In spite of all the advances in the fight against heart disease, it is still the leading cause of death for both women and men in the U.S. But studies show that adding certain nutrients to your diet can slash your risk. Protect your ticker with these easy ways to make your diet heart-healthier.
1. Switch your spread
Instead of butter or cream cheese, smear bagels and toast with nut butters: they’re rich in monounsaturated fats, which regulate cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and protect the heart. While the link between butter, other saturated fats, and heart disease is complicated, most studies show that replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils protects the heart. Definitely skip the margarine, as it’s high in trans fats that dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, even in very small amounts. If you don’t eat nuts, spread bread with healthy fats: try mashed avocado, olive oil mixed with garlic and hummus, or sunflower butter, honey, and cinnamon.
2. Make your own “salt”
Lowering sodium intake can reduce cardiovascular risk by as much as 24 percent. Start by steering clear of processed foods like chips, crackers, luncheon meats, and fast foods. Even pasta sauce, salad dressings, canned soups, and condiments can have as much as 1,000 mg of sodium per serving, nearly half the daily recommendation. To add flavor sans sodium, make savory blends of pungent herbs. Try garlic powder, white pepper, ground ginger, and curry; studies show they can reduce inflammation, protect the arteries, and may lower cholesterol.
3. Add beans to everything
Beans are loaded with fiber—a cup of navy beans contains 18 grams, about half the recommended daily intake—and can reduce levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, improve glucose metabolism, normalize blood pressure, and protect against inflammation. In one study, people who ate beans four or more times a week had a 22 percent lower risk of heart disease. Other high-fiber options: raspberries, pears, barley, sweet potatoes, oat bran, and whole-wheat pasta.
4. Make Mondays meat-free
Studies show that vegans and vegetarians have lower risks for heart disease and cardiovascular mortality. Instead of meat, focus on plant-based protein such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy. Swap crumbled tempeh for beef in pasta sauce, make burgers from black beans and ground chia seeds, use lentils in sloppy joes, and toss edamame and walnuts into salads. If you do eat meat, stick to lean versions, such as poultry, fish, and lean cuts of red meat, and limit serving size to 5 oz. a few times a week.
Adding meat-free meals into your diet can lower your risk of heart disease.
5. Have a daily salad
And super-size it. Vegetable-heavy salads are packed with fiber, antioxidants, and heart-protective nutrients, and can protect you from cardiovascular and other diseases. Have a big salad for one meal a day, with a variety of nutrient-dense selections: try kale, arugula, shaved Brussels sprouts, carrots, broccoli, beets, cabbage, and cooked sweet potato cubes. Add chickpeas, avocado, cooked quinoa, and nuts, and toss it with extra-virgin olive oil. In one study, olive oil reduced the risk of death from all causes by 26 percent.
6. Upgrade your pasta
Start with whole-wheat noodles—they’ve been shown to protect the heart—or use spiralized sweet potatoes or rutabagas instead of spaghetti, for a high-fiber, antioxidant-rich base. Make your own sauce with low-sodium canned tomatoes, because they’re an excellent source of lycopene and other compounds that lower cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce inflammation, and protect the arteries. Lace it with olive oil, and go heavy on the garlic and onions. Studies show that both can lower blood pressure, prevent inflammation, reduce cholesterol, and slow the buildup of plaque inyour arteries.
7. Say goodbye to sugar
Research confirms that eating sugar adversely affects cholesterol and triglycerides, and increases heart disease risk. In one study, a sugary diet led to a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, and the risk more than doubled for people who got 21 percent or more of their calories from sugar. Purge your pantry of sugary snacks, and stock up on high-fiber, antioxidant-rich fruit, especially berries, which are high in antioxidants that keep blood vessels healthy, decrease inflammation, lower blood pressure, and balance cholesterol. Or go for extra-dark chocolate; it’s low in sugar and rich in magnesium, which lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and protects against blood clots.
8. Get cultured
Beneficial bacteria in the gut are key to heart health, and studies show an imbalance is linked with cardiovascular disease and other risk factors like obesity and diabetes. Probiotics can lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, prevent inflammation and protect against arterial disease. Best sources include low-fat yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso. Try stirring miso into cooked soups, making kefir and berry smoothies for breakfast, or adding a few tablespoons of kimchi to cooked whole grains.
9. Rethink your drink
Skip sugary beverages and focus on heart-healthy drinks. Red wine is loaded with
resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that protects the heart; if you don’t drink, red grape juice has the same effect. Both green and black tea lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, protect blood vessels, and lower inflammation. Other teas, such as chamomile, rooibos, and hibiscus, appear to have similar effects. Or lace sparkling water with grapefruit juice or unsweetened cranberry juice to improve blood flow, protect arteries, improve cholesterol, and lower inflammation.
10. Get hooked on fish
It’s a good catch: fish is high in lean protein, vitamin D, and other heart-healthy nutrients. Salmon, sardines, tuna, herring, and mackerel are best for heart health because they’re rich in omega-3 fats, which lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, protect against blood clots, balance cholesterol, and reduce mortality from all causes by as much as 12 percent. Easy ways to eat more: crumble cooked salmon over salads, make burgers from cod, or broil sardines with garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary, and toss with whole-grain pasta and olives.
Five Supplements for Heart Health
Helps dilate arteries, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. Studies show that it’s linked with a lower risk of hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
2. Coenzyme Q10
Helps cells produce energy—important for proper functioning of the heart. Studies show CoQ10 reduces oxidative stress, protects the arteries, and reduces heart disease risk. Because statins deplete CoQ10, it’s especially important if you’re taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
A compound found in turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory that
improves the lining of blood vessels, regulating blood pressure and protecting against blood clots. Studies show it can reduce the risk of heart attack by as much as 65 percent. Look for supplements formulated with piperine, a compound in black pepper that dramatically increases absorption.
An amino acid naturally found in foods, helps lower blood pressure and protect against inflammation. Studies show that it can improve coronary heart disease and lower the rate of heart failure and death.
A fragrant citrus fruit, is rich in polyphenol antioxidants and can protect against metabolic syndrome, a collection of symptoms that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies show that it improves cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowers blood sugar, and protects the heart.