According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. with more than 610,000 deaths per year, accumulating more than 18 million since 2006 (1).
Several sources of evidence acknowledge the paramount role of diet in overall heart health.
For example, a 2016 study found that a healthy dietary pattern may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by about a third (2).
The best way to do that is to simply follow a diet which contains foods that regulate blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides levels, promotes weight loss, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here are 8 well-tested foods to boost your heart health.
Walnuts are one of the most nutrient-dense foods, rich in protein, copper, manganese, antioxidant vitamins, folate and dietary fiber, among other bioactive micronutrients and macronutrients.
Research shows that walnuts consumption should be elevated since it is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
According to a 2017 study, the risk of incident hypertension — the strongest risk factor for cardiovascular disease — can be reduced by up to 28% thanks to nuts consumption (3).
Although there is no conclusive evidence on the effects of walnuts on HDL and LDL levels, some studies showed that walnut-enriched diets may induce a temporary decrease of total and LDL cholesterol (4).
Vegetables, notably beans, are an excellent source of phytosterols, protein, carbs, dietary fiber and resistant starch, all of which have been linked to reduced inflammation and enhanced heart health.
Many studies found that eating vegetable protein instead of animal one lowers blood cholesterol levels, and thus the risk of coronary heart disease (5). Indeed, it is well-established that resistant starch is associated with reduced blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.
In a 2019 animal study, pinto beans were shown to reduce high cholesterol induced by high saturated fatty acids in male hamsters (6).
Moreover, supplementation of kidney beans induces a high Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio which may reduce the incidence of various chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease (7).
- Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate in a reliable source of increased antioxidant intake, most notably flavonoids which are associated with lower chronic heart disease mortality.
Although there are around 24 grams of saturated fats for every 100 grams of dark chocolate, they are to be considered separately from cholesterol-raising fats. This is particularly because cocoa powder prevents LDL from oxidation and reduce insulin resistance.
On the other hand, by combining chocolate with low amounts of raw sugar, you can increase your HDL (good cholesterol) levels by up to 24%.
A large-scale German study published in the European Heart Journal showed that an average consumption of around 7.5 grams of chocolate a day can decrease the risk for incidence heart attack or stroke by 39% and lower blood pressure (8).
Moreover, eating chocolate two or more time per week is correlated with a 32% lower risk of heart failure.
When purchasing dark chocolate, make sure to read the ingredients label to check if it includes at least 80% of cocoa powder.
- Whole Grains
Whole grains (e.g. oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, bulgur, millet) are rich in antioxidants and soluble fiber, which exert a protective in the development of coronary heart disease and stroke, and lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
Research shows that a higher proportion of carbs from whole grains reduces the risk associated with cardiovascular disease, and recommend avoiding refined grains (9).
A 2018 study on the association between whole grain intake and cardiovascular mortality found they are inversely related and that actions should be undertaken to promote whole grains consumption (10).
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a natural carotenoid with favorable effects on human health.
Lycopene is an excellent source of pro-vitamin A and antioxidant activities, reducing oxidative modification of LDL and body inflammation, both of which can contribute to the development of heart disease (11).
These antioxidant properties are resistant to heat and cooking. In fact, by consuming cooked tomatoes, lycopene supplementation can be increased by up to 171%.
A 2013 study of 50 individuals found that daily consumption of uncooked tomatoes is associated with an increase of HDL levels in overweight women (12).
Research identifies higher levels of HDL as a protective factor in cardiovascular disease.
- Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy veggies are a reliable source of carotenoid, a phytochemical which has been reported to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
You can also find large amounts of nitrate in green leafy veggies, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure and increase nitric oxide, and thus may slow the progression of cardiovascular disease.
According to a 2018 study published in the Nutrients journal, increasing intake of green leafy vegetables along with lifestyle changes provide various cardiovascular health benefits (13).
Throughout history, different cultures have recognized the culinary and therapeutic values of garlic (Allium stavium L.).
It has been used as a folk medicine to prevent and treat various diseases such as whooping cough, cold, flu and dysentery.
Recent scientific advances showed that garlic can even lower blood pressure and enhance heart health. This is primarily because of the presence of a compound called allicin, a bioactive sulfur produced by allinase enzyme.
One study examined the mechanisms by which allicin promotes heart health and suggested its potential use as a preventive drug for cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases (14).
Another study reported that garlic consumption is associated with risk factor reduction for cardiovascular disease, specifically hypertension and total cholesterol (15).
Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids, natural phytosterols and vitamin E, which have been linked to enhanced cognitive performance, lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Research shows that avocado consumption may improve hypercholesterolemia and help in the treatment of hypertension (16).
You can either eat raw avocados or incorporate them into a heart-healthy salad composed of green leafy veggies and whole grains.