Heart-healthy foods are those that support long-term heart health. Certain foods may influence your blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels and inflammation – all of which impact your risk for heart disease.
Recommended foods to include as part of a heart-healthy diet
Science is in alliance: Heart-healthy eating can include egg. This is supported by an abundance of research including a recent Harvard study2 that evaluated three cohorts with up to 32 years of follow-up data. According to the American Heart Association, within the context of a heart-healthy dietary pattern, healthy individuals can include up to a whole egg daily, older healthy individuals can consume up to 2 eggs per day, and vegetarians who do not consume meat-based cholesterol-containing foods may include more eggs in their diets within the context of moderation.3 To learn more about the recent research on eggs as part of a heart healthy eating pattern, check out this article.
Whether fresh, frozen, or canned, vegetables are a go-to for any heart-healthy eating pattern. 4 Include a wide variety in order to harness all of the benefits provided by the vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients produced by plants. Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, are especially good for heart health as one meta-analysis found that increasing intake of leafy greens was associated with up to a 16% lower incidence of heart disease.5
All types of fruit can be included in a heart-healthy eating pattern.4 Berries are an especially good choice due to their high level of antioxidants – and avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced cholesterol levels.6
- Whole Grains
Adding whole wheat products, brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, or other whole grains to your diet helps increase your dietary fiber intake, which can lower your risk of heart disease.4 The American Heart Association recommends choosing whole grains and products that contain at least 51% whole versus refined grains.4
Fatty fish, like salmon, whitefish, bluefin tuna and sardines, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.4 They’re also a good source of protein, and the AHA recommends eating fish at least twice a week.4
Pecans, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and other nuts make for excellent, portable snacks that include protein, fiber, and healthy fats.7 Choose nuts with lower amounts of sodium and preferably no added sugars or tropical oils, such as a palm or coconut.4
- Beans and Legumes
In addition to benefiting gut health, eating beans may also reduce certain risk factors for heart disease. One recent meta-analysis showed that a diet high in beans and legumes significantly decreased levels of LDL cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease.8
How to build a heart-healthy meal
Including heart-healthy foods in your day doesn’t have to be boring! Here are a few heart-healthy meals to try:
Heart-Healthy Meal Idea #1: Spicy Sriracha Baked Avocado Eggs
Creamy avocado, spicy sriracha and baked eggs provide a delicious option for breakfast or lunch.
Heart-Healthy Meal Idea #2: Zucchini Noodles with Poached Egg Topper
Spiralized zucchini offers a great way to squeeze in one more vegetable. Topped with a poached egg, this noodle dish is loaded with flavor and nutrition.
Heart-Healthy Meal Idea #3: Microwave Egg & Veggie Breakfast Bowl
This quick Italian-inspired bowl includes nutritious eggs and garden-fresh flavor. It’s delightful for breakfast, lunch or even a light dinner!
Photo by Sara Haas, RDN
Drouin-Chartier JP, Chen S, Li Y, et al. Egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: three large prospective US cohort studies, systematic review, and updated meta-analysis. BMJ. 2020;368:m513. Published online 2020 Mar 4.
Carson JAS, Lichtenstein AH, Anderson CAM, Appel LJ, Kris-Etherton PM, Meyer KA, Petersen K, Polonsky T, Van Horn L; on behalf of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee of the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease; and Stroke Council. Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular risk: a science advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2019;140: e-pub ahead of print. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations
Pollock RL. The effect of green leafy and cruciferous vegetable intake on the incidence of cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis. JRSM Cardiovasc Dis. 2016;5:2048004016661435. Published 2016 Aug 1. doi:10.1177/2048004016661435 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4973479/
Ha V, Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, et al. Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ. 2014;186(8):E252-E262. doi:10.1503/cmaj.131727