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Your heart is part of your cardiovascular system, which also includes all of the arteries that transport oxygenated blood from your heart throughout your body, and the veins that transport blood back to your heart. Many cardiovascular diseases and events—including coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral artery disease (PAD), heart attack, and stroke—are related to a narrowing of the arteries, including those within the heart itself. Fortunately, researchers have identified dietary strategies that can help keep your heart and blood vessels healthy. Below, we offer the best diet tips for heart and artery health.
Best Diet Advice: Tip #1
Plant foods are a key to a heart-healthy diet. The most beneficial foods for your blood vessels and your heart include those rich in phytonutrients (beneficial compounds found in plants) called flavonoids. These help reduce inflammation, support the health of your blood vessels, and have antioxidant effects that aid in the prevention of cell damage.
Fruits high in flavonoids include berries (see “Health Benefits of Blueberries“), citrus fruits, plums, grapes, and apples. Vegetables that are high in flavonoids include broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, beans, onions, and leeks.
Best Diet Advice: Tip #2
Foods rich in vitamin E—another powerful antioxidant—also can help keep your cardiovascular system strong. Where do we get vitamin E? Best sources include nuts (especially almonds and peanuts), sunflower seeds, avocados, spinach, and broccoli. Many ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin E as well (but keep an eye on sugar content).
MORE HEART-HEALTHY DIET TIPS
What else is important in a heart-healthy diet? According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, we need certain minerals for optimal heart health, including magnesium, calcium and potassium—all available in mineral-rich foods. Read about them in “Heart-Healthy Diet: The Right Foods Can Fight Off Heart Disease.”
See also “Cardiac Diet: The Road to Wellness Starts Here.” The post advises us to eat a variety of foods (particularly a rainbow of fruits and vegetables); choose the right fats (as in the unsaturated fats you find in olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados); watch your cholesterol; and pay attention to portion control.
Speaking of portion control, it’s a common challenge for those who struggle with weight control. To that end, see our post “Portion Control: 10 Tips to Keep from Overeating.”
Best Diet Advice: Tip #3
Balance is best. Eating a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and fish is linked with better cardiovascular health. This dietary pattern, known as the Mediterranean-style diet, is one of the healthiest eating plans. In a Mediterranean-style dietary pattern, herbs and spices are often used in place of salt, fish is a common substitute for red meat, and processed foods high in salt or added sugar are rarely eaten.
Best Diet Advice: Tip #4
Managing your blood pressure—the force of blood against the inner walls of your arteries—is vital to good cardiovascular health, and there is a diet formulated specifically with blood pressure in mind. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which focuses on keeping sodium intake under control and eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, lean meat, and plant foods rich in unsaturated fats, is designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure.