3 Things to Add to Your Diet for a Healthier Heart, According to a Harvard Doctor
Good news if you have a sweet tooth—dark chocolate made the cut.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting nearly half of all adults. Thankfully, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and related conditions, such as high blood pressure, with a healthy lifestyle.
We asked William W. Li, M.D., physician, scientist and author of Eat to Beat Disease about simple steps we can take to improve our heart health. Dr. Li's groundbreaking work has led to the development of more than 30 medical treatments that cover more than 70 diseases, including heart disease. Li is a firm believer in following a plant-based diet rich in greens, beans and colorful produce, but he also finds these three foods pack an extra heart-protecting punch.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered "heart-healthy fats" and are most prevalent in certain types of seafood and seeds. These unsaturated fats lower triglycerides, increase our "good" cholesterol and can prevent platelet aggregation (which causes blocked arteries).
Li likes salmon, sea bass and hake (a fish in the cod family) for getting the best omega-3 punch. He says we should aim to incorporate one or two servings of fatty fish into our diets each week, and a serving should be the size of a deck of cards. Our Smoky Maple-Mustard Salmon is a reader favorite and comes together in just 15 minutes.
Related: 15 Little Ways to Protect Your Heart
Dr. Li says drinking tea is one of the best ways to support heart health. He loves drinking Lipton green and black teas, as these varieties are great sources of flavonoids. Li has teamed up with Lipton for Heart Health Month to raise awareness of the health benefits of drinking tea.
"Flavonoids help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in blood vessels," Li says. "Drinking tea throughout the day can also help you stay hydrated, which is important for your circulation and heart function."
He says research shows drinking two or three cups per day is beneficial to your entire cardiovascular system (along with eating habits that are in line with established dietary guidelines). Li advises making a big batch of tea in the morning to sip on throughout the day and advises drinking unsweetened tea whenever possible. Our Warm Honey Green Tea is a healthy option for those who need a little sweetness.
Great news—dark chocolate really does have some health benefits after all! Li says dark chocolate has heart-protective benefits because it contains high levels of cocoa flavanols, which reduce plaque buildup in the arteries.
"Remarkably, these flavanols also activate cardioprotective stem cells and improve blood flow," Li says. "Choose dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa, and consume only in moderation to optimize its heart-healthy benefits."
Research shows consuming six one-ounce servings of dark chocolate per week is enough to give your heart health a boost. Try dipping your favorite fruits in our Dark Chocolate Hummus or making our Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chile for your next date night.
Related: Our Top 15 Heart-Healthy Foods
The Bottom Line
Simply eating a square of dark chocolate, serving of salmon and a cup of tea a few days a week aren't enough to keep your heart strong, but introducing these foods into your diet is a great place to start. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats will also help along with exercise and limiting added sugar. Trying not to stress too much is helpful too (try these 3 ways to ease stress).
"With nearly half of the population impacted by heart disease, the time is now to prioritize heart health, and be more mindful of the choices we are making every day," Li says. "In addition to diet, exercising regularly and getting good quality sleep is vital for keeping your heart in good shape."