Top Heart-Healthy Foods: Best Foods for Cardiovascular Health

With all the hype about “heart healthy” foods, it can be tough to know whether your diet is good for your heart. Obvious foods to avoid or to consume in moderation include alcohol, caffeine, sodium and sugar. According to the American Heart Association, less than 1% of adults, and virtually no children, meet the ideal diet guidelines. About 68% of adults in the USA are either overweight or obese. Some simple changes to your diet can help maintain or improve your heart health.

Reduce the saturated fat in your diet by switching from butter and other saturated fats to extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Extra virgin olive oil has a light flavor that won’t overwhelm your recipes and it’s rich in antioxidants. Replacing butter and other fats in your diet can help reduce your cholesterol. Use extra virgin olive oil to stir-fry vegetables or add herbs and pour over salads or brush on whole grain breads.

Sweet potatoes are a good choice to replace white potatoes. White potatoes can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, but sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index. They are rich in fiber, vitamin A and lycopene which helps maintain heart health. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet so you don’t have to add sugar. You can enhance their flavor by adding cinnamon, which is also good for your heart.

Barley is a flavorful whole grain that you can use in place of white rice. Add barley to soup, stews or simmer with herbs and serve as a side dish. Barley can help lower your cholesterol, too.  Oats in any form can help improve your heart health by reducing your cholesterol. Oats are digested slowly which keeps you feeling full for hours and stabilizes your blood sugar. Replace 30% of white flour in recipes with oats or oat flour when you bake muffins, cookies, or make pancakes.

Fruits and berries are a delicious way to reduce processed sugar in your diet while increasing fiber and antioxidants. Blueberries contain lutein, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and loads of fiber. Cherries, raspberries and blackberries also contain these heart healthy nutrients. Add fresh fruit to low-fat yogurt, pancakes, muffins and salads.

Red meat is rich in protein but contains fats that, over time, can increase your cholesterol. Replace two red meat meals each week with fish. Fish, especially salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for a healthy heart. Salmon is delicious when baked with herbs and served with steamed or stir-fried vegetables.

Leave the salt in the pantry and cook with fresh or dried herbs. Herbs not only add rich flavor to food, they also contain powerful antioxidants to help reduce cell damage. Herbs should be part of your diet to help reduce heart disease, fight high cholesterol and reduce your risk of diabetes.

Overall, try to select a variety of whole foods over processed foods whenever possible. A well-balanced diet, daily exercise, stress management, and adequate sleep are some of the essentials for preventing heart disease and boosting heart health.