Heart-Healthy Diet: The Right Foods Can Fight Heart Disease

Certain minerals are important to a heart-healthy diet. Make sure they're included in yours.

heart-healthy diet

Vegetables and fruits (including berries), nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, fish—all are part of a heart-healthy diet.

© Tatjana Baibakova | Dreamstime

Take this to heart: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S. Luckily, lifestyle factors such as weight management, regular physical activity, and a good heart-healthy diet plan can help to prevent and manage heart disease.

The American Heart Association says a healthy diet is one of your best weapons against cardiovascular disease. The food you consume—and the quantity (as in, portion control)—can directly affect your risk for these ailments:

HEART-HEALTHY DIET: EXTRA ADVICE

For related reading, please visit these posts:

Learn more about the right heart-healthy diet plan for you in our 2018 health report Heart-Healthy Diet, subtitled “Your Guide to Heart-Smart Eating.”

What Constitutes a Heart-Healthy Diet?

Whether you want to prevent heart disease or manage it, a good heart-healthy diet plan features a variety of plant-based whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and unrefined whole grains. These foods are excellent sources of fiber; they’re also rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and protective antioxidants.

And keep in mind these heart-healthy diet tips:

  • Heart-healthy fats like avocado and omega-3 rich fish lower triglycerides and counter inflammation.
  • Limit red meat as it is a major source of saturated fat.
  • Avoid processed foods as much as possible; they’re filled with sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and trans-fats.

Key Minerals in a Heart-Healthy Diet

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, when it comes to nutrients, we need certain minerals for optimal heart health, including magnesium, calcium and potassium—all available in mineral-rich foods. These minerals are also called electrolytes and have important jobs—they regulate your nerve and muscle functioning, your body’s hydration, and your blood pressure, and they help to rebuild damaged tissue.

Did you know your heart is part of an electrical system (cardiac conduction system)? Your heart, muscles, and nerve cells use electrolytes to help maintain “voltages,” and they carry electrical impulses to other cells in your body. Here are some heart-healthy diet tips to help support your heart’s electrical power.

SAMPLE MINERAL-RICH MEAL PLANS

Here are two examples of daily meal plans to help steer your diet toward heart health.

DAY 1
Breakfast: Homemade whole grain, nut, and seed trail mix cereal with kefir
Snack: Low-fat unsweetened yogurt topped with fresh mixed berries
Lunch: Chopped salmon (with bones) salad sandwich
Snack: Chopped broccoli and cauliflower with dip
Dinner: Organic tempeh stir fry with collard greens and miso soup (see below)
Snack: Sweet potato pancakes

DAY 2
Breakfast: Homemade whole grain banana nut muffins
Snack: Seed crackers with unsweetened pumpkin seed butter
Lunch: Lentil or pea soup with vegetables
Snack: Baked squash chips (see below)
Dinner: Spinach and vegetable quiche
Snack: Diced low fat cheese and grapes

  1. Calcium isn’t just for your bones. When people think about calcium, they’re usually quick to associate it with bone health. However, it’s also good for your heart. It can help you manage your weight and regulate blood pressure along with magnesium and potassium (below). Good sources of calcium include yogurt, kefir and low-fat dairy products, collard greens, organic tempeh, and sardines and salmon with bones. A dietary supplement might be required for individuals with calcium deficiency—always check with your physician.
  2. Magnesium is magnificent. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. It affects everything from your heartbeat to your hormones. It helps you make new proteins and helps keep your muscles and nerves healthy. Magnesium has the ability to balance out excess calcium, which is associated with heart attacks. It can also help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon.

    A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that at least half of the U.S. population had inadequate intake of the mineral. Magnesium deficiency is associated with high blood pressure and heart disease.

    Worthy sources of magnesium include spinach, Swiss chard, peas, organic tempeh, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and salmon. Like calcium, supplementation might be required for some, especially since cooked foods lose a lot of their magnesium. Once again, check with your doctor.

  3. Make potassium paramount. Potassium is involved in your heartbeat, and it helps to regulate your blood pressure. It also prompts your heart to squeeze blood through your body. Furthermore, it helps your muscles to move and your nerves to work effectively. You can get a lot of your intake from fruits and vegetables.

    Good sources of potassium include squash, sweet potato, broccoli, banana, lentils, low-fat dairy products and deep-sea fish such as flounder or halibut. (See also our posts “Potassium Benefits Your Heart, Bones, and More” and “Potassium Deficiency? 10 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough.”)

RECIPE 1: EASY MISO SOUP WITH TEMPEH

Ingredients:
4 cups water
1/2 cup collard greens or kale, chopped
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup firm organic tempeh, cubed (fermented soybeans)
4 tablespoons organic miso paste (fermented soybean paste)
1 sheet (1/4 cup) nori paper (seaweed), cut in small pieces
Pinch of sea salt to taste (optional)
Dash of organic tamari sauce or coconut sap sauce (optional)

Directions:
Pour water in a pot and bring to a simmer. Add nori paper and simmer for 5 minutes.
Place 3 tablespoons of miso paste into a small bowl with a 1/4 cup hot water and whisk until smooth. Add miso mixture to pot and stir well.
Add greens, tempeh, onion, and soup to pot and cook for 5 minutes.
Add dash of tamari sauce or coconut sap sauce. Serve soup warm.
Servings: 2

RECIPE 2: SWEET SQUASH CHIPS

Ingredients:
1 butternut or yellow squash, sliced very thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
Olive oil spray
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of sea salt to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine squash, olive oil, salt and garlic. Mix until well combined.
Place the squash in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
Lightly spray sliced squash with olive oil spray for a crunchy texture. Bake for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and flip each slice. Lightly spray with olive oil spray and bake for another 5-8 minutes, or until chips are crisp and golden brown. Allow to cool.
Servings: 2

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