The Best And Worst Foods For Heart Health, According To Doctors

Despite a recent movement toward body positivity and neutrality, when we talk about “good” and “bad” foods in society, we still tend to focus on whether they help us gain or lose weight. But it’s about much more than how many calories a particular food has, and when it comes to heart health, one thing is very clear: not all foods are created equal.

Some foods are really good for your heart, some aren’t great (but not terrible either), and some are just plain bad. So, what foods should you eat for better heart health and which ones should you avoid? We’ve spoken to cardiologists and nutritionists – here’s what to keep in mind.

The best foods for heart health

Let’s focus on the positives first – the foods you should be eating if you want to improve heart health. They include:

We know, we know: the idea that you should be eating green leafy vegetables is hardly new or exciting. But most of us don’t get enough of them, and they’re critical to heart health.

“Leaf greens like spinach, lettuce, kale, bok choy, and collards are a key component of a heart-healthy diet and something most of us don’t get enough of,” explained Dr. Sanjeev Aggarwal, a former Chief of Cardiac Surgery who currently serves as Medical Advisor at Hello Heart. “Several studies have shown a reduced incidence of heart disease with increased consumption of green vegetables. Foods like spinach are heart-healthy superfoods because they’re high in potassium, folate, and magnesium.”

Salmon is also an excellent heart health food. “Salmon is a popular source of omega-3 fatty acids,” he said dr Marianela Areces, cardiologist at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects, reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and have a positive effect on obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

beans, cauliflower and lentils

Foods high in double fiber like beans, cauliflower, and lentils can benefit the heart. “These foods have been shown to lower cholesterol,” Areces said.

These foods also contain plant sterols and stanols, which are naturally occurring compounds similar to cholesterol that studies have shown can lower cholesterol levels. Plant sterols and stanols are also found in fruits like blueberries and apples.

Whole grains like quinoa, whole grains, oats and barley are healthy carbohydrates that lower your risk of heart disease, Aggarwal said. “Quinoa is an excellent heart-healthy nutritional option and a great substitute for white rice. Not only is it high in protein, but it’s also high in potassium and fiber — both of which help people maintain healthy blood pressure and lower cholesterol.”

This is very good news for avocado fans.
This is very good news for avocado fans.

Another reason to eat avocados? Yes, please! “Avocados contain monounsaturated fats, which may improve cholesterol and reduce inflammation,” Aggarwal said. “Several studies have shown the beneficial effects of avocados in lowering the bad form of cholesterol (LDL), which leads to plaque build-up in the arteries and an increased risk of heart disease. Like quinoa, they can be effective in controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels due to their high fiber and potassium content.”

The worst foods for heart health

Unfortunately, with good comes bad — and unfortunately, there are some really delicious foods out there that aren’t good for your heart. They include:

Processed meat can be really tasty (who doesn’t love a hot dog?), but it’s not very good for your heart. “Eating even small amounts can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease,” Aggarwal said. “Processed meats are often high in unhealthy saturated fats. Even low-fat options tend to have high sodium levels, which can lead to high blood pressure.”

I’m sorry, but all that sugar isn’t good for heart health. “These products are loaded with sugar as well as saturated and trans fats,” Areces said. “A high-sugar diet harms our health in a number of ways, including raising triglycerides and insulin levels, and contributing to overweight or obesity, which in turn can lead to prediabetes or diabetes. All of these are known risk factors for developing heart disease.”

You might want to keep these treats on the cautious side of moderation. “Frying foods adds unhealthy trans fats and salt,” Aggarwal said. “Trans fats worsen a person’s cholesterol profile by raising bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering good cholesterol (HDL). Study participants who consumed larger amounts of fried foods had a higher risk of dying from coronary artery disease, as reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”

Foods labeled as reduced-fat or fat-free

Sounds counterintuitive, right? But according to Aggarwal, these types of foods are not good for heart health. “Foods labeled as low-fat or fat-free give the impression of being healthy, but it can be quite the opposite,” he said. “In order to preserve flavor, more sugar is pumped in as the fat is removed. Read food labels to see how many grams of sugar may have been added as a fat substitute. Many types of natural fats are healthy, so fat-free isn’t necessarily healthier! Refined sugar and carbohydrates increase the risk of heart disease.”

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Think twice before you think diet soda is better for your heart than regular soda.

Mario Tama via Getty Images

Think twice before you think diet soda is better for your heart than regular soda.

If you think diet soda is the answer to your health woes, think again – these drinks may be calorie-free, but they don’t do anything amazing for your heart. “While many are turning to diet soda to improve their health, chronic consumption can be exactly the opposite,” Bogden said. “Not only are artificial sweeteners sweeter than table sugar, which causes you to crave and consume more sugar, which can lead to chronic inflammation, but there are also studies that suggest artificial sweeteners damage our digestive tract. gut balance, thereby promoting inflammation and increasing our risk of disease.”

If you eat a lot of super salty foods, be careful. “A high-sodium diet has detrimental effects on blood pressure, kidney function, and physiological fluid regulation,” they explaini.e dr Vicken Zeitjian, a cardiologist. “Most processed foods and commercial foods are high in sodium, so limiting consumption is recommended to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

A word of moderation

As the saying goes, “everything in moderation”. But does that also apply to foods that are absolutely bad for heart health? “Eating a healthy diet is all about moderation, and maintaining your heart health goes beyond your diet,” Aggarwal said. “People need to assess their lifestyle choices, exercise habits, stress levels and more to properly manage their heart health. When it comes to your diet, you can certainly indulge in the occasional “bad” food if done in moderation and balanced with other healthy lifestyle choices. Make enjoyment the rare exception, not the rule.”

So there you have it: you can Treat yourself to hot dogs and cookies this summer, just don’t go crazy. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to eat salmon and green leafy veggies!

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