What you eat has a direct effect on the health of your heart. To add a spring to your step and possible years to your life, incorporate heart-healthy foods into your dietary routine. Certain food choices can reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health.
If you've ever made a batch of oatmeal and let it sit for a while, you may have noticed that it developed a gel-like consistency, which is a result of oatmeal's soluble fiber. When you eat oatmeal, that soluble fiber gels and binds with bile acids and cholesterol and carries them out of your body, which helps prevent heart disease. The American Heart Association reports that oatmeal contains more soluble fiber than any other grain. Choose steel-cut or rolled oats for the greatest benefit, and avoid oatmeal that is packaged with sweeteners and artificial flavors. Flavor your own oatmeal with berries or a dash of cinnamon.
Grapes contain numerous natural compounds that deliver health benefits, including phenolic acid, flavonoids and resveratrol. While red wine is known for its heart benefits, you can enjoy the heart-protective benefits of grapes without having to drink an alcoholic beverage. A study published in the September 2009 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition" reported that grape juice can improve blood flow, dilate your arteries, thin your blood and reduce inflammation. All of these actions protect your heart and help prevent cardiovascular disease. When purchasing grapes, opt for red or dark purple varieties. If you prefer juice, select pure grape juice with no added sugars.
You may not think that any food that is described as fatty would be good for your heart, but fatty fish is a major player in the fight against heart disease. Fatty fish, including mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines and trout, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which deliver major health benefits. According to a report from the Cleveland Clinic, the omega-3s in fatty fish lower triglycerides, cholesterol, inflammation and blood pressure. These omega-3s also reduce your risk of blood clots, hardening of the arteries and sudden death caused by cardiac arrhythmia. The American Heart Association recommends consuming fatty fish twice a week. Choose wild-caught over farmed varieties to reduce your risk of exposure to toxins and bacteria.
Nuts are loaded with beneficial fatty acids and nutrients that protect you from heart disease. A study in the 2010 issue of the "Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition" reported that just one serving of nuts per week can decrease your risk of heart disease by 8.3 percent. Nuts lower LDL, or bad, cholesterol and raise HDL, or good, cholesterol levels. Excellent choices include walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts. Avoid salted nuts, as excess sodium can raise your blood pressure.
If you're a chocolate lover, you will be happy to know dark chocolate can benefit your heart. Dark chocolate contains beneficial cocoa polyphenols and antioxidants that protect your heart. A study in the November 8, 2012 issue of the "International Journal of Hypertension" found dark chocolate with 70 percent or greater cocoa content improves blood flow and the function of blood vessels and arteries, reducing the risk of heart disease. Subjects in the study also exhibited a small decrease in blood pressure.
- National Institutes of Health: Heart Diseases
- National Institutes of Health: Heart Disease and Diet
- American Heart Association: Whole Grains and Fiber
- The Journal of Nutrition: Grapes and Cardiovascular Disease
- Cleveland Clinic: The Power of Fish
- American Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Nuts, Blood Lipids and Cardiovascular Disease
- International Journal of Hypertension: Consumption of High-Polyphenol Dark Chocolate Improves Endothelial Function in Individuals with Stage 1 Hypertension and Excess Body Weight
A certified nutritionist who majored in health, fitness and nutrition, Traci Vandermark has been writing articles in her specialty fields since 1998. Her articles have appeared both online and in print for publications such as Simple Abundance, "Catskill Country Magazine," "Birds and Blooms," "Cappers" and "Country Discoveries."