Health experts spend a lot of time talking about unhealthy foods to avoid like those high in fat, sugar and cholesterol. But with so many great foods to choose from, it’s worth taking the time to learn about the natural, unprocessed foods that provide the greatest health benefits. These “superfoods” can and should be incorporated into your diet on a regular basis. “While there’s no single food that can provide all the health benefits needed to keep us nourished, starting with “superfoods” is a great way to ensure you’re getting loads of nutrients that actually promote better overall health,” explains Monika Kraus, WakeMed dietitian. When it comes to heart health, here are seven of the heart healthiest foods worth adding to your eating plan.
Colorful berries pack a healthy punch.
Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and acai berries. Naturally sweet and rich in color, berries provide a great source of fiber, which is important for your digestive system. They’re also loaded with antioxidants that may help to improve blood sugar and insulin resistance. Research suggests a diet rich in berries could help increase good cholesterol (HDL) while lowering blood pressure. Low in calories and loaded with water, berries are high in folate, which may help with heart health. While you can eat berries all by themselves, they’re also great on yogurt, salads or smoothies.
Fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, cod, and lake trout.
These foods are loaded with omega-3 fats that may reduce your risk of heart disease by decreasing inflammation throughout the body. Omega-3s are also an important nutrient for brain health and they may lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Finally, fatty fish is a great source of protein. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week (a serving is 3.5 ounces).
Dark Leafy greens including spinach, kale, chard, beet greens, collards and leaf lettuce.
Greens are high in fiber and nutrients and low in calories – making them great for maintaining a healthy weight. Due to helpful phytochemicals, a diet rich in leafy greens has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. They’re also a great source of many beneficial nutrients and minerals including Vitamin A and C, folate, Vitamin K, calcium and potassium. When it comes to leafy greens, there are so many great and easy ways to prepare them. Try them raw in salads or mixed into smoothies, sautéed with olive oil and garlic, or incorporated into your favorite recipes.
Legumes including black, red, kidney, garbanzo beans, soybeans and peas.
Beans are such a versatile way to get the perfect blend of protein and fiber – which can help you feel full for longer. Because they’re a plant protein, they don’t have the saturated fat found in many animal proteins. A meta-analysis of research published in a 2013 issue of the medical journal Circulation concluded that eating nuts and beans could reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease. Beans are great in soup, chili, salad or in hummus. Because canned beans can be high in sodium, rinse them first to remove some of the salt.
Olive oil, used in moderation.
Olive oil is believed to be the healthiest of all fats – better for your heart than butter, margarine, vegetable oil or mayonnaise. It’s an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which is the only diet that has been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease, promote health and prevent chronic disease. Olive oil is also a good source of Vitamin E, polyphenols and monounsaturated fats – which help reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s also rich in antioxidants, which provide protective health benefits. Olive oil is great for low-heat sautéing, in salad dressings, drizzling over cooked vegetables or as a dip for bread.
Loaded with monounsaturated fats, avocados can help keep you full since they are loaded with healthy fats. Their high fiber content is good for digestive health and they’re packed with folate, which may help reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 20%. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating one avocado a day can help improve bad cholesterol levels in overweight and obese individuals. Avocados are great sprinkled with a little salt and pepper, on salads or in guacamole.
Nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, almonds, pecans and pumpkin seeds (pepitas).
A good source of plant protein, nuts and seeds are high in monounsaturated fats – which may help to reduce heart disease. Most nuts are also a great source of Vitamin E and omega-3 fats. You can eat them by the handful, but remember to enjoy in moderation – a serving is just 1.5 ounces of whole nuts (a small handful) or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. That’s because even though they’re healthy, they are high in fat and calories. Nuts make great toppings for soups and salads – and seeds such as flaxseed and chia seeds are great tossed into cereal or oatmeal, or blended into a smoothie.
Try a couple of delicious recipes to fast track your love of super foods!