Heart disease is among the most significant health concerns in the US; one Center for Disease Control report highlights heart disease as the leading cause of death among adults in the country. Moreover, the occurrence of risk factors for heart disease, including metabolic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and abnormal cholesterol, is rising.
While heart disease and its risk factors are non-communicable, dietary adjustments eliminating processed high-sodium and sugary foods can help achieve and maintain optimum health. So, below are the top food options to include in your meal plan for a healthy heart and overall healthy lifestyle.
Soy food products are popular for their high protein content, making them ideal animal protein substitutes. However, while soy is a staple in the vegan community, soy foods have numerous cardiovascular health benefits that could benefit everyone working towards optimum heart health.
First, sustainable soy foods have a high nutrient density, meaning their nutrient ratio is significantly higher than their calorie or energy ratio. Therefore, consumers eating soy foods get more nutrients from fewer calories of the soy food than they would if they consumed high-calorie, low-nutrient-density foods.
According to one study, mild to moderate calorie restriction positively influences blood pressure and obesity, two risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. The dietary fiber and protein content in soy foods promotes satiety.
Second, besides nutrient density, soy foods have a heart-friendly nutrient profile. Soy foods contain healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (good fats), B vitamin Complex (vitamins B1, B3, and B9), vitamin E, and vitamin K.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids benefit heart health by lowering triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are essential lipids in the body, but they cause arterial walls to thicken when in high concentrations, increasing the risk of heart attack.
On the other hand, one study on B complex vitamins established a link between the vitamins and a reduced risk of mortality from stroke, coronary heart disease, and heart failure. B complex vitamins promote healthy organ function, including the heart.
Additionally, vitamin E in soy foods has an antioxidant effect that prevents damage to blood vessel walls. Also, one study on soy’s vitamin K content established that vitamin K2 improves circulation by countering arterial wall stiffness. Therefore, consider taking soy foods to improve your heart health by maintaining optimum body weight and adhering to the recommended dietary intake for heart-friendly nutrients.
Related reading: What food should I eat? The healthy eating plate
Nuts and seeds may be small, but they offer humongous benefits for heart health. They comprise helpful bioactive nutrients that function in the body to maintain heart health.
First, nuts and seeds contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (healthy fats like omega-3 and 6). The fatty acids help lower blood cholesterol levels by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL/ bad cholesterol) levels while raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL/ good cholesterol) levels. High LDL, blood plasma content, harms the heart because the small lipid particles stick to arterial walls, causing coronary heart diseases like atherosclerosis.
Second, seeds and nuts contain linoleic acid, a plant-based amino acid. One study review established that dietary linoleic acid consumption reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
Third, nuts and seeds have a high protein and dietary fiber content to promote satiety for moderate calorie consumption. Other heart-friendly macronutrients in seeds and nuts include B complex vitamins and magnesium.
The heart foundation recommends eating 3-4 handfuls of nuts and seeds weekly to promote heart health, although individuals with moderate to low heart health should eat more. It also recommends eating unprocessed, low-sodium whole and ground nuts and seeds rather than processed options. Healthy nuts and seeds to add to your heart-healthy meal plan include almonds, cashews, macadamias, pistachios, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
The word “oily” may be a put-off for someone looking to achieve and preserve optimum heart health. However, “oily” in “oily fish” refers to heart-friendly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids.
As explained above, omega-3 amino acids lower bad cholesterol levels and the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Additionally, the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish have anti-inflammatory effects, preventing damage to cardiovascular muscles. The anti-inflammatory effects also protect the heart from mental stress-induced inflammation.
Heart-friendly oil fish include cod, salmon, lake trout, herring, mackerel, and whitefish. One health publication recommends consuming two servings of oily fish (eight ounces) weekly.
Fruits are a no-brainer when making a heart-friendly meal plan. Their high vitamin content supplies the nutrients necessary for healthy heart function. Moreover, fruits are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant preventing blood vessel and cardiac muscle elasticity issues that can cause coronary heart disease.
Some fruits also contain beta-carotene, a phytochemical plant pigment promoting heart health. Fruits rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene have a red-orange color pigment. So, include oranges, papaya, grapefruit, tomatoes, and mangoes to get these nutrients.
Dark leafy green vegetables are rich in vitamin K, which prevents coronary heart disease. They are also high in nitrate, which improves vasodilation throughout the body, supporting healthy blood circulation. Ideal dark leafy green vegetables include kale, spinach, broccoli, bok choy, and arugula.
Related reading: How Do You Cultivate Healthy Eating Habits In Kids?
A heart-friendly diet is a cost-effective heart health intervention helping to keep heart diseases at bay. Therefore, consider adding the recommended food groups to your heart-healthy meal plan to improve heart health biomarkers.
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