According to statistical data, you are almost 20 times more likely to die of heart disease in America than you are to die from a fatal car accident. In fact, 25% of all deaths in America are directly related to heart disease. Those are sobering numbers that should get your attention, especially when there are readily available superfoods for heart health that can significantly lower your risk of becoming one of those statistics.
What are the Leading Causes of Heart Disease?
In order to get a better grip on how the superfoods can make a difference for heart health, let’s take a quick look at the leading cause of heart disease. There are congenital and other factors which make up a small portion of the causes of heart disease, but the main cause is associated with plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart.
This plaque buildup blocks the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your heart and builds up over time as your arteries are damaged by things like hypertension, inflammation, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides and cigarette smoke.
How do Superfoods Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease?
The plaque, which blocks the flow of your arteries as it builds up, exists in your blood stream because of environmental factors like chemical pollutants, smoke and other environmental factors, but the major contributor to plaque buildup comes from what you consume.
The superfoods for heart health you are about to read are foods which either prevent plaque buildup, artery damage, or help your body to eliminate the components which create plaque.
With these characteristics in mind let’s examine 20 superfoods for heart health.
20 Superfoods for Heart Health
Now for the superfoods! Here is a list of the top 20 superfoods that can help you improve your heart health, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve your overall health and wellness as a whole.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a healthy, monounsaturated fat which helps to reduce cholesterol levels as well as the blood sugar levels associated with increased triglyceride levels. Olive oil is doubly effective as it becomes a replacement for the more common trans-fats in most vegetable oils that are used for cooking.
How to use it: Make use of extra virgin olive oil to replace your regular cooking oil, make use of it for baking and add it to your salads.
Wild Caught Salmon
While we are on the subject of healthy fats, we need to point out that one of the most beneficial fats for heart health is omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon and other coldwater fish. Omega-3 fatty acids help to regulate irregular heart rhythms, reduce cholesterol levels and also help to keep triglyceride levels in balance. Opt for wild caught salmon to obtain the best results.
How to use it: Include 2 servings of wild caught salmon in your weekly diet to help boost omega-3 levels.
Raw almonds are another superfood which contributes significantly to heart health. Almonds are rich in antioxidants to help improve blood flow and reduce hypertension. High fiber is also on their list of benefits for heart health because cholesterol and triglycerides tend to bind to fiber and get flushed out of your system.
How to use it: Raw almonds make a great snack food to replace sugary and salty snacks and are also great added to salads, smoothies, yogurt, or even included in main entrées.
In spite of the fact that walnuts have a high calorie concentration, they are quite beneficial in helping to reduce your risk of heart disease. Rich in manganese, copper and dietary fiber, walnuts help to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation, which contribute to damaging arteries. Their dietary fiber also helps to eliminate cholesterol and triglycerides from your body.
How to use it: Because of their high calorie content, use walnuts in moderation in salads, smoothies and entrées as well.
Though once vilified because of their fat content, dieticians have come to understand that there are tons of benefits to be gained from avocados. Avocados are not only high in antioxidants like olive oil and almonds and rich in potassium to reduce inflammation and control blood pressure, but they also perform another important function. The fat of avocados actually helps your body to absorb the nutrients of the foods you eat in order to get the most benefit out of them.
How to use it: Avocados are typically used along with tomatoes to make guacamole, but they are great on their own as a side dish or even a quick snack. Just cut one in half and get a spoon.
While we are on the subject of making guacamole, we might as well discuss the heart health benefits of tomatoes. The major contribution that tomatoes make comes from the antioxidant lycopene, which is a carotenoid that helps to reduce the production of cholesterol. In addition, tomatoes are rich in the anti-inflammatory and blood pressure control mineral potassium. Another great thing about tomatoes is that they actually increase in lycopene benefits as you cook them.
How to use it: Using tomatoes in your diet is pretty easy to do. It might be more of a challenge to find things that tomatoes don’t go well with.
This one probably surprises you because potatoes are also a vilified food. As long as you are not frying them, potatoes are actually a great benefit when it comes to reducing high blood pressure due to their high potassium content. Potatoes are also rich in fiber, making them a full member among superfoods.
How to use it: You can certainly enjoy baked potatoes and their nutrient rich skins, but you can also reap their benefits by adding them to soups, stews, entrées and even a potato salad.
You knew that we would get around to this one eventually. Everyone, including your mother and grandmother, has been telling you to eat your spinach for years. Well, maybe it is time to listen, because your leafy greens not only include tons of vitamins and minerals, but they are loaded in antioxidants and dietary fiber. Ounce per ounce, leafy greens provide more nutrients for your overall health than any other foods you eat.
How to use it: Consuming leafy greens (include broccoli) have their greatest benefit when eaten raw in salads, but they still contribute a great deal when uses in soups, side dishes and even entrées.
A superfood that adds spice to your life can hardly be a bad thing. Garlic is well studied and is a proven contributor to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides and even reducing arteriosclerosis. It also reduces inflammation and contributes greatly to reducing cancer risk. If you’re not eating garlic, then why not?
How to use it: Use garlic in soups, side dishes and entrées to boost both flavor and health.
Garlic’s cousin, onions, can’t be left off of the list because they too contribute significantly to boosting heart health. Onions contain quercetin, which has been shown to have a significant role in lowering hypertension. They also contain many of the same compounds as garlic, but in lower concentrations.
How to use it: Onions can be used in all kinds of soups, salads, side dishes and entrées, or even as part of a sauce utilizing tomatoes and garlic too.
Legumes, which typically include peas, lentils and beans of various types are also considered heart healthy superfoods. The major benefit of legumes is that they add nutrients and dietary fiber with very little fat content. Legumes help to control blood sugar, and therefore triglyceride levels as well as help to flush cholesterol from your bloodstream.
How to use it: Legumes are used in just about any type of side dish, salad or soup and can be a great addition to a number of entrées as well. Try to include them in your diet 3 to 4 times per week.
Potency is packed into blueberries which cannot be ignored among superfoods. The flavonoid, anthocyanin, which give blueberries their rich color is known to both decrease blood pressure and dilate vessels. If that isn’t impressive enough, their low-fat content and dietary fiber are also something to keep in mind.
How to use it: Smoothies, salads and snacks can be greatly enhanced by the presence of blueberries.
Citrus fruits are also to be included as superfoods for heart health because they help to lower the risk of clotting, which leads to both heart attacks and strokes. Vitamin C is linked to lowering the risk of heart disease as well. If you take in citrus in juice form, be sure to extract your own juice to avoid the harmful additives in packaged juice.
How to use it: Salads, juice and snacks are the most common uses of citrus fruit, but many entrées and side dishes also use it for flavoring.
According to mythology, pomegranates are supposed to give you immortality. Though immortality might be stretching things a bit, but like blueberries their anthocyanin content helps to lower blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. In addition, pomegranates are loaded in antioxidants and fiber making them a heart healthy superfood.
How to use it: Pomegranates are an awesome addition to salads, yogurts and smoothies and they can also be a tasty snack to break up the monotony.
Oats have always been on the list of heart healthy superfoods. Not only are oats rich in antioxidants and fiber, but they contain a type of fiber which best binds with cholesterol and other blood toxins to help flush them from your body. If you need to lower your cholesterol level eating oats is one of the best places to start.
How to use it: Oatmeal is certainly the first thought when it comes to eating oats, but they can also be added into smoothies, yogurt and baked goods as well.
Whole grains are included among superfoods for heart health because their use has a double impact on your health similar to replacing bad fats with good fats. Heavily refined and processed flours tend to contribute to both inflammation and plaque buildup. Opting for whole grains and gluten-free grains in place of these types of flour not only reduces those dangers, but provide an excellent source of fiber to help clean cholesterol and triglycerides from your blood.
How to use it: Work at swapping out highly refined and processed flour foods with whole grain and gluten-free alternatives.
Although chocolate is often associated with dietary sin, dark chocolate is actually beneficial to heart health. Chocolate containing 70% cocoa or more, contains polyphenols which help to reduce inflammation, clotting and even blood pressure. It is really quite unfortunate that the milk chocolate blends we tend to flavor don’t offer these same benefits.
How to use it: Use dark chocolate with natural sweeteners for hot cocoa. It can also be added to smoothies, yogurt, nuts and other snacks to boost their health potency.
Flax Seeds and Chia Seeds
Flax seeds and chia seeds have greatly increased in popularity over the past decade or so because they are heart healthy. Both of these varieties of seeds are packed with fiber and also contain omega-3 fatty acids. What has caused them to become popular is their convenience and versatility for giving you a healthy energy boost.
How to use it: Either of these seeds can be added to just about any other food you eat. The best thing to do is get your hands on some and start experimenting.
Green tea is another powerful superfood for heart health which you can drink. The catechins found in green tea are the antioxidants responsible for helping to reduce the associated causes of heart disease. Studies indicate that green tea lowers LDL and triglyceride levels as well as helps to regulate blood pressure.
How to use it: Drink green tea a couple of times per day as a substitute for coffee and add it to your smoothie and energy drink recipes.
Rounding out our list of heart healthy superfoods is red wine. Red wine, among all wines, contains a unique polyphenol called resveratrol. Resveratrol contributes to reduced LDL cholesterol levels and prevents damage to blood vessels as well as lowers the risks of clotting. However, it must be taken in moderation or it has the exact opposite effect intended and actually increases the risks of heart disease.
How to use it: Adding alcohol to your diet for the benefits found in resveratrol is really not a great idea, because the risks are greater than the rewards. If you already drink alcohol in moderation, opt for red wine to replace other alcoholic drinks.
There is no specific magic to be found in any of these heart healthy superfoods. The true magic of improving your heart health comes through changing your attitudes concerning the foods you eat and the impact that they have on your health.