19 Foods That Are Healthy for Your Heart

If you've been looking for the single best food you can eat to keep your heart healthy, search no more. There isn’t one. To keep your heart healthy you must maintain an overall healthy eating pattern.

A healthy eating pattern includes eating foods loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This means you should choose whole foods closest to their natural state and limit processed, convenience-type foods.

This way of eating will keep your blood vessels elastic, but strong, and help prevent unwanted plaque from forming. Here’s a list of foods you can eat on a regular basis to help reduce your risk of heart disease (eaten together, they’re even more powerful):

Vegetables

  • Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A and fiber. Munch on them raw, add them to salads, or steam them to break down the tough cell walls so your body can get more of the vitamin A content.
  • Dark green vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, asparagus) have few calories and loads of fiber; vitamins A, C, and folic acid; and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Enjoy them steamed or sautéed in olive oil. Add spinach and kale to smoothies for a nutritional boost.
  • Tomatoes are loaded with vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid, fiber, and antioxidants lycopene and lutein. Snack on them raw, add to salads and sandwiches, or cook them in olive oil to absorb even more healthy antioxidants.
  • Sweet potatoes are a powerhouse of nutrients — vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. Bake, mash, or roast them just like regular potatoes. They don’t need marshmallows or sugar.
  • Winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti) is a rich source of vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Bake or roast them for a delicious comfort food on a chilly day.

Fruit

  • Apples have antioxidant flavonoids and pectin, a soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol. They’re associated with a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke. Eating just one a day may actually keep heart disease away.
  • Bananas are an easy, economical, and rich source of potassium, which helps lower blood pressure. Eat them by themselves, or with a spoonful of nut butter, or freeze and use them in smoothies.
  • Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries) are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and powerful antioxidants and phytochemicals. They help relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Berries may also increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Enjoy these on their own, or mixed with other fruit, on salads, in yogurt or smoothies, on hot or cold cereal, or with a dollop of real whipped cream.
  • Oranges are a rich and delicious source of vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and soluble fiber. Whether it’s navel oranges or the cute, little mandarin oranges, enjoy them on their own or mixed with other fruits.

Whole Grains

  • Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber which helps reduce and keep cholesterol lower. It’s also a good source of potassium and magnesium. Stick to old-fashioned oats or steel-cut oats and limit added sugars. Top with chopped nuts and fruit for a delicious breakfast meal.
  • Brown rice is high in many B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber to help with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Make a big batch and heat it up for a quick side dish during the week.
  • Quinoa, a pseudo-grain, is a complete protein that’s lower in carbohydrates but full of fiber. It’s also gluten-free. Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes and can be easily exchanged for rice in many recipes. Rinse it before cooking to remove bitterness.

Lean Protein

  • Dry beans (black, pinto, cannellini) are underappreciated despite being a great source of protein. They have no saturated fat, contain healthy carbs that don’t spike your blood sugar, and are rich in soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Cook and season them with olive oil, herbs and spices, or add to soups, chilis, and salads.
  • Yogurt is a great source of calcium which helps keep blood pressure and weight in a healthy range. With probiotics (healthy bacteria), it helps with digestion and reducing inflammation. Yogurt makes a great snack or a healthy breakfast. Stick to low-fat or fat-free versions with little or no added sugars.

Healthy Fats

  • Nuts are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, folic acid, potassium, and magnesium. Once forbidden because of their high-fat content, nuts are now on the “must eat” list for their monounsaturated fats that lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, and reduce risk of heart disease. Eat a handful of nuts four or more times a week as a snack, put them on hot and cold cereal or salads, or roast and pair them with steamed vegetables.
  • Olive oil when used daily has been shown in many clinical trials to reduce the risk of heart disease—sometimes as high as 30 percent. It’s high in monounsaturated fat, which helps lower cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Drizzle it on vegetables or bread, use in salad dressings, or when cooking food at medium heat or less. It can also be used as a substitute for butter when baking (about 25 percent less is needed). (Read more about healthy cooking oils here)
  • Salmon and tuna (and other fatty, cold-water, wild-caught fish) are high in the omega-3 fats that help lower triglycerides and stabilize heart rhythm. Enjoy this fish baked, grilled, or sautéed in olive oil. Salmon and tuna in cans or pouches are also economical ways to consume this healthy fat but are higher in sodium.

Other Tantalizing Treats

  • Green tea is rich in antioxidants that help reduce the risk of both heart disease and stroke. It’s been shown that people who drink 12 ounces or more a day have a significantly lower risk of heart disease. Drink it hot or cold—just limit added sugars.
  • Dark chocolate with greater than 70 percent cocoa improves blood flow to your heart and brain, makes blood platelets less sticky and less likely to form clots, lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation and oxidation, and calms stress hormones. Enjoy it often but in small quantities.

Meet the Author

Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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