Healthy Foods that Can Help Prevent Heart Disease

July 5, 2011

By Jessica Siebert

Diet is very important in preventing heart disease. In fact, foods have been shown to quell inflammation which is the main cause of plaque build up in arteries. Adding various foods to your diet can significantly prevent, and even reverse heart disease. Below is a list of heart healthy foods to include in your diet:

Fresh and Dried Fruits

Fruits are rich in fibre, vitamins, and potassium, and contain a great array of plaque fighting properties.

Apples are great for the heart because they contain anti-inflammatory properties, as well as pectin (found in apple peel) which recent research has shown can decrease total cholesterol. People who ate two to three apples a day lowered their bad cholesterol, while raising their good cholesterol. Pectin has also shown to lower serum cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar.

Photo by Ajith Kumar

Tomatoes are another great fruit as they are full or various vitamins, and contain properties such as lycopene, which have been proven to reduce your risk of heart disease. A study done in Europe in 1998 found that people who suffered heart attacks have lower levels of lycopene than non heart attack victims, and people with the least lycopene have over two times the heart attack risk.

Try to substitute pureed fruit for the oil in your baking, and aim for three servings of fruit each day! Try to look for unsweetened dried fruit to make it healthy as possible.

Vegetables

Photo Credit: Adie Reed

Vegetables are nature’s natural foods to keep our arteries healthy and clean. Green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce are the most nutrient dense foods. Red and purple vegetables contain powerful pigments that can protect your heart by increasing its production of a natural antioxidant.

Although tempting, you should avoid adding cheese sauce, cream or butter to your vegetables, because they contain unhealthy fats that can contribute to heart disease.

Legumes

Legumes are a low-fat plant protein that are full or heart healthy vitamins and minerals that contain a high amount of fibre and antioxidants. They can help decrease inflammation in the arteries. Legumes can be added to a number of recipes and they work well in soups and chillies.

Soy protein is a great legume choice, because it has been shown to prevent heart attacks by reducing bad cholesterol. A nine-week human study showed that by consuming 50g per day of soy protein can reduce LDL cholesterol by four to eight percent.

Whole Grains

Photo Credit: Rob QLD

Whole grains foods are a rich source of antioxidants and minerals. A look at several studies shows that people who eat more whole grains have a 21% lower risk of a cardiovascular disease.

Some whole grains contain beta-glucan (type of fibre), which soaks up cholesterol and puts it through the digestive system. Oats contain an important antioxidant that counteracts the damage of free radicals. It’s important to get at least three servings of whole grains a day.

Healthy Sources of Fat

Your diet needs to include fat but stay away from transfats and fried food and look for healthy sources of fat. Some nuts are high in fat but it’s the good kind of fat that helps prevent cholesterol from building into plaque.

Photo Credit: McBLG97

Overall nuts are a great heart healthy food, and according to Harvard researchers, they can significantly reduce heart disease. In 1998, Harvard researchers tracked 22,000 doctors for 22 years and found that those who ate the most nuts had the fewest deaths from heart disease. Researchers felt that a fat in nuts called alpha-linolenic acid may help prevent heart rhythm disturbance that causes many heart attack deaths.

Eat walnuts for a snack or add them to salads, casseroles and baked good. Flaxseeds can be ground up and added to oatmeal, pancakes and baked goods. Use olive oil when cooking for another source of monounsaturated fat.

Seafood

Fatty seafood like salmon are full of omega 3, DHA and EPA which helps to stabilize plaque, reduce risk of sudden death, lower triglyceride level, and reduce inflammation. Fish oil has been shown to increase the body’s ability to get rid of blood clots which can dramatically decrease your chance of suffering a heart attack. It’s important to aim for at least two fatty fish meals a week, and to avoid fish high in mercury (marlin, shark and tilefish)

Protein

When it comes to choosing heart healthy meat, make sure you choose lean meats such as veal, lamb, chicken, turkey, wild game, and well-trimmed beef. Choose low fat cheeses, and avoid fatty meats such as bacon, sausage or any fried or heavily processed meats and cheeses.

Red wine

Red wine is good for the heart because it is filled with antioxidants, including resveratrol which is important for the heart. Although drink within moderation, experts recommend no more than one 5-ounce glass a day for women, and two for men.

Supplements

Some recommended supplements to help prevent heart disease are Niacin, fish oil, plant sterols, and psyllium seed husk. Niacin is a B vitamin that helps to boost your good cholesterol.

If you’re not much of a fish eater, fish oil capsules are a great alternative to help you get your Omega 3s. Plant Sterols are a plant’s version of cholesterol; they are highly effective in reducing bad cholesterol in humans. Psyllium seed husk is a very potent cholesterol lowering agent, and it promotes a healthy digestive track as well!

While there are some risk factors for heart disease that you can’t control by eating a healthy diet you can greatly reduce some risk factors and even eliminate some of them.

*Consult your doctor or a nutritionist to discuss any diet changes or new supplements.

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