Have Heart Disease? These Are the Foods You Should Be Eating

The No. 1 cause of death in the United States, heart disease claims more lives every year than cancer and respiratory illnesses. There is only one disease on that list that can’t be prevented through lifestyle changes, and heart disease isn’t it.

Not everyone who develops heart disease smokes, is overweight, has diabetes, or avoids exercise whenever possible. But even people who already have it can benefit from following a heart-healthy diet. Your chances of developing heart disease decline significantly if you fill your diet with heart-healthy foods even if you aren’t at risk.

Have heart disease? Here are the worst — and best — foods for your heart. Don’t have heart disease, and never want to? Find out which foods to eat the most of.

These foods are bad for your heart

Potato chips

Potato chips | iStock.com/Julia_Sudnitskaya

Fried foods, butter, and red meats are often the first things to go when people switch to a heart-healthy diet. For years, saturated fat took all the blame for “causing” heart disease.

But saturated fat might not be your heart’s worst enemy after all. You should still moderate your intake, of course. But it’s excess sugar and salt you really need to watch out for.

Both can put your heart at risk and endanger your health — especially if you’re already living with heart disease.

If that’s the case, you should limit your intake of the following foods:

  • Cookies, pastries, and cakes
  • Sugary breakfast cereals
  • Anything deep-fried
  • Processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, sausages)
  • Large quantities of red meat
  • White bread, pasta, and rice.

You should also avoid drinks high in sugar such as soft drinks and fruit juices.

Best foods for heart health

If you already have heart disease and want to improve the health of your heart as much as possible, you should generally try eating more of the following:

  • Nuts and seeds which contain healthy fats beneficial to your heart
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole grain pasta
  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Fruits such as berries, avocados, and tomatoes
  • Beans which are high in fiber and great for weight control
  • Lean protein sources such as turkey and fish.

The best foods to eat are the ones that provide substantial amounts of nutrition in the smallest serving size possible.

You could eat an entire bag of chips, for example, and get little to no benefit from any of it. A handful of nuts would benefit your heart more despite the calorie content because nuts contain essential nutrients. Potato chips do not.

Foods to eat to prevent heart disease

Whole almonds in a bowl

Whole almonds in a bowl | YelenaYemchuk/iStock/Getty Images

In many cases, heart disease can be prevented. Though there are genetic factors, and your risk increases with age, the foods you eat make a huge difference. High blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes all affect your heart disease risk, and diet is a major contributor to each one.

The foods you should eat if you’ve already been diagnosed with heart disease are the same ones you should have if you’re trying to avoid it altogether. Our bodies prefer foods high in fiber, low in sugar, loaded with healthy fats, and free of intense processing.

The more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, plant proteins, and lean animal protein sources you consume, the fewer junk foods you’re going to have room for.

A healthy diet technically includes small amounts of everything. But making sure you’re putting the right foods in — even if you’re still eating highly processed foods — is a fine place to start.

Over time, you can train yourself to eat the occasional cookie or bowl of breakfast cereal without feeling like you have to eat them on a daily basis.

If you have heart disease, it’s not too late to eat the best foods for your heart and mind. If you don’t, it’s still the perfect time to switch out high-calorie, high-sugar snacks for healthier ones. More than just your heart will benefit. But it’s one reason to make the best choices possible while you’re still mostly healthy.

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