Around one in four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women, and it includes most racial groups, too.
Because heart disease is mostly a lifestyle choice, it makes sense to begin to address it through diet and exercise. Heart-healthy foods often include foods high in fiber, vitamins like D and K, and healthy fats. The best foods for a healthy heart focus on vegetables, whole grains, legumes and seeds, and spices, along with a few types of meat that are rich in healthy fats.
If you’re interested in learning which foods are the best to try for your heart health, read through this list of the 12 best foods for a healthy heart. At the end of the article, I’ll share five heart-healthy meal ideas to help you get started.
12 Fabulous Heart Healthy Foods
- Fatty Fish
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Dark Leafy Green Vegetables
- Chia Seeds
Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for heart health in several ways. Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides, help keep the heartbeat regular, increase good cholesterol, and keep the arteries clear of obstruction. These healthy fats can also lower blood pressure a little bit.
Beyond heart health, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and help with joint pain, and they may help with depression and protecting against Alzheimer’s disease.
Some fatty fish, including salmon, contain other substances that could support heart health, too. For example, salmon contains significant amounts of vitamin D, which could help reduce the risk of heart failure. One small salmon fillet contains 116% of the daily recommended intake for vitamin D, as well as 91% for niacin, which has also been studied for its abilities to help prevent heart disease.
Salmon is also a good source of potassium, which helps keep the heartbeat regular, and other nutrients such as vitamin B6, which may help prevent clogged arteries.
Cruciferous vegetables include all the vegetables in the cabbage family. Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are all cruciferous vegetables. So are kale, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kohlrabi. These foods contain a compound called sulforaphane that has tremendous health benefits, including benefits for the heart.
Sulforaphane is known to protect against heart disease by activating substances in the body that fight oxidative stress, and its anti-inflammatory effects help protect the heart, too. Sulforaphane also reduces blood sugar, neutralizes toxins, and slows the growth of tumors.
Besides sulforaphane, cruciferous vegetables contain fiber that helps keep the microbiome healthy, as well as several other vitamins and minerals that could support heart health. For example, one cup of raw kale contains 68% of the daily recommended value for vitamin K, which could protect against heart disease by helping keep the arteries clear of blood clots. Kale is also a good source of folate, potassium, vitamin C, and several B vitamins.
Cinnamon is a warm spice made from the bark of the cinnamon tree. Besides adding a tasty flavor to a variety of recipes, cinnamon also has several health benefits, including some benefits for the heart. Cinnamon could improve cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and balance triglycerides.
Some sources indicate that taking honey and cinnamon together could help improve heart health. An easy way to do this is by mixing honey and ground cinnamon in an herbal tea or a cup of hot lemon water.
Cinnamon’s health benefits extend beyond the heart. This spice has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects. It could help improve blood sugar levels, and it has some prebiotic properties that could keep the gut microbiome healthy, too.
Oatmeal is a high-fiber food. It includes both insoluble and soluble fiber. Both are great for enhancing gut health, and the beta-glucan soluble fiber found in oats could help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, too.
Besides fiber, oatmeal is rich in vitamins and minerals that play a part in heart health. One cup of cooked oatmeal contains around 4% of the daily recommended intake for potassium, which helps keep the heart in rhythm. It’s also a good source of several B vitamins and minerals such as selenium and zinc. Selenium is important because increasing selenium intake by 50% can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 24%.
Avocado fruit is a superfood that’s packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. One cup of cubed avocado contains 165 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. It contains 40% of the daily recommendation for fiber, 39% for vitamin K, 21% for potassium, and 25% for vitamin C, which has antioxidant effects. It’s also a good source of several B vitamins.
Avocados are rich in folate, too. This compound could help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Some research shows that getting enough folate daily could help reduce the risk of heart disease by 20%. One cup of fresh avocado cubes provides around 30% of the daily recommendation for folate.
Like cinnamon, garlic is a spice as well as an herb with many health benefits. Garlic has been shown to lower blood pressure, and it could help prevent the hardening of the arteries. It could also decrease total cholesterol.
Garlic’s benefits go beyond heart health. Garlic has some antimicrobial properties that could help fight virus infections, and it could help prevent some types of cancer. Some compounds in garlic are strong antioxidants, too.
Garlic can be eaten fresh as components of home remedies or added to stews, soups, meat dishes, casseroles, and even salads. People who don’t like the taste of garlic might consider taking garlic supplements, which can be purchased in capsule form.
Dark Leafy Green Vegetables
Dark leafy green vegetables include kale from the category of cruciferous vegetables above, but it also includes other dark leaves such as spinach, collard greens, beet greens, mustard greens, and Swiss chard.
All of the dark leafy green vegetables are rich in folate, which can help prevent heart disease. They tend to be high in vitamin K, as well. For example, one cup of fresh Swiss chard contains 249% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin K. Swiss chard is also a decent source of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, selenium, and manganese. One other heart-supporting nutrient that dark leafy greens contain is nitrates.
Some studies show that eating just a cup of dark green leafy vegetables every day could lower the risk of heart disease.
Chia seeds are a type of superfood rich in several minerals, vitamins, and other beneficial compounds. Like avocados and salmon, chia seeds contain a decent amount of omega-3 fatty acids that help protect the heart. An ounce of chia seeds also provides 28% of the daily recommended intake for fiber.
Chia seeds are especially rich in magnesium. Like potassium, magnesium is an electrolyte that helps balance body fluids, so it can impact blood pressure. It also helps maintain a healthy heart rhythm. One ounce of chia seeds contains 28% of the recommended daily intake for magnesium.
Other nutrients that chia seeds provide include potassium, selenium, folate, and several other B vitamins. Chia seeds also supply consumers with a substance called choline. The liver can synthesize some choline, but it’s necessary to obtain more through the diet. Getting enough choline could help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Spirulina is an edible blue-green algae that has several health benefits for the heart. Eating spirulina could help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, lower the risk of heart disease overall, and reduce cholesterol levels. It could also boost the immune system, and it has antioxidant properties.
While it’s a helpful food, it’s not a common one. Many people take spirulina in capsule form or mix spirulina powder into their food at mealtimes. Spirulina could be purchased at health food stores, and many people order it online.
Asparagus is a green or purple-tipped spear-like vegetable that grows in the spring. The stalk is eaten before the bud at the top of the stem breaks open. Asparagus is known both for its high fiber content and its high levels of folate.
A cup of raw asparagus contains 10% of the daily recommendation for fiber, 6% for potassium, 17% for folate, and 46% for vitamin K. It’s also rich in several B vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, selenium, and copper, which could help improve conditions of heart failure. One cup of asparagus provides 28% of the daily recommended intake for copper.
Turmeric is a root herb similar to ginger, but with different medicinal properties. Turmeric could be responsible for reversing heart disease by adjusting the lining of blood vessels. This, in turn, affects blood pressure and blood clotting.
Turmeric can be occasionally purchased at local grocery stores, and it could also be purchased in health food stores. It can be purchased as a whole root, in powdered form, or in capsule form for those who don’t want to eat it.
This bright orange-tinted herb is what gives yellow curry its distinctive taste and color.
Legumes are fiber-filled seeds like beans and lentils. They’re well known for their helpful impact on heart health, including lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
Legumes are nutrient-dense food. Besides the fiber, many legumes, such as black beans, are also rich in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that could impact heart health. For example, one cup of raw black beans contains 61% of the daily recommended intake for potassium, 215% for folate, and 181% for copper. Black beans are also rich in most B vitamins and other minerals, such as magnesium and selenium.
Five Heart-Healthy Foods Meal Ideas
Now that you've read through this list of the 12 best foods for a healthy heart, you have the basic knowledge to start building your own heart-healthy meals. I'm sharing five more heart-healthy meal ideas that you can begin to use immediately while you design your own meal plan.
Idea #1: Salmon And Asparagus
Salmon is loaded with vitamin D and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Asparagus, which contains fiber and several helpful vitamins and minerals, is a great choice for a side dish.
Idea #2: Yellow Curry And Spinach Salad
Yellow curry gets its golden flavor from turmeric. It’s also full of vegetables, which contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. For an extra burst of vitamin K, try serving a spinach salad alongside your favorite yellow curry dish.
Idea #3: Chili With Guacamole
Chili contains beans, which are loaded with fiber and helpful minerals. While not included in the list above, the chili powder, peppers, and other spices also help promote heart health. Serve a generous dollop of guacamole with the chili to get a boost of omega-3 fatty acids.
Idea #4: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
Apple cinnamon oatmeal is a great choice for breakfast. To make it, stir chopped apples and cinnamon into oats before cooking them. The oats and apples add both soluble and insoluble fiber. The cinnamon adds flavor while it improves heart health.
Idea #5: Kale Smoothie
Kale smoothies are great for breakfast, lunch, or as a snack. This smoothie idea blends kale, chia seeds, berries, a banana, and a dash of cinnamon. You might consider adding spirulina or turmeric for an even denser nutritional profile.