Research into the beneficial effects of individual foods and nutrients on health frequently make the headlines, however, no single component of the diet is going to prevent you from developing heart disease. The key to good heart health is keeping active and ensuring your diet well balanced.
Certain foods do appear to be richer sources of heart-healthy nutrients such as healthy fats (monounsaturated and omega 3 fatty acids), fibre and phytochemicals found in plants. The list below contains ten ‘heart health food heroes’ that you should include on your weekly shopping list.
These cereal grains contain a rich-source of beta-glucan, which is a type of soluble fibre shown to help reduce cholesterol levels (a risk factor for heart disease). You can also find beta-glucan in barley and shiitake mushrooms. Oats are recommended as part of the Portfolio diet (shown to help reduce cholesterol by up to 25%). You can easily incorporate oats into your diet by eating porridge for breakfast or making your own homemade granola that can be used as a topping or eaten as a snack.
These types of fish include salmon, fresh tuna, sardines, trout and mackerel. Oily fish are rich in a group of essential fatty acids called omega 3. These fats are thought to promote good heart health by decreasing triglycerides, thinning the blood to help prevent clotting and increasing good (HDL) cholesterol. If you don’t eat fish then you can find a type of omega 3 in foods such as walnuts and dark green leafy vegetables but its conversion to the type found in oily fish is very poor so a supplement could be considered (such as Healthspan’s Super Strength Omega 3, £15.95 for 180 capsules).
Extra virgin olive oil
This oil is at the heart of the Mediterranean diet and should be used as your main choice of cooking oil. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats that help to increase you levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. This oil has also been shown to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage, which is thought to be a step in the heart disease process. Extra virgin olive oil is also rich in phenolic antioxidants such as oleocanthal (gives olive oil its peppery taste) that has been shown to reduce inflammation (though to be a driver for many chronic diseases).
Brightly coloured berries such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are rich in plant chemicals called flavonoids (pigments that give them their colouring). These berries have antioxidant properties and help to protect the body against disease. Berries, like other fruits are also high in vitamin C and fibre, both of which are associated to a lower risk of stroke. Eat as a snack or use as a topping for yoghurt or cereals.
I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t been told to ‘eat their greens’ at some point. These dark leafy vegetables (kale, cabbage, spring greens) do contain a good source of minerals including magnesium, potassium and calcium, which are used by the body to help control blood pressure. They are also a rich source of dietary fibre and plant compounds that help to protect the body from disease. Try including a couple of serving as part of your daily fruit and vegetable intake.
This group of foods is one of the richest sources of fibre. A half can serving (125g) provides a third of your daily recommended intake. Beans are also a good source of the minerals also found in dark green leafy vegetables (see above) and are also included in the cholesterol lowering, Portfolio diet. Compounds in soya beans have also been show to help reduce cholesterol (stick to good quality natural Non-GMO soy foods such as edamame beans and fermented where possible such as tempeh or miso). Try adding beans to dishes such as stews, soups, salads and stir-fry’s for a boost of fibre.
Choosing wholegrain foods such as pasta, rice, bread and other cereal products over white-refined varieties can help to increase your intake of iron, calcium, B vitamins and fibre, which is lacking in the diets of most people. These foods have shown to be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease and can also help with other conditions associated with heart health including weight maintenance, blood glucose control and high cholesterol. Swap brown for white when choosing starchy foods.
These nourishing fruits are rich in monounsaturated fats and fibre, both of which are associated with maintaining a healthy heart. They also contain high levels of folate (as do green vegetables), which helps to lower levels of the amino acid, homocysteine, which appears to be associated with an increased risk of heart disease in some people. Avocado can be included in salads, dips or used as a spread.
These provide a source of fibre and heart-healthy fats including monounsaturated and omega 3, which can be found in walnuts. Nuts have also been shown to improve risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol, which is why they are included in the cholesterol lowering Portfolio diet. Try incorporating a small handful (nuts are high in calories) into your daily diet as a snack or to top fruit, salads and yoghurt.
As a treat, dark chocolate is a good option as it provides one of the richest sources of antioxidant polyphenols. Research shows that dark chocolate can improve arterial dilation enough to reduce blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attack (although most research suggests 100g chocolate daily, which in reality is a bit excessive given the high levels of saturated fat and sugar). Try buying mini bars of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids as an occasional treat.Last modified: June 10, 2021