February is Heart Month, a time to reevaluate life choices that could lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other conditions that can lead to heart disease, the number one killer in the U.S. and Canada. Every 34 seconds, someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease.
The real tragedy is that, in most cases, heart disease can be prevented. While some risk factors of heart disease are genetic, and may only be able to be controlled by medication, many others are in our control. Eating a good diet and getting enough exercise are the most important components of a heart healthy lifestyle. And while there’s no magic bullet food that will instantly make your heart healthier, there are several foods that can go a long way toward a strong heart and healthy circulation. Here’s a look at some of the most universally recommended foods for heart health:
Berries: Blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc., are full of potassium, which regulates your heartbeat; magnesium, which lowers blood pressure and protects the smooth muscle cells in the heart, fiber; vitamin C, and many other healthy nutrients that can fight off heart disease and other illnesses.
Dark green vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, asparagus, kale, and other dark vegetables are high in fiber, which can lower cholesterol. They are also rich in nutrients.
Fish: Salmon and tuna, especially, are high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which can raise your good HDL cholesterol and lower your bad LDL cholesterol. They are also high in protein.
Beans: Kidney beans and black beans, especially, are high in fiber, omega-3 fats, magnesium, and potassium. They are also rich in protein. Adding beans to salads and other light meals will help you feel full longer, which can support weight loss. Studies have shown that people who eat beans at least four times a week have an almost 20% lower risk of heart disease than people who eat beans less than once a week.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds (unsalted) are excellent sources of both protein and heart healthy omega-3 fats. They are also rich in fiber and important nutrients, including magnesium.
Oatmeal: A thick, steaming bowl of steel cut, slow cooking oatmeal is high in both fiber and good cholesterol-raising omega-3 fats.
Olive oil: When cooking with oils, opt for olive oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acid, over other vegetable oils or animal fats.
Soy: Whether in the form of a handful of steamed edamame, tofu, or a rich glass of soy milk, soy can help to lower cholesterol, while also providing lean protein.
Red wine and dark chocolate: Being heart healthy doesn’t mean not having any fun. Red wine and dark chocolate (at least 72%), in moderation (one glass of red wine and/or one small chocolate candy per day) have been shown to lower blood pressure.
Honorable mentions: Avocados, tomatoes, citrus fruits, brown rice, carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, squash, and many other natural, whole foods also contribute to a heart-healthy diet. It’s important to get variety so you don’t get bored, and also to ensure that you eat a nutritionally balanced diet.