16 foods you must eat to keep your heart healthy

16 foods you must eat to keep your heart healthy
February 17, 2017 3:45 PM

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. If you want to have a healthy heart you should follow a healthy diet. Here is a detailed, evidence-based post featuring 16 best foods for heart health, including four recommended dietary patterns and two recipes for cardioprotective meals.

Contents

  1. Almonds
  2. Beans
  3. Tomatoes
  4. Walnuts
  5. Dark chocolate
  6. Leafy greens
  7. Salmon
  8. Asparagus
  9. Green tea
  10. Whole grains
  11. Apples
  12. Berries
  13. Potatoes
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Red wine
  16. Soybeans
  17. Essential nutrients for prevention of cardiovascular diseases
    1. Sodium (and salt)
    2. Vitamin D
    3. Coenzyme Q10
    4. Magnesium
    5. Homocysteine-reducing agents
    6. Omega-3 fatty acids
    7. Phytosterols
  18. What is the best diet for prevention of cardiovascular disease
    1. Mediterranean diet
    2. Low-fat diets
    3. Low-carbohydrate diets
    4. DASH diet
  19. Recipes
    1. Steamed broccoli with potatoes and carrots
    2. Salmon: an easy-to-make recipe
  20. Things to remember

Almonds

Almonds tend to be quite beneficial for your heart.

In one six-week controlled study, 48 participants with elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol levels went on a cholesterol-lowering diet and a daily dose of almonds (1.5 oz, e.g. 42.5 g of almonds per day).

Compared to a controlled group of participants, who ate the same cholesterol-lowering diet with no daily dose of almonds, scientists found out that almond consumption reduced both abdominal fat and LDL cholesterol, which are one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (1).

In fact, almonds contain lots of nutrients, which may promote your heart health, including:

  • Unsaturated fats: There are 14 grams of fat in one serving (1 oz or 28 g) of almonds, of which 13 grams is unsaturated fat (2). These polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats help lower cholesterol levels, which is essential for your heart (1).
  • Fiber: Almonds contain fiber, which may also help lower LDL cholesterol levels (3). What is more, fiber keeps you full, which means that you will eventually eat less. And fiber also slows down the absorption of nutrients in your gut, which in turn results in a decrease of cholesterol concentration in your blood.
  • Plant sterols: These molecules (also called phytosterols) are known to reduce intestinal cholesterol absorption, which ultimately lowers LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Almonds are a rich natural source of phytosterols, which makes them an excellent heart disease prevention food (4).
  • L-arginine: L-arginine supplementation is shown to improve vascular function in patients with diabetes (5). As almonds are a good source of L-arginine, they may also improve your blood flow through vessels. However further studies are necessary to confirm this effect of L-arginine.
  • Vitamin E – Just 0.25 cup (23 g) of almonds contains 40% RDI (recommended daily intake) of vitamin E (6). This fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin has cardioprotective effects as it increases the oxidative resistance of blood vessel cells and prevents atherosclerotic plaque formation (7).
Almonds in paper bag

Almonds are full of nutrients promoting heart health

FDA recommends not to eat more than 1.5 oz (42.5 g) of almonds per day. This amount proved beneficial for your heart health and you should not exceed it as almonds may also have some side effects

The bottom line: Almonds are full of nutrients, which may help you decrease LDL cholesterol levels and promote the health of your heart and vessels. Do not eat more than 1.5 oz (42.5 g) of almonds per day.

Beans

Beans are a rich source of heart-healthy nutrients, such as vitamins B, calcium and iron (8, 9, 10).

One cup (177 g) of kidney beans provides 12% of calcium RDI, 29% of iron RDI and 9% of vitamin B6 RDI (11).

Here are some ways how beans may lower your cardiovascular risks:

  • Lower cholesterol levels: There is 45% of fiber DV (daily value) in one cup (177 g) of kidney beans and as we already know, fiber helps lower LDL cholesterol levels in your blood (12, 13).  
  • Reduce inflammation: Beans contain several phytochemicals, such as terpenoids, anthocyanins or polyphenols, which are shown to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation and may prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation (14). 
  • Lower blood pressure: Maintaining a normal blood pressure is also essential for the optimum health of your heart. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 1999-2002 showed that people who eat beans have a lower risk of elevated blood pressure than those who don’t (15).

FDA recommends at least 4.5 cups (or 8 pieces) of fruits and vegetables a day, including beans and peas (16).

While it is not wise to consume such a large amount of beans every day due to the risk of bloating, try eating about 1 cup (177 g) of beans daily for the best cardioprotective effect.

You should buy canned beans with no salt added as too much sodium is detrimental to your heart health. If you cannot find salt-free canned beans, make sure you drain the beans in a colander and rinse them with water to get rid of the excess salt before eating (17).  

Bean salad may promote your heart health

Bean salad may promote your heart health

Also if you buy raw beans, you need to soak them and cook them first to make them tender and easily digestible. They contain starches that may cause abdominal discomfort or bloat if not properly cooked.

The bottom line: Beans help promote your heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation and blood pressure. The best way to add more beans to your diet is to make a bean salad at least once a week

Tomatoes

Americans consume more tomatoes than any other non-starchy vegetables.

These vegetables are quite rich in phytochemicals (such as lycopene and polyphenols), which are shown to lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and stroke (18, 19, 20, 21).

There is 7.8 - 18.1 mg of lycopene and 3.8 - 35.1 mg of polyphenols in 100 g of ripe tomatoes (22).

Tomatoes are also an abundant source of folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids and vitamin E (23).

Here are some ways how tomatoes promote your cardiovascular health:

  • Prevention of atherosclerosis: Nutrients in tomatoes protect vascular cells and lipoproteins from oxidation, which may lower the risk of atherosclerosis, one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (23).
  • Prevention of inflammation and decrease of cholesterol levels: Animal studies show, that lycopene may inhibit inflammation, platelet aggregation and production of ROS (reactive oxygen species) and lower total and LDL cholesterol levels (24). However, more studies in humans are required to assess the real benefits of lycopene for cardiovascular risk factors. Tomatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, which may slightly improve lipid profiles and function of the endothelium (the innermost layer of blood vessels) (25). This decreases a cardiovascular risk and mortality (25).

FDA recommends eight pieces of fruit and vegetables a day. Make sure you eat at least one tomato a day for the best cardiovascular outcome.

The bottom line: Tomatoes are a great source of carotenoids, polyphenols and vitamin C, which are essential for heart health and decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Walnuts

Most experts claim that walnuts are the number one nuts for heart health.

Just 28 grams of walnuts provide 2 grams of saturated fat (9% of daily value) and 2 grams of dietary fiber (8% of daily value).

Walnuts are also rich in iron (5% of daily value), calcium (3% of daily value), omega-3 fatty acids (mainly ALA) and PUFA (polyunsaturated fats) (26)

Here is how walnuts may promote your heart health:

  • Decrease LDL cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure: Walnuts have been shown to decrease both LDL cholesterol (by 9 - 16%) and diastolic blood pressure (by 2 - 3 mm Hg) (27). In the PREDIMED study, participants with high cardiovascular risks consumed the Mediterranean diet enriched with 30 g of mixed nuts (half of which were walnuts, the rest hazelnuts or almonds) every day for 12 weeks. Compared to control diet the nut-consuming participants showed a decrease in oxidized LDL level, which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease (28). 
  • Improve oxygen supply to tissues: They are also high in vitamin E, which improves oxygen supply to tissues (as it helps form hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood) (29).

Professor Joe Vinson from the University of Scranton recommends eating 7 walnuts a day to see some real cardiovascular benefits (30).

The bottom line: Walnuts have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. They are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and iron, which makes them an excellent addition to your cardiovascular disease prevention diet.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids (mainly flavan-3-ols), which are thought to promote your heart health (31, 32).

On average, one bar (100 grams) of dark chocolate (with 75 - 80% of cocoa) contain 93 - 651 mg of flavonoids (33).

It is also rich in iron (67% of RDA), fiber (11 g), copper (89% of RDA) and magnesium (58% of RDA) (34). 

dark chocolate and cocoa

Dark chocolate and cocoa contain lots of flavonoids, which have some powerful benefits for your heart

A nine-year study, published in the journal of Circulation Heart Failure found that women who ate about two servings of chocolate per week had a 32 percent lower chance of developing heart failure than those who didn’t eat any chocolate (34a).

Another long-term study found that men who ate about 1/3 cup of dark chocolate per week, had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, compared to those who didn’t eat chocolate (35).

Here is how dark chocolate may promote your heart health:

  • Dilates your blood vessels: Flavanoids in chocolate increase NO production in the endothelium and widen the vessels (including aorta). This ultimately lowers the blood pressure (36).
  • Protects cellular membranes from damage: Nutrients in chocolate inhibit destructive agents of cell membranes, which reduces inflammation and CVD risk (37).   

Make sure you only buy quality chocolate with cocoa content over 70%.

You may see some positive cardiovascular outcomes of chocolate intake even when consuming just a few grams every day (38).

Do not eat excessive amounts of dark chocolate. It may harm your teeth and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.   

The bottom line: Chocolate and cocoa contain powerful antioxidants called flavonoids. Studies confirmed that they decrease the risk of heart failure.

Leafy greens

If you want to improve your heart health, you should go green and add foods like collard, broccoli, mustard green or kale to your diet.

Here is how these veggies improve your heart health:

  • Lower LDL cholesterol: The majority of leafy greens have the bile acid binding capacity, which helps decrease LDL cholesterol levels (e.g. a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases) (38a).
  • Lower the blood pressure: Leafy greens are also high in potassium, which helps manage blood pressure (39).
  • Decrease homocysteine levels: These veggies are also rich in vitamin B12 and folic acid, which lowers homocysteine levels in the body. High homocysteine levels in the body were associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction. Therefore leafy greens may also have a positive impact on cardiovascular health (40).

Canadian health organizations recommend a daily intake of at least one dark green and one orange vegetable (41).

The bottom line: Leafy greens lower LDL cholesterol levels. They are also rich in potassium, vitamin B12 or folate, which are shown to decrease the blood pressure and homocysteine levels, thus reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Salmon

Salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be helpful in both primary and secondary prevention of heart diseases.

1/2 fillet (154 g) of cooked salmon provides nearly 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (42).

Here is how salmon promotes your heart health:

  • Reduces arrhythmias and inflammation: Omega-3 fatty acids reduce arrhythmias and inflammation (by decreasing production of prostaglandins).
  • Improves platelet and endothelial function: Nutrients in salmon are shown to improve platelet and endothelial functions, which are necessary for proper heart health (43).
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce cardiovascular risks

Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce cardiovascular risks

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish two times a week to get maximum benefits for your cardiovascular health (44).

The bottom line: Salmon is a potent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and arrhythmias and improve platelet and endothelial function.

Asparagus

Asparagus is a rich source of prebiotic dietary fiber, which is known to lower the risk of coronary heart disease because it decreases LDL cholesterol blood levels (45).

Its inulin content is about 2 - 3 grams per 3.5-oz (100-gram) serving (46).

It also contains some essential nutrients and vitamins, such as folate and vitamin D.

Here is how asparagus may decrease CVD risks:

  • Lowers blood pressure and prevents type 2 diabetes: Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with hypertension and type-2 diabetes mellitus, both of which are important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (47). It also contains a phenolic compound called quercetin, which is shown to lower systolic pressure (48).
  • Lowers the risk of myocardial infarction: Asparagus contains folate, which decreases homocysteine levels in the blood. High homocysteine levels have been associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction (49

Make sure you add asparagus regularly to your diet as part of the FDA "8 fruit and vegetable a day rule".

The bottom line: Asparagus is rich ni prebiotic fiber, folate, vitamin D or quercetin, which reduce cardiovascular risk factors

Green tea

Green tea contains polyphenolic flavonoids called catechins, which are well-known cardioprotective compounds.

Catechins make up to 30% of dry weight of green tea leaves (50).

Green tea is also rich in caffeine (up to 10% of dry weight of green tea leaves) (51).

A study presented at the AHA conference showed that green tea drinkers have a lower incidence of heart diseases and strokes compared to people who don’t drink green tea (52). 

Here is how green tea may help in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases:

  • Reduces the risk of atherosclerosis: Catechins in green tea may prevent oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and minimize the risk of atherosclerosis (53). They also have anti-inflammatory effects (54).
Green tea

Green tea contains polyphenols and catechins, which have powerful cardioprotective effects

To get the most benefits for your heart, you should drink between 2 to 3 cups of green tea every day as studies confirm that each daily cup of green tea lowers the CAD (coronary artery disease) risk by 10% (55).

However, if you are already suffering from a cardiovascular disease or if your physician told you to limit caffeine intake (e.g. while pregnant, etc.), you should drink caffeine free green tea.

The bottom line: Green tea is rich in polyphenolic compounds called catechins, which have cardioprotective effects. 

Whole grains

People who eat a lot of grains are leaner and have a lower risk of heart disease than those who don’t.

The reason behind this is that whole grains are rich in phytosterols, antioxidants and prebiotic fiber (56).

An analysis of 45 studies confirmed that whole grains reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases (including coronary heart disease) (57). 

Whole grains are also an excellent source of fiber and B vitamins.

They are also rich in iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and antioxidants.

Here is how whole grains promote heart health:

  • Lower LDL cholesterol: Regular intake of whole grains (56 - 85 grams a day) results in LDL cholesterol level lowering by 6.9 mg/dL, which may prove helpful in the prevention of cardiovascular events (58).
  • Reduce homocysteine levels: Some of the B vitamins in whole grains may lower the homocysteine blood levels, which in turn translates into the decrease of MI (myocardial infarction) risk.

There is not a recommended daily intake for whole grains but studies confirm that daily consumption of 2.5 servings of whole grains lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 21% compared to consuming only 0.2 servings (59).

Adding whole grains to your diet is quite easy. You may buy whole grain bread in your supermarket. 

However, you need to read food labels very carefully and only purchase the bread marked "whole wheat", which must be made of 100% whole-wheat flour. 

In addition to whole grain bread, you may also eat other whole grain foods, such as barley, popcorn, oats or wild rice. 

The bottom line: Studies show that daily consumption of whole grains lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Apples

You might have heard the famous saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and it is so true when it comes to apples and heart diseases.

Apples contain phytochemicals, such as flavonoids, quercetin, catechin and chlorogenic acid, which have potent antioxidant properties and act in prevention of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and coronary heart disease (60).

The average polyphenol (including flavonoids) content in apples is between 56 and 221 mg per 100-gram serving of apples (61).

In fact, one cup (125 g) of apples contains 3 grams of dietary fiber (12% of RDI) and 15 mg of phytosterols (62)

Data from a study conducted on more than 84,000 women and 42,000 men show that frequent apple eaters were at a 20% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those, who do not eat apples (46).

Here is how apples may help you lower your cardiovascular disease risk:

  • Lower cholesterol levels: Apples are also a great source of pectin (fiber), which has cholesterol-lowering properties (63).
  • Lower the risk of coronary heart disease: Phytochemicals in apples have high antioxidant properties, which may lower the risk of coronary heart disease. The exact mechanism how this work is not known yet.  

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consumption of at least eight pieces of fruit and vegetables a day (64).

While there is no RDI for apples, you should aim to eat 1 - 2 apples a day for the best cardiovascular outcome. 

The bottom line: Apples contain pectin, flavonoids as well as other phytochemicals, which have some cardioprotective properties.

Berries

Berries can do wonders for your heart health.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involving 72 middle aged people, eating just under one cup of berries for eight weeks is associated with blood pressure level decrease and the HDL (“good”) cholesterol level increase (65).

Different kind of berries was included in the mixture, like raspberries, bilberries, strawberries, and blueberries.

Berries are extremely healthy

Berries are extremely healthy

Some other berries from Finland were also included, like chokeberries, lingonberries, and black currants.

Berries are rich in polyphenols, ellagic acid or anthocyanins.

Here is how berries promote heart health:

  • Lower blood pressure: Polyphenols found in berries have the ability to increase the nitric oxide levels in the body. Nitric oxide (NO) is responsible for relaxation of blood vessels (e.g. vasodilation), which helps lower the systolic blood pressure (66).
  • Increase HDL cholesterol: Nutrients in berries help increase the HDL ("good") cholesterol, which is another cardiovascular disease protective factor. 
  • Decrease LDL cholesterol oxidation: Polyphenols and vitamin C found in berries lower LDL cholesterol oxidation, which helps prevent atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease (67)

For the best cardiovascular outcome, you should eat about 1 cup (100 grams) of berries a day.

The bottom line: Berries are rich in polyphenols and anthocyanins, which help in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Potatoes

Potatoes are popular edible plant tubers eaten in many countries worldwide.

They are a rich source of potassium, magnesium and vitamin B6, which all have beneficial effects on your cardiovascular health.

In fact, one large potato (200 g) contains 7 grams of dietary fiber (26% of RDI), 21% of RDI for folic acid, 48% of RDI for vitamin C, 38.9 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, 1.6 grams of potassium (46% of RDI) and 83.7 mg of magnesium (21% of RDI) (68).

Potatoes have no cholesterol or saturated fat in them. This makes them a good food for heart health (68).

Here is how potatoes act in prevention of heart diseases:

  • Lower LDL cholesterol levels: Potatoes contain 26% of recommended daily intake of dietary fiber, which is known to reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Protect heart cells from lack of oxygen: Quercetin in potatoes reduces the oxidative stress caused by ischemia in cardiomyocytes. It may protect these essential heart cells from damage (69). 

While potatoes are good for keeping your heart in good shape, due to their high glycemic index (GI) they may have an adverse impact on blood pressure levels. In fact, some studies show, that frequent consumption of baked or fried potatoes and chips results in the blood pressure increase (e.g. hypertension), which is an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (70).

Therefore you should not eat potatoes more frequently than once a week (1 serving is about 1 medium-sized potato) to ensure that your blood pressure remains within "safe" borders.

The bottom line: Potatoes are rich in dietary fiber, polyphenols and folic acid, which makes them a good food for prevention of cardiovascular diseases. However, you should only eat about 1 serving per week as they may also increase the blood pressure.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower is the cruciferous plant of the Brassicaceae family.

It is rich in nutrients with strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties.

One cup (100 grams) of cauliflower provides 303 mg of potassium (9% of RDI), 46.4 mg of vitamin C (77% of RDI) and 16.0 mcg of vitamin E (20% of RDI). It is also rich in folate (57.0 mcg or 14% of RDI) and omega-3 fatty acids (37.0 mg) (71).

An analysis published in August 2013 showed that including cruciferous vegetables to the diet can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (72).

Here is how cauliflower may help in the prevention of heart diseases:

  • Lowers LDL cholesterol levels: Studies have found that raw cauliflower can bind with the bile acids and decrease LDL cholesterol levels (73, 74).
  • Lowers homocysteine levels: Another study showed that folic acid in cauliflowers may significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases as it lowers blood homocysteine levels.
  • Lowers blood pressure: Potassium in cauliflower may help lower your blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.  

You should follow the Canadian health association recommendation and eat one dark green vegetable and one orange vegetable a day and add cauliflower to your regular weekly diet.Keep in mind that cauliflower contains Vitamin K which can make the blood much thinner than it is supposed to.

However, you should keep in mind that cauliflower is quite rich in vitamin K, which may interfere with blood thinning medication. If you are on such medication ask your doctor for permission prior adding cauliflower to your diet.

The bottom line: Cauliflower is a strong source of anti-inflammatory and antioxidative nutrients and is a healthy addition to your CVD prevention diet.

Red wine

French are the world number one red wine drinkers and despite a relatively high dietary intake of saturated fats, they have quite a low incidence of cardiovascular diseases in France (75).

Red wine is a rich source of nutrients and of resveratrol in particular, which have a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases (76).

Red wine promotes heart health

Red wine promotes heart health

There is between 1.98 - 7.13 mg of resveratrol in one liter of red wine (77).

Here is how red wine may help you promote your heart health:

  • Increases the HDL cholesterol and decreases the LDL cholesterol levels: Studies confirm that resveratrol and other antioxidants in red wine increase HDL cholesterol and lowers the LDL cholesterol levels (78).
  • Hemostasis: Polyphenols in red wine reduce platelet aggregation, which has an antiatherosclerotic effect in the arteries (78).
  • Widening of blood vessels: Polyphenols in red wine also increase the availability of NO in the blood vessels, which widens blood vessels (e.g. vasodilation). This has a positive impact on blood pressure (e.g. management of hypertension), which is another important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.

While all this is good news, you should be careful and drink red wine in moderation (e.g. one or two glasses of red wine a day is fine but not more).  

The bottom line: Red wine is a potent source of resveratrol, which has some positive effects on cholesterol levels, hemostasis and vasodilation.

Soybeans

Soybeans are rich in various nutrients, which may improve your heart health.

1 cup (180 g) of soybeans contains 22 grams of protein and 30% of RDI for fiber. It also contains 25% of RDI for iron and 28% of RDI for potassium, 90 mg of phytosterols and over 400 mg of isoflavones (79).

Twenty-two randomized trials compared isolated soy protein with isoflavones with milk protein, casein, wheat protein and mixed animal proteins. Participants consumed 25 to 135 g of soy protein a day (with 40 - 318 mg of isoflavones a day). Most studies confirmed a significant reduction of LDL cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure (80).

The bottom line: Soybeans may decrease LDL cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure. These are important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Essential nutrients for prevention of cardiovascular diseases

There are lots of nutrients, which may lower the risk of cardiovascular events.

These are the most important ones:

Sodium (and salt)

It is a good idea to go on a low-sodium diet if you want to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases (80).

As the majority of sodium we consume comes from dietary salt (sodium chloride), restricting its intake is the best way to lower your sodium blood levels.

Reduction of daily salt intake from 9 - 12 grams (an average daily intake of salt) to 5 - 6 grams (WHO recommended maximum daily intake of sodium) is supposed to have a positive impact on the incidence of cardiovascular diseases and stroke (81).

Vitamin D

A sufficient daily intake of vitamin D is essential for heart health (80).

Recommended daily intake (allowance) of vitamin D for an average adult person is 15 mcg (600 IU) (82).

The best sources of vitamin D include fish oil, oily fish and dairy products (fortified milk).

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is a popular supplement. Studies confirmed that daily intake of 60 to 200 mg of CoQ10 may improve endothelial function, ejection fraction and reduce blood pressure in the long-term management of primary hypertension (80).

Magnesium

The best dietary sources of magnesium are leafy greens (spinach), nuts, avocados, soybeans and chocolate.

The recommended daily intake is 320 mg a day (for women) and 420 mg a day (for men).

Magnesium rich foods

Foods high in magnesium

Studies show that magnesium supplementation may decrease mortality in patients with heart failure, improve endothelial function and inhibit thrombosis in patients with coronary artery disease (80).

However, the results of studies are mixed and there are currently no final recommendations in this respect.

Homocysteine-reducing agents

Increased homocysteine levels were associated with a higher risk of myocardial infarction (MI) (80).

Vitamins B12, B6 and folic acid are responsible for homocysteine metabolism regulation.

Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of these vitamins is as follows:

  • Vitamin B12: 1.8 mcg (82)
  • Vitamin B6: 1.3 mg (83)
  • Folic acid (folate): 400 mcg (84)

Some of the best sources of these vitamins include leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce), beans (chickpeas, kidney beans), citrus fruits (oranges), beef, chicken, fish, egg yolk and dairy products.

Omega-3 fatty acids

There are three important omega-3 fatty acids: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is plant-derived, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are fish-oil derived.

ALA is found in nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, walnuts and vegetable oils (mainly flaxseed or canola oil), while EPA and DHA are found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel or tuna).

Studies confirm that in people with high risk of cardiovascular events, omega-3 fatty acids markedly lower coronary heart disease mortality (80).

Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease arrhythmias, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation and platelet aggregation (80).

Phytosterols

Phytosterols are structural molecules of plant cellular membranes.

Studies show that they may lower the LDL cholesterol in blood if used in optimal dose (1.5 - 2.5 grams a day).

The best-known phytosterols are campesterol, stigmasterol or sitosterol.

As these plant sterols have a similar structure to cholesterol, they may inhibit cholesterol absorption, which translates into the reduction of LDL cholesterol level (80).

However, you need to be careful as there are some concerns that dietary supplementation of sterols may lead to a slight increase of atherosclerosis, which is an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (85).

The bottom line: Sodium, vitamin D, Coenzyme Q10, magnesium, homocysteine reducing agents (vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folate) omega-3 fatty acids and phytosterols seem to play a major role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

What is the best diet for prevention of cardiovascular disease

Studies confirm that some foods may be especially useful in the prevention of cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases (80).

Here is a brief overview of recommended heart-friendly dietary patterns.

Mediterranean diet

The main foods you should eat on the Mediterranean diet include seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes nuts and olive oil.

Red meat is not allowed and you should eat fish, chicken or eggs instead.

Experts also recommend drinking small quantities of wine with meals (86).

Moderate consumption of low-fat dairy products is also allowed.

The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and cardiovascular mortality (87).

Persons at high cardiovascular risk may benefit from a Mediterranean diet with added extra-virgin olive oil or nuts. Studies show that nut and extra-virgin olive oil supplementation lowers the risk of major cardiovascular diseases (88).

Low-fat diets

Experts recommend low-fat diets in cardiovascular prevention. There are many types of fats, some are healthy and some not.

When on a low-fat diet you should eat between 7 - 10% of SFA (saturated fatty acids), less than 1% of TFA (trans fatty acids) and MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids) and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids) should cover your remaining calorie intake from fats. Also, your daily cholesterol intake should be lower than 300 mg (88).

Normally about 25 - 35% of your daily calorie intake is represented by fats. On a low-fat diet, you should aim to decrease this amount to as low as 10 - 15%.

However as low-fat diets are generally associated with carbohydrate intake increase, you should watch what type of sugar you actually eat (89).

Low-carbohydrate diets

A low-carbohydrate diet means that your daily carbohydrate consumption is between 30 - 130 g (90).

Studies show that this diet may reduce triglycerides (TG) and increase HDL ("good") cholesterol.

On the other hand, randomized controlled trials did not confirm any significant reduction of LDL cholesterol (80).

Yet low-carbohydrate diet is still helpful in the prevention of cardiovascular events as it improves the ratio between HDL-C and LDL-C.

DASH diet

Foods to eat while on the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, chicken, fish or nuts. Low-fat dairy products are also allowed but meat, sweets or sodas are restricted (80).

It has been proved that DASH diet may reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with both hypertension (HTN) or normotension (91).

The bottom line: The best heart health-promoting diets include the Mediterranian diet, low-carb diets, low-fat diets and the DASH diets

Recipes

Eating good food is an essential part of cardiovascular prevention.

Here are some delicious recipes you may want to try:

Steamed broccoli with potatoes and carrots

This dish takes about 50 minutes to cook.

Ingredients (4 portions):

  • 1 broccoli
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 2 larger potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 

Instructions:

For the best results you a steamer pot is required.

Clean all vegetables. Split the broccoli florets, slice the carrots, onions and potatoes.

Boil water in your steamer pot.

Add potatoes to your steamer basket and steam for about 10 minutes.

Then add broccoli florets and steam for additional 5 minutes before adding carrots.

Steam slowly for about 20 - 30 minutes.

Switch off the cooker, remove the ingredients from the steamer pot, add some olive oil and spices and serve.

Salmon: an easy-to-make recipe

Salmon is not just delicious but it is also full of nutrients essential for your heart health.

Here is an easy recipe to try. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare this meal.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 salmon fillet
  • 1 lemon

Instructions:

Cut the salmon fillet to make several portions. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fillet and put it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Pour some olive oil on a titanium (Teflon) frying pan and fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side (depending on the height of the fillet).

Serve with steamed vegetables (carrots, broccoli) and boiled potatoes.

Things to remember

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of mortality worldwide. In addition to regular medical checkups, you may also want to change your dietary habits and eat some heart-friendly foods to ensure that your heart remains in good shape for as long as possible.

Foods for cardiovascular prevention

Foods for cardiovascular prevention

Eat plenty of fish, whole grains, leafy greens and fruits and make sure you limit your daily salt intake to 5 - 6 grams.

Also, you should not consume more than 300 mg of cholesterol a day.

Drinking 1 - 2 cups of a quality green tea a day is also helpful.

And have your blood pressure measured regularly by your physician.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Image resources:

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Published: February 17, 2017 3:45 PM
Next scheduled update: February 17, 2019 3:45 PM
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