Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RD, LDN
Heart disease, the number one killer in the U.S., doesn't discriminate: While
it tends to strike men earlier, it affects both genders.
The good news
is many cases of stroke and heart attacks are preventable through lifestyle
changes. For example, a healthy diet can help prevent heart disease, and some
foods are lauded by dietitians as playing an especially important role in
keeping your ticker humming.
We spoke with experts and looked at the
research to figure out top foods to keep your heart happy.
This hearty breakfast staple is a good source of beta
glucan, a form of soluble fiber that's been shown to help regulate blood sugar
levels and carry excess cholesterol out of the body, says Marisa Moore, RDN,
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson and a nutritional consultant in
To get this benefit, you need 3 grams of soluble fiber per day
(about 1½ cups of cooked oatmeal) as part of a diet low in saturated fat and
cholesterol. How can you get this into your daily meals? In addition to
enjoying oatmeal for breakfast topped with fruit and nuts, you can bake up a
batch of oatmeal bars or muffins or add it as a binder to turkey meatloaf.
Soy has been shown to reduce LDL (or bad) cholesterol,
says Toby Smithson, RDN, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson,
although the effect may vary based on individual cholesterol levels.
protein can also replace some of the saturated fats from meats and dairy in
your diet; saturated fat should be limited to less than 10 percent of your
total daily calories because it boosts the amount of cholesterol in the blood.
Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy and moderate portions of lean meats.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim for food
labels stating that eating 25 grams of soy protein per day may reduce the risk
of heart disease. To meet this goal, nosh on edamame, create smoothies using
silken tofu, and add a splash of soymilk to your cereal and coffee.
Popeye Had It Right: Spinach
Spinach is rich in potassium, which
can help lower blood pressure levels, says Moore. Veggies and greens, such as
spinach, are also low in calories and a good source of fiber, which provides
bulk that fills you up faster. This makes it an important ally in the war
against excess weight which ups your chances of heart disease.
is delicious in salads, as a sauté, in eggs and in soups. But don't rely on it
exclusively — plant foods work synergistically to keep us healthy, so be sure
to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and greens.
Salmon: In the Pink
Fatty fish including salmon is a great source of omega-3
fatty acids. "Omega-3s have been shown to help lower triglyceride levels,
reduce the risk of blood clots, reduce the overall risk for heart attacks, and
lower blood pressure levels," says Moore. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation,
which plays a major role in diseases including heart disease.
Try to eat
8 ounces of salmon per week. Not a fan? You can get the same effect from
mackerel, fresh albacore tuna, Atlantic herring, sardines and lake trout.
Go (Wal)nuts for Heart Health
Walnuts are a good source of
polyunsaturated fat — the kind that's been shown to reduce blood cholesterol
levels and lower the production of LDL cholesterol in the body. They're also a
vegetarian source of omega-3s, making them a boon for people who don't eat
Be careful, though — nuts are high in calories, which can cause
you to pack on pounds if you down too much. A serving of walnuts is 14 halves —
roughly the amount a woman can hold in her palm, says Moore. Try them in
oatmeal, as a topping for chicken or fish, on salads, in muffins and on sautéed
Reviewed October 2014