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How to keep your heart healthy through your diet

Heart disease is a leading health issue in the US. When it comes to your risk level, some factors are out of your control – like you, for example blood type. But other factors are more variable, including your diet. Everyone from the American Heart Association to the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends making specific food choices to support a healthy heart. Because heart-healthy foods can reduce other potential cardiovascular issues—like high blood pressure and high cholesterol—they’re worth keeping in mind when planning your weekly meals.

Keep reading to find out what foods to look for and what a heart-healthy diet looks like in general.

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What is a heart healthy diet?

Studies have revealed two things: foods that are more risky for your heart and foods that strengthen it. Luckily, you’re not about to get hit with a bunch of curveballs. The best foods for heart health are the ones you probably already think of as healthy. Likewise, the not-so-heart-healthy foods are probably already on your radar because they’re not doing your body any favors.

Before we dive in here, let’s say: everything in moderation. Unless you already are know you have a heart health problem, you don’t have to cut out any food or make drastic changes. We’re not saying you can never eat another piece of bacon or crack open another soda. Instead, being mindful of what a heart-healthy diet looks like can help you include more of those foods in your meals.

Now, let’s talk about specifics. According to the AHA and Department of Health, a heart-healthy diet is rich in:

  • Produce
  • Lean proteins
  • High fiber complex carbohydrates
  • Healthy fats

A diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats will give your body the fiber, vitamins, and minerals it needs to support a healthy heart.

A bright rainbow spectrum of products on a platter.

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Conversely, if you’re trying to boost cardiovascular health, you’ll want to up your intake of:

  • Trans fats
  • Saturated fats
  • Processed meats (for example, luncheon meat, salami and hot dogs)
  • Excess salt
  • Excess sugar
  • Refined carbohydrates (for example white bread and snacks)
  • red meat
  • Excess alcohol

If many of your favorites are on the less heart-healthy list, don’t panic. You can still include it in your diet (unless your doctor says otherwise). Just make sure these foods don’t take over every meal, and try to add as many heart-healthy foods to your day as you can.

Heart healthy foods

Person in a long brown dress browsing a grocery store aisle.

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If you want to feel good about what your next grocery trip will do for your heart health, you can grab items in these specific categories.

1. Fruits and vegetables

Do you remember the food pyramid from back then? It was on to something. Your body benefits from eating lots of produce.

This is because vegetables and fruits pack a lot of nutritional density per bite. Bananas and sweet potatoes provide potassium, a key mineral for heart health. Cruciferous vegetables can help prevent clogged arteries. Leafy greens provide fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Long story short, the more products you pack, the better. And if fresh produce doesn’t work for your budget or your lifestyle, don’t worry. You can get many nutritional benefits from frozen, dried and canned options. Just make sure they’re labeled low-sodium.

2. Whole grains

Not all carbs are bad. Refined carbohydrates like those in white bread fly through your body and usually do you more harm than good. But complex carbohydrates, like those you’ll find in whole grains, provide fiber, which we’ve already mentioned as a heart health booster.

In addition, they often come full of vitamins and minerals such as iron, selenium, thiamin (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin (Vitamin B3), folate (Vitamin B9) and magnesium. If you’re looking for a heart-healthy diet, choose products that have whole grains in their ingredients list. Plus, complex carbohydrates can also be found in beans, potatoes, peas, and corn.

Fish tacos on a plate, with corn tortillas and fresh cilantro.

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3. Lean and plant protein

While certain proteins—like red and processed meat—can be hard on your heart, others top the list of heart-healthy foods. The key here is to look for plant-based proteins, lean animal proteins and fish. Experts recommend mixing up your protein sources. So you have many options, stock up:

  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Tofu
  • Fish, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Poultry
  • Seeds

Swap some of your red meat and baked pork for the options above and you’ll be doing your heart a favor.

4. Healthy fats

You might think that fat spells heart problems, but it’s all about the type of fat. While trans and saturated fats have been linked to cardiovascular problems in numerous studies, your body, including your heart, needs healthy fats. You can get it from fish, nuts and seeds, along with avocados and moderate amounts of plant oils such as:

  • Olive oil
  • sesame oil
  • Sunflower
  • Soybean oil
  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil

As a general rule, if the fat would be solid at room temperature, it is probably saturated. If it were to be a liquid, it would most likely fall under the unsaturated variety. Think butter (controversial for health) versus olive oil (definitely part of a heart-healthy diet).

Pour sesame oil into a small dish.

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5. Heart-check food

The American Heart Association has certified certain foods for heart health and given them the Heart-Check seal, which you can find on some food packages. Once you learn that seal, it can make it easier to fill your cart with heart-healthy foods.

For best results, pair your heart-healthy diet with other heart health boosters like regular exercise, sleep and stress management techniques. It can also be helpful to learn your blood type and what it means for your risk of specific cardiovascular conditions.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider about any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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