Reviewed By Jabeen Begum, MD on 4/14/2022
11 Heart-healthy Foods Good for Heart Patients
People with a heart condition have to pay extra attention to their diet, making sure to get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants while cutting back on high-fat or high-calorie foods. As is the case with any healthy diet, a diet that’s good for the heart should include a balance of fruits, vegetables, protein sources, and the occasional treat. Learn more about the 11 top heart-healthy foods for heart patients.
Fruits and Vegetables for Heart Health
Fruits and vegetables are crucial to a heart-healthy diet because they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber but low in calories. Adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet can help you reduce your intake of high-calorie or high-fat foods like meat, cheese, and processed snacks. In fact, it’s recommended that you fill half a plate at every meal with fruit or vegetables to reduce your risk of getting heart disease or stroke.
Recommended fruits and vegetables for good heart health include:
Berries have antioxidants that fight against cell damage. Blackberries in particular boast some of the highest antioxidant and fiber levels. Research has shown that oxidative stress is involved in the build-up of fat and cholesterol inside artery walls, so antioxidants can help decrease the risk of developing heart disease.
Carrots contain a substance called beta-carotene which the body converts into Vitamin A. The BCO1 enzyme is essential to this conversion process but some people have a less active variant of it. One study in mice found that beta-carotene helps activate the BCO1 enzymes and thereby lowers blood cholesterol, which in turn reduces the build-up of fat and cholesterol in artery walls.
Besides plenty of antioxidants and fiber, spinach also has high levels of a type of Vitamin B called folate. B vitamins like folate break down homocysteine, an amino acid that can cause internal artery damage. One study showed that people with high blood pressure who took folic acid supplements in addition to their usual medication were less likely to have a stroke over four and a half years than people who took the medication alone.
Oranges contain a type of fiber called pectin, which helps fight cholesterol, as well as the mineral potassium which helps regulate blood pressure. In one study, overweight males who drank orange juice over four weeks saw a significant reduction in their diastolic blood pressure.
Protein sources for heart health
You probably know that protein is necessary for building muscle, but it’s also key to good heart health. It’s important to be picky about the source and amount of protein you’re consuming. Low-fat or lean options are preferable and two to three-ounce servings of protein should be enough for a single meal.
Recommended protein sources for good heart health include:
- dried beans
Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are rich in omega-3, a type of fatty acid. Omega-3 helps lower levels of triglyceride, which is the main component of body fat. It can also decrease the aggregation of platelets, which in turn helps prevent the blocking of blood vessels. Research shows that people who eat oily fish a few times a week have almost half the risk of dying from heart disease than people who eat no fish.
Lentils and Dried Beans
Lentils and dried beans are both types of pulses, meaning they’re high in protein and fiber but low in fat. Just three tablespoons of pulses provide a sixth of your recommended daily protein intake, while a can of kidney beans contains the same amount of protein as a portion of beef mince minus the fat and salt (double-check that there’s no added salt). Lentils and beans are rich in fiber and protein, so they leave you feeling fuller for longer and keep you away from unhealthy snacks.
Tofu and Edamame
Tofu and edamame contain food compounds called isoflavones, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and reduce cholesterol. One study found that people who ate tofu at least once a week were 18% less likely to develop heart disease than those who ate the soy product less than once a month. Tempeh and chickpeas are other soy foods to consider adding to your diet.
Treat foods for heart health
Sticking to a diet that’s good for your heart doesn’t mean you have to go cold turkey on your favorite foods. You can indulge in treats and snacks, as long as you do so sensibly and in moderation. The following treats have garnered interest for potentially beneficial effects on heart health:
- dark chocolate
- red wine
Dark chocolate contains plant-based antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Some studies indicate that cocoa consumption is linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure in adults. Don’t rely on chocolate alone for flavonoids though — you can also get them from fruits and vegetables, which additionally provide other vitamins and minerals.
Red wine is also rich in flavonoids. Some studies suggest a link between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk of dying from heart disease. Red wine may also help to slightly raise the levels of good cholesterol in the body.