Everyone knows they should do what they can to protect their heart, but not everyone realizes just how important it is. Despite all the medical advances we’ve made, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. Besides practicing healthy habits, like exercising regularly or quitting smoking, focusing on a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to combat heart disease. This includes cutting back on sugar and fatty foods that can increase bad cholesterol.
You’re probably already aware of the foods you should avoid if you know what’s best for your heart. But if you’re wondering what you should be eating instead, try adding these six foods to your diet.
Research published in The Canadian Journal of Cardiology says flaxseeds are one of the best plant-based sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3. The study says ALA has been linked to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since the body can’t make these essential fats on its own, as mentioned by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it’s important to include food with omega-3s in your diet. They’re needed for contraction and relaxation of artery walls and also produce hormones that regulate blood clotting.
The American Heart Association mentions oats are a good source of whole grains, which are rich in nutrients like iron and fiber. Iron is needed to carry oxygen throughout your body and fiber is important because it helps regulate a healthy digestive system. In your body, fiber binds to cholesterol and excretes it before it can enter into the blood, where it could otherwise cause heart problems. WebMD says excess cholesterol causes plaque to build up in the arteries. If your arteries become clogged, it affects the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
3. Dark chocolate
Being healthy doesn’t mean giving up all sweets. In fact, according to a study that included over 20,000 people and lasted for 11 years, risk for both coronary heart disease and stroke were higher for subjects who ate less chocolate. Cleveland Clinic says the cocoa bean is responsible for chocolate’s health benefits. Cocoa beans contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which usually leads to high cholesterol. Flavonoids may also improve blood flow to the heart. Opt for dark chocolate with a high cacao content for the best nutritional value.
As if you needed another reason to say yes to avocado, a review about the Hass avocado mentions the fruit helps promote healthy blood lipids in the body. This is because of the combination of unsaturated fats. They’re also filled with vitamins, phytochemicals, and fiber, all of which support cardiovascular health. Medical News Today also mentions avocados contain something called beta-Sitosterol, which helps maintain good cholesterol levels when eaten regularly.
Harvard Health Publications reports a study of more than 90,000 women found eating blueberries and strawberries decreases the risk of heart disease. Benefits were seen among those who ate a ½-cup serving at least three times a week. The women who ate the most berries were 34% less likely to experience a heart attack. Though the study only involved females, there’s no reason to believe men wouldn’t reap similar rewards. If you don’t eat berries regularly, try adding them to your diet.
Almonds are a good source of protein, a diet-friendly midnight snack, and are also great for your heart, making them one of the healthiest nuts you can eat. They provide the body with essential vitamins, biotin, and fiber for healthy digestion. Mayo Clinic says almonds also contain healthy fats that can help improve cholesterol. Having a handful each day may also help lower the risk of heart disease. Here’s to snacking for your ticker.