent.

Flaxseed

Full of fiber and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, a little sprinkling of flaxseed can go a long way for your heart. Top a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal with a smidgen of ground flaxseed for the ultimate heart-healthy breakfast.

Soy

Soy may lower cholesterol, and since it's low in saturated fat, it's still a great source of lean protein in a heart-healthy diet. Look for natural sources of soy, like edamame, tempeh, or organic silken tofu, and remember to watch the amount of salt in your soy. (Some processed varieties like soy dogs can contain added sodium, which boosts blood pressure.) According to Dr. Malaney, plant-based diets in general inhibit cholesterol absorption in the gut and therefore cholesterol levels.