5 Surprising Heart-Healthy Foods You Should Be Eating
Sadly, heart disease is the #1 killer of women and men in America. According to the CDC, someone dies of heart disease every 36 seconds in the United States. Fortunately, there is so much that can be done to help keep us as healthy as possible—things like what and how much we eat, proper exercise, how much sleep we get—even our relationships and stress levels all impact our heart health. (Here are 15 little ways to help protect your heart.)
Since the foods we choose most of the time play a big role in supporting a healthy heart (and body), let's examine some of those that maybe don't quite get as much love as the more usual suspects.
"We forget that food is as powerful as prescription drugs" says John Whyte, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. He adds, "It's the decisions that you make about what you eat and the daily practices that truly impacts your heart."
But heart health isn't just about eating salmon, kale and quinoa. There are lots of foods that can help keep your heart in good shape (here are our top 15 heart-healthy foods). This list of five foods may not be the first items you think about when it comes to a heart-healthy diet. Time to think outside the box of what's considered heart healthy and consider other foods that can complement that salmon.
Fiber, Fiber, Fiber
It's not technically a food, but when it comes to heart health, fiber should be top of mind. Sadly, most Americans miss the boat when it comes to meeting their daily fiber needs.
Fiber's role in preventing heart disease seems to stem from its ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol. In addition, research supports fiber's ability to help fill you up, meaning the potential for reducing body fat, which can also improve heart health.
Why is it so effective? Spencer Nadolsky, DO, Chief Physician at Renaissance Periodization says it's thanks to, "soluble fiber, which works by binding with bile. Bile is rich in cholesterol so it's not absorbed. In turn your body increases the recycling of cholesterol in your blood to make up for the bile lost."
Fiber isn't the only beneficial nutrient when it comes to your heart, but it's certainly one to home in on.
It's hard to talk about heart health without giving lentils some love, particularly when it comes to the magic of fiber. From a cost to benefit perspective, lentils top the list.
Adding a simple ½ cup of lentils (any color) to your day provides approximately 8 grams of fiber. Considering the recommendation is about 25-38 grams of fiber per day, 8 grams is nearly 1/3 of the daily recommendation and almost as much as many people currently eat in an entire day.
Here's a simple way to incorporate them into your daily routine: Add ½ cup cooked lentils on top of a daily salad or a bowl of your favorite soup (or try these healthy lentil soup recipes). For a unique snack, consider sprinkling some feta cheese on ½ cup of lentils, drizzling with about 1 tsp of olive oil and you're all set.
You may not picture figs when you think of heart-healthy foods, but don't count out this humble fruit. Figs are don't have any fat, sodium, cholesterol and have no added sugar since they're naturally sweet on their own. Just a few (three to five) dried or fresh figs provide five grams of dietary fiber (here we are again, beating the fiber drum for heart health).
Chop up a few dried figs and top your oats (like in the Fig & Ricotta Overnight Oats, pictured above), Greek yogurt or pair them with a handful of almonds for a quick snack.
Wait, what? Whole eggs? Yes—yolk and all!
Gone are the days of avoiding those yolks for the dietary cholesterol content. Based on a continually growing body of research, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines as well as the American Heart Association (AHA) support that eggs belong in healthy eating patterns.
In fact, "a 2019 AHA science advisory recommends up to one whole egg a day for healthy adults and up to 2 eggs a day for healthy older individuals as part of a heart-healthy eating pattern" says Dana Angelo White, M.S., RD, ATC of Dana White Nutrition and a partner of the Egg Nutrition Center.
Eggs are a naturally nutrient-rich choice that pairs well with whole grains and produce. They are also a quick-cooking and affordable protein source, making them a star in the kitchen for any meal or snack. Try hard-boiled eggs as a quick protein-rich breakfast or snack, on top of a salad or mixed up as egg salad. Of course cooking up a quick egg in the morning (or for a fun, "breakfast for dinner!") can be a great as well.
Apples tend to get more love when it comes to heart health (and keeping the doctor away) but pears deserve some too. Picking the best fruit is like picking your favorite kid. We love them all equally, but—yes, that's a but—each has their own, extra loveable features. Like pears.
"Pears provide a whopping 5g fiber per serving making them a perfectly portable pick for heart health" says Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, Culinary and Integrative Dietitian at marisamoore.com. With the power to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, high fiber foods may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Enjoy pears as an easy snack, sliced in a green salad or as a sweet oatmeal topper.
5. Olive Oil
It may not be super surprising, but oils can be overlooked when it comes to foods that impact our health. And especially when it comes to heart health, the fats you choose are important. Olive oil not only adds an incredible flavor to foods, but it's long been associated with lowering cardiovascular risk, namely in the Mediterranean populations where it's an abundant part of the diet. (Here's more about why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy.)
A recent study presented at the 2020 American Heart Association Meeting, found that higher olive oil (greater than ½ tbsp per day) intake was associated with a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease and 15% lower total cardiovascular disease in both men and women.
Of note, while olive oil adds an incredible flavor to foods, this advice doesn't mean liberally drizzling olive oil on every food that crosses your lips, but rather considering where olive oil can be substituted for other fats like butter, mayonnaise or margarine or dairy fat. We love olive oil as a cooking oil, in salad dressings, in sauces and even in baking recipes.