Heart Disease

Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources


5 Heart-Healthy Foods to Eat


Eat your heart out with these disease-fighting foods

By Katherine Solem 


You may love to eat, but does the food you eat love you back? If you munch like most people — a diet full of sodium, refined carbohydrates and extra calories — the answer is almost certainly no. But many foods contain beneficial nutrients that help lower your heart disease risk and improve your overall health. Here are five heart-healthy foods to add to your menu.


1. Whole Grains


Whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats. Foods made with whole grains also have higher levels of soluble and insoluble fiber. Both types of fiber are important for a healthy diet, but research suggests that the soluble kind can help reduce blood glucose (BG or blood sugar) as well as “bad” LDL cholesterol. 

Look for the American Heart Association “Heart-Check” mark on food packages. This means the item contains 51% or more whole grains by weight and is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.


2. Legumes


You were on to something as a kid: it turns out beans are good for your heart. In addition to being packed with soluble fiber (which you already know lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol), beans are high in magnesium and potassium, which help regulate blood pressure.

Eating four or more servings of beans and other legumes a week helped lower the risk of heart disease by 21%, according to a large survey. If you're worried about discomfort from gas, boil dried beans in water for 2 to 3 minutes, then cover and set aside for 4 hours to help absorb some of the gas-producing sugars, or pop some Beano (or other over-the-counter gas-reducing product) before or while eating. Gradually building up your body’s tolerance to beans by slowly introducing them to your diet helps reduce gas, too.


3. Olive Oil

Olive Oil

When consumed in moderation, olive oil is one of the heart-healthiest foods around, thanks to its concentration of monounsaturated fats, which help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s also chock-full of antioxidants, like vitamin E, which keep your cells in tip-top shape. Skip the "light" varieties — they're just refined versions of regular olive oil and have no less fat but possibly fewer nutrients. Instead, choose cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil — cold-pressing ensures the oil retains the most heart-healthy antioxidants. 


4. Fish


Omega-3 fats found in fish help slightly lower blood pressure levels and fat buildup in the blood. Eating more fatty fish can also help decrease the risk of clogged arteries and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), which can lead to sudden death. To reel in these benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish a week, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna.


5. Berries


Berries are mini, but certainly mighty. Research suggests that berries — especially blackberries and strawberries — are jam-packed with antioxidants, which may help prevent or protect against cell damage in the body, including the heart. Start your day off right by folding these nutrition powerhouses into your breakfast. Add your favorite berries to oatmeal or blend them with frozen bananas and Greek yogurt for a creamy, refreshing smoothie.  

Want more ways to fold these foods into your diet? This Mediterranean eating plan is not only heart-healthy, but it can also improve diabetes.


Published on August 12, 2010. Updated on July 29, 2016. 


Katherine Solem is a health writer and editor living in San Francisco. Additional reporting by Brittany Doohan. 


Reviewed by Shira Goldenholz, MD, MPH on June 27, 2016.
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