15 Best Foods for a Healthy Heart and Cardiovascular System

15 Best Foods for a Healthy Heart and Cardiovascular System

One of the easiest ways to avoid heart disease and stroke is to follow a heart-healthy diet. The foundation of a heart-healthy diet is built on high-fiber whole foods. It should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, and fish.

Processed foods, red meat, and other foods high in saturated fats should be minimized, while trans fats should be completely avoided.

Foods that can help maintain, protect, and improve the health of the cardiovascular system include oily fish, oats, soya, almonds, fruits, vegetables, pulses, olive oil, turmeric, blueberries, and flax seeds.

These heart-healthy foods work by lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels, improving the health and function of blood vessels, and reducing harmful processes such as oxidation and inflammation in the body.

The heart-healthy foods below are scientifically proven to benefit the cardiovascular system and are healthy additions to any diet.

List of Foods for Heart Health

1 Oily Fish
Salmon Fillets
Oily Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which provide multiple benefits for the cardiovascular system (1,2). Studies show that omega-3s lower blood triglyceride levels (3) and high triglycerides are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The omega-3s EPA and DHA found in fish are shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function (4,5). Omega-3s also have anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Nutrition Facts for Farmed Atlantic Salmon.
2 Oats
A bowl of oatmeal with blueberries
Oats and other foods high in soluble fiber (apples, pears, eggplant, okra, beans) have cholesterol-lowering properties. The sticky "viscous" fiber they contain binds to cholesterol in the gut and "sweeps" it out of the body. Oats in particular, (along with certain medicinal mushrooms and barley) contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucans, which has especially potent cholesterol-lowering and other cardio-protective properties (6). Studies show that regular consumption of beta-glucans can reduce total cholesterol by 5-10% in as little as 4 weeks (7).
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Oatmeal.
3 Soya
A block of tofu
Soya contains substances called isoflavones and plant sterols, both of which have cholesterol-lowering effects. Consuming 25g of soya protein per day produces measurable benefits by reducing LDL ("bad") cholesterol by around 6% (8). Avoid highly processed soya foods such as soya bars, flavored soya yogurts, and foods containing soya-protein isolate. Instead choose traditional foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso, and soya beans (edamame).
Nutrition Facts for Boiled Soybeans (Edamame).
4 Almonds
Almonds
Almonds and other nuts and seeds are heart-healthy foods providing healthy monounsaturated fats, plant sterols, minerals, fiber, and vitamin E. People who eat nuts regularly have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (9). This is due to various beneficial effects including reducing inflammation, improving blood vessel function, lowering cholesterol, and supporting weight loss. Several studies show that a daily handful of almonds reduces blood pressure, improves blood vessel function, reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol, and maintains HDL (good) cholesterol (10,11,12).
Nutrition Facts for Almonds.
5 Fruits and Vegetables
A Bowl of Spinach
Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is one of the best ways to supply your body with potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, developed by scientists includes 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day (along with a low salt intake) and has been shown to lower blood pressure in just a few weeks in people with and without existing high blood pressure (13,14).
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Spinach.
6 Pulses
Lentils
Consuming more pulses helps keep your heart healthy and reduces your risk of heart disease (15). Pulses such as beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas (garbanzo beans) can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol (16). A daily intake of 2 servings has been shown in studies to lower cholesterol by 6% over 2 months (17). Regular consumption of pulses may also benefit other cardiovascular risk factors including blood pressure, platelet activity, inflammation, and oxidation (18).
Nutrition Facts for Lentils (Cooked).
7 Ancient Whole Grains
Kamut
Ancient wholegrains such as khorasan wheat (kamut), spelt, farro (emmer), einkorn, millet and teff provide a wide variety of health benefits including promoting cardiovascular health (19). Improvements include reductions in LDL cholesterol, reduced inflammation, improved blood vessel function, and lower blood sugar levels (20). Studies have found that consuming bread made from ancient grains leads to reductions in cholesterol of 4-7% after 2 months (21,22).
Nutrition Facts for Kamut Cooked.
8 Olive Oil
Whole green olives
Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil has benefits for heart and general health. Olive oil is believed to be one of the important health-promoting foods in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet (23). One study observing people at high risk of cardiovascular problems found that consuming more olive oil led to a 35% reduced risk of heart disease and for extra virgin olive oil, it was 39% (24). As well as healthy fats, olive oil is rich in beneficial compounds called polyphenols with protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (25).
Nutrition Facts for Olive Oil.
9 Tomatoes
Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a top source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked with protecting the heart (26). Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is believed to be a key process in the development of atherosclerosis, which leads to heart disease and lycopene may help reduce this. There is also evidence that it has other protective effects, including inhibiting cholesterol synthesis, promoting LDL breakdown, and positively influencing blood vessel function (27). Population studies have linked higher blood lycopene levels with a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks (28).
Nutrition Facts for Tomatoes.
10 Turmeric
Slices of turmeric and turmeric powder
Turmeric contains curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which are beneficial for heart health (29). Turmeric supplements have been shown to improve blood flow, blood vessel health, and to boost heart health in middle-aged and older adults (aged 45-74) after just 12 weeks (30). There is also preliminary evidence that it can inhibit platelet aggregation (31,32), reducing the risk of blood clot formation.
Nutrition Facts for Ground Turmeric.
11 Dark Chocolate
Thin dark chocolate squares
Dark Chocolate is one of the richest sources of antioxidants of all foods, being particularly high in a type of antioxidant called flavanols, which have protective, anti-inflammatory effects, and help keep blood vessels healthy (33,34). Other cardiovascular benefits of chocolate include reducing blood pressure and the overall risk of heart disease (35,36,37). It is important to choose wisely and eat moderately though. Aim to eat dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa.
Nutrition Facts for Dark Chocolate (70-85% Cocoa).
12 Garlic
Garlic
Eating plenty of garlic and onions (allium vegetables) is associated with a 26% lower incidence of high blood pressure (hypertension) and 64% reduced risk of cardiovascular events (38). Many studies have shown that garlic supplements and extracts can reduce blood pressure to a degree comparable with blood pressure medication, along with arterial stiffness, cholesterol, and blood "stickiness" (39). One study gave crushed raw garlic to people with metabolic syndrome for 4 weeks and it reduced blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels (40).
Nutrition Facts for Garlic.
13 Blueberries
Blueberries
Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that protect against free radical damage and have been linked with benefiting cardiovascular health (41,42). Three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries per week has been linked to a 32% lower risk of heart attacks in women in a large observational study (43). As well as their antioxidant effects, blueberries have anti-inflammatory properties, help keep blood vessels healthy, and have beneficial effects on blood sugar control (44).
Nutrition Facts for Blueberries.
14 Avocados
Half an avocado
Avocados are a source of healthy, monounsaturated fats which help promote a healthy blood lipid profile, supporting cardiovascular health (45). One study put adults with normal and mildly raised cholesterol on an avocado enriched diet for 7 days. They observed a 16% reduction in cholesterol in those with normal levels and 17% in those with slightly raised levels, along with a 22% reduction in LDL (bad cholesterol) and an 11% increase in HDL (good cholesterol) (46). Interestingly, avocados don’t seem to cause weight gain, despite their high fat and calorie content (47).
Nutrition Facts for Avocados.
15 Flaxseeds
Flax Seeds
Flaxseeds contain various substances that can benefit the cardiovascular system including omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, and soluble fiber. Research shows that regularly consuming flaxseeds significantly reduces blood pressure after about 12 weeks (48). One study gave people with peripheral artery disease 30g milled flaxseed for 6 months and it produced such effective blood pressure lowering effects, that the researchers stated it was "one of the most potent antihypertensive effects achieved by a dietary intervention" (49).
Nutrition Facts for Flax Seeds.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Heart

  • Plant-based diets - Vegetarians have lower cholesterol levels than meat-eaters. Vegans have even lower levels still. They also have lower blood pressure, lower BMI, and a reduced overall risk of cardiovascular disease (50).
  • Mediterranean diet - If you are not ready to become vegetarian or vegan, following the Mediterranean diet pattern has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health (51,52). This diet includes plenty of plant foods, olive oil, plus fish and small amounts of (high quality, grass-fed) meat, dairy, and even a small glass of red wine.
  • Stay slim - Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Keeping your BMI at the lower end of the healthy range, at around 20 or 21 is best. See our list of foods to help you lose weight.
  • Exercise - Regular cardiovascular exercise, as the name suggests, is essential for keeping your heart healthy. Exercise can lower cholesterol, raise HDL ("good") cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. The recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 30 minutes 5 times per week.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods - As well as exercise, it is important not to be overly sedentary during the rest of the day. Sitting for long periods is detrimental to cardiovascular health. Just getting up and walking around every hour (or even better every half hour) is beneficial (set an alarm while you get into the habit). Perform tasks standing instead of sitting whenever possible. For example, walk around while talking on the phone and try a standing desk if you have a desk job.
  • Avoid smoking - Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as many other health problems.
  • Limit alcohol - A small glass of red wine may have some benefits, but drinking more than this increases your risk of cardiovascular and other health problems.
  • Manage stress - Stress is another key risk factor for cardiovascular problems. Stress relieving techniques such as exercise, yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises are beneficial.
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