What makes a diet “heart healthy”?

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Could a certain diet help reduce your risk of having a heart attack? This is a question many people ask themselves, especially if there is a history of heart disease in their family.

Fortunately, the answer is yes. And that’s good news, especially considering that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women, causing one in three deaths every year.

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But having a heart-healthy diet isn’t just about eating healthy, says cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon Dr. David Greuner. She knows — it’s also about eating all the right foods to keep your heart working as it should. So what exactly are the foods that make a heart healthy diet?

What should you eat to follow a heart-healthy diet?

Even if your diet hasn’t been perfect, changing your eating habits now can have a positive effect on your health.

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A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, lean sources of protein, and foods high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids provides a solid foundation for protecting your heart.

Include these heart-healthy foods in your diet to keep your heart happy and healthy.

Foods rich in omega-3

Fish, such as salmon (wild, not farmed), tuna, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel, are a rich source of omega-3s. “We know that foods rich in omega-3s, EPA and DHA, can reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure,” said Dr. Priya Khorana, Ph.D. in Nutrition Education from Columbia University, says She knows.

Another source of omega-3s is alpha-linolenic acid. Vegetable oils, tree nuts (walnuts and almonds), flax seeds and flax seed oils are rich in ALA.

Greuner says it’s crucial to increase how often you consume omega-3 fatty acids because these unsaturated fats can lower your triglyceride levels.

Berries

Colorful seasonal berries are packed with heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber. Khorana recommends trying blueberries, strawberries, cranberries or raspberries over cereal or yogurt.

groats

If you want to start your day with a heart-healthy meal, Khorana suggests plain, unprocessed oatmeal (steel-cut oats), which lower cholesterol. You can add berries and almonds for an even healthier breakfast.

Red, yellow and orange vegetables

Brightly colored vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and acorn squash are packed with carotenoids, fiber and vitamins, all of which are heart-healthy according to Khorana.

Avocado & avocado oil

There’s a good reason avocados show up in so many diets: they’re loaded with monounsaturated fats, which can help lower blood cholesterol and decrease hardening of the arteries.

asparagus

Looks like your mom was right when she told you to eat your asparagus. Khorana says this vegetable is heart-healthy because it’s packed with nutrients like beta-carotene, folate, and fiber, which help protect your heart.

Tomatoes

Bright red tomatoes provide lycopene, vitamin C and beta-carotene, which help reduce your risk of heart disease.

citrus fruits

Fruits, like oranges and grapefruits, contain a high amount of flavonoids and vitamin C, which play a role in protecting your heart. “Flavonoids reduce the risk of ischemic stroke, and vitamin C is thought to reduce the risk of heart disease,” Khorana says.

Nuts

It seems like you better stop worrying about how fat a handful of nuts are. Because eating a powerhouse snack like pistachios, walnuts, and almonds can provide you with heart-healthy fiber. They also contain vitamin E, which helps lower bad cholesterol.

What foods should you avoid?

To eat a heart-healthy diet, Greuner says, you need to know what each food contains. That’s why he recommends avoiding foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat, such as butter, yogurt, or sausage/bacon. Other foods to reduce or eliminate from your heart-healthy diet include processed meats, highly refined carbohydrates (high in sugar), and sugary sodas. Greuner also suggests staying away from salt to reduce sodium levels.

So, now that you know what to eat (and avoid), try to incorporate heart-healthy foods into your diet as often as possible — as long as we can do something to help reduce cardiovascular disease, we might as well do it.

Before you go, check out our favorite quotes to encourage positive attitudes about food and the body:

Powerful Quotes Inspire Healthy Attitudes

Powerful Quotes Inspire Healthy Attitudes

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