You might be surprised to learn that heart disease is now the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And with more Americans being diagnosed with cardiovascular-related issues every year, it’s important to understand what you can do to better protect your heart. Fortunately, healthy habits and smart food choices can make a big difference. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends keeping calories in check, eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, and limiting saturated fats and trans fats. They also say to go easy on red meat, salt, added sugar, and alcohol.
Need a few tasty suggestions? Add these hard-working, heart-healthy items to your grocery list to help keep your ticker in shape.
Fish is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, which has been shown to reduce the risk of irregular heartbeats, lower blood triglyceride levels, slow the buildup of artery-clogging plaque, and lower blood pressure. Experts recommend eating two servings of omega-3-rich fish per week, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Prep tip: Rub salmon with olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest before grilling.
Healthy Recipe: Salmon Tacos with Mango, Avocado & Coconut
All dietary fiber is good for you, but soluble fiber in particular has been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels. And ordinary oats happen to have more soluble fiber than any other grain. Prep tip: Try easy overnight oats for breakfast.
Healthy Recipe: Pumpkin Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Nuts are a great source of healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber. Eating a small handful of nuts regularly reduces the risk of developing heart disease. Walnuts are the highest in omega-3s, but almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios are also smart choices. Prep tip: Sprinkle walnuts on a salad.
Healthy Recipe: Kale-Walnut Pesto
4. Black beans
Beans and other legumes are rich in protein, high in soluble fiber, and contain no saturated fat. Enjoy any variety of beans, chickpeas, or lentils, but black beans get extra points for heart-healthy antioxidants. Prep tip: Serve beans with brown rice, avocado, and salsa.
Healthy Recipe: Quinoa Bowl with Black Beans, Mango & Avocado
5. Extra-virgin olive oil
There are a number of healthy reasons to make extra-virgin olive oil your go-to. First among them, olive oil contains monounsaturated “good” fats that can help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels. Extra-virgin varieties also contains antioxidants, for an added boost. Prep tip: Use a drizzle of olive oil instead of butter when sautéing vegetables or scrambling eggs.
All colorful fruits and veggies contain phytonutrients and offer health benefits, but dark-skinned blueberries are especially high in disease-fighting antioxidants that can help prevent heart disease. Prep tip: Fold blueberries into oats, smoothies, and salads, or munch them straight out of hand for a sweet snack.
Healthy Recipe: Super Berry Smoothie
7. Dark greens
Kale is hot for a reason. The dark crinkled leaves contain antioxidants, fiber, and a bevy of beneficial vitamins and minerals that have been shown to support heart health. Not into kale? Spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, turnip greens, and collards are good for you, too. Prep tip: Slip raw greens into fruit-based smoothies.
Healthy Recipe: The Ultimate Green Smoothie
Yogurt packs protein and calcium, and as it turns out, what’s good for your gut may be good for your heart, too. Recent research indicates probiotics may help lower blood pressure. Skip the flavored options and enjoy plain, unsweetened yogurt instead. And consider adding other probiotic-rich fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour pickles, to your diet. Prep tip: Top Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, or go savory with cherry tomatoes and basil.
Healthy Recipe: Greek Yogurt Lemon Bars
Creamy avocado contains more potassium than a banana, which can help regulate blood pressure. It also has high levels of monounsaturated fats, folate, and fiber, making it a heart-health powerhouse. Prep tip: Spread avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo.
Healthy Recipe: Green Goddess Salad with Chickpeas, Avocado & Sprouts
Made from soy beans, tofu is a satisfying source of plant-based protein. High in polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but low in saturated fat, tofu is a heart-healthy alternative to meat. Soy butters, nuts, and burgers are also great options. Prep tip: Toss cubed tofu into a veggie stir-fry.
Healthy Recipe: Spicy Tofu Stir-Fry with Coconut Sticky Rice
Experts have gone back and forth for a long time, but with the latest dietary guidelines, the USDA points to research that shows coffee may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Just be careful with added fat and sugar (sorry, venti caramel macchiato lovers). Prep tip: Sip that morning mug of homebrew.
12. Dark chocolate
Chocolate contains flavonoids, an antioxidant found in plants, which may help to improve circulation. Your doctor probably doesn’t want you to use that as an excuse to binge on sweets, especially if you’re at risk for diabetes. But dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa) can be an acceptable treat in moderation. Prep tip: Break off one or two squares (about 1.5 oz/45 g), and savor them with a handful of berries or cherries.
Healthy Recipe: Dark Chocolate & Almond Butter Cups
Didn’t see your favorite food on this lineup? Keep in mind that there’s no one secret ingredient for heart health, and think about general categories. “Broccoli is a great example of a good choice, but if it doesn’t make your list, don’t worry about it. Choose vegetables you enjoy, eating green beans, kale, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts, too,” says Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. “The same for fruits, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. The point is to make healthy foods choices that you enjoy, and make it a lifelong habit.”
Which healthy foods do you heart? Join the conversation below.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
40 CommentsLeave a comment
Good article! I like yogurt, but have been trying to cut down on dairy lately, even low / non fat because I understand there are higher risks of disease with dairy consumption. Any thoughts on that?
Hi Becky, Roasting or hosting big dinners for friends???
Good list of foods for the heart. Another great tip is freshly juiced celery. Brings down blood pressure.
Thank you for your input. I am eating all of these items now except for Avocados (can’t get the taste for them). Want to be healthy and always ready for new information.
Avocado is about texture. They really don’t taste like anything. I use them like mayo. They also take on other seasoning very well since spices need fat to release their flavor.
I’m not a fan of bananas, I use avocado’s in place of bananas in smoothies;
I read and heard that red wine (in moderation) is also good for the heart too.
I have just read the list of food items – happy to say that most of them are present in my home at all times!!
All things I love to eat! Great to know how and why they are so heart healthy.
All things I love to eat! Great to know how and why they are so heart healthy.
Great advice on what foods are good for us! Thanks.
Great info. Nice concise list.
Hi Becky. I heard that Tofu was bad because it was made from soy beans and they are suppose to be bad, so I have stayed away from it for a very long time. And is there a kind of butter which I truly love that is suitable to consume.
Please make it easy to print info w/o pictures. It would help a lot of us.
Why have I had two batteries die i two months? They used to last longer. As for your heart foods, unfortunately several of them conflict with migraines: Tofu being the absolute worst. Nuts aren’t great, though I love them, but eat very little and chocolate would be the same as committing suicide. The pain is unbearable. But I love salmon and eat it a lot. Thanks for the tips. JG
I have eaten 9 of the 12 recommended this week alone. There is only one food on list I will not touch: Tofu. But I drink decaf coffee and have for the past three years after I was diagnosed with a heart murmur. I make a smoothie that contains oats, yogurt, blueberries, walnuts and almond milk with ac vinegar, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon. It is delicious and nutritious and tastes great. I have a couple each week. I love salmon, dark greens, black beans, avocado, etc.I love veggies and fruit. I walk everyday, thanks to my fitbit charge 2 I move more than I used to. I will be 68 this year, my problem is I am about 30 lbs overweight. I have lost 12 and am at a standstill. I have excellent blood pressure, excellent cholesterol levels, and take a pill to help control blood sugar. I don’t have diabetes but could if I don’t get this weight off. Overall I am healthy and most of the time I feel pretty good. I try to keep stress low as possible although last year was a most horrible time for me and my family because of an accidental death of a person we loved so much. I can see in my face that it has aged me. But we all press on, I do love my fitbit. I am getting desperate for this weight to leave me. I lift weights daily and can tell my arms are way more toned than they were last year. It is something you have to keep up though. I have yet to have the need to buy new sizes in my clothing. Gets me down.
Wonderful article and suggestions. Thank you. My wife is concerned that some items may lots of fat like avocados.
Thanks Becky Duffett for explaining all these benefits! I’m a believer of oats, blueberries and yogurt; among all these great foods. With exercise, these foods stifled my hunger and helped me lose weight during a crucial period in my life. A longtime coffee drinker, I feel it has helped in my perpetual fitness maintenance. I just heard about walnut powers and they also subdue my headaches so I will consume more walnuts. All of these foods are in my diet and now I better understand why. I am blessed with a creamy avocado tree so I hope it continues to yield generously. Any ideas how to store autumn avacados for spring and summer?
I just bought a large bag of frozen avocado chunks from a food service store. You may be able to find out online how to freeze them.
Peel and freeze them in freezer bags or glass containers, sprinkle a little lemon juice on them first.
I make guacamole and freeze using a little lime juice.
I’m loving the assortment of recipes. Hoping to see more!
Thanks so much for sharing
This is an excellent article worth keeping for diabetics and heart patients. neds to be in a better format like a cookbook
LOVE the idea of the almond butter chocolates! I will try them for my book group.
well, yes and no. it depends on your definition of the ambiguous term “heart healthy.” For a completely normal person, currently free of heart disease, most of these foods might be considered much more healthy than common domestic fare. For a large number of people already affected by obesity and even cardio vascular disease, several of these choices are relatively unhealthy and may even exacerbate their conditions. Salmon, while a healthy relatively low fat fish, contains high levels of cholesterol. Dark chocolate contains saturated fat, as do olive oil and avocados.
How good are bananas? I have heard that bananas Mack you gain weight, is this so?
Saturated fat is not our enemy. Your tofu and chocolate reccomendations are typical of the health industry misguiding us. Total sugar load on the liver. Can you say “Hello diabetes, fatty liver, and heart disease?”
Thank you, for this article
Be careful of what you are referring people to on healthy foods, Your recommendation on #7 dark greens. greens such as kale,spinach, etc thickens ones blood and not recommended for people with history of blood clots or are
on blood thinners.
I’m really glad that number 11 and 12 made the list.
Don’t know how I would get along without 2 coffees and 2 pieces of dark chocolate a day.
Usually have coffee early morning and chocolate at night watching TV.
I have recently learned that eating blueberries with any kind of milk product will diminish the antioxidant benefits. Even putting cream or milk into tea or coffee will do the same for those antioxidants. Would you shed more light on that?
Nice article, good photos. BUT what I want to know: where is the cutest neighborhood
in San Francisco?
I regularly eat 11 of the 12 items featured. I gave up Tofu because it has health issues that don’t fit my body. But all the others – super. I am 73 years old, a 40 year vegetarian, organic foods most of my life, take no meds and can play tennis everyday. Your body is worth taking care of.
Yall are so inspirational
Hello. I love all the comments but did not see any answers or comments concerning the concerns. I have very high blood pressure and I am on several meds. I do eat some of the foods on the list, but will work on eating more. I use the frozen berries with my cereal, so is that a bad thing to do.
Thank you for your infor. Seems that the older I get the better i take care of myself. I eat very healthy and take a 15 minute swiff walk every day. I feel great and people say I look younger as well. I stay away from added sugar, and i don’t even miss it. Thanks
You lost me a “healthy whole grains”. The spike blood sugar which cause insulin release which leaves you storing fat and leading to hunger. This is old science and not up to date.
Hi Becky, thanks for your brilliant article. I live in OZ, we have a great choice of fresh produce available to us. Mangoes , berries and Avocados are our top foods at the moment. My go to food is Vegemite on Grainy Toast with Avocado. (I can hear you all cringing about the Vegemite, but it is full of B Vitamins).
I bought my Fitbit last year to keep an eye on my Heart, my calorie intake and calorie burn. It gets me up and moving.
Most of the foods you have mentioned are in my pantry or fridge.
When I shop, I trust my extincts, always asking myself “what do I need?” Fruit and Veg, I go by colour, meat is chicken (no skin) or Pork (the other white meat). Need to eat more fish though, will try your yummy Salmon recipe, thanks Becky.
If I have any doubts with regard to which foods are good for me or not, I go the the Heart Foundation Website. They have good info on which foods are of benefit to you and which contain the good fats our bodies need.
Oh yeah, the Dark Chocolate, every woman needs it!
Good Luck to you all.
I can hardly believe you have tofu on your list. That stuff is absolute garbage on so many levels. I also sense a lot of focus on low fat, which is wrong. Healthy fats are absolutely essential for optimum health. A lifetime of brainwashing has us all conditioned to think fat is bad… it never was. It’s sugar that causes all the problems, alongside western diets magnesium deficiency. Pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, cashews…and other magnesium rich superfoods will do wonders. Two things you should look into for healthy heart. 1 magnesium deficiency. 2 dysregulation of copper.
Great information. love walnuts and dark chocolate
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