It’s heart month and it’s time to improve your heart health. Did you know that nearly half of all U.S. adults have some type of cardiovascular disease? Yes, heart disease was the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and stroke was No. 5. Since having high cholesterol levels — especially “bad” LDL — is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, it makes sense to see if you can lower your cholesterol and improve other risk factors for heart disease.
Here are 7 foods that can help you reach your goal of heart health. Add them to your diet or increase your intake and you’re on the way to a healthier heart.
Legumes, also known as pulses, are a group of plant foods that includes beans, peas and lentils. They are packed with heart-healthy nutrients. Legumes contain resistant starch, which resists digestion and is fermented by the beneficial bacteria in your gut. According to some studies, resistant starch can improve heart health by decreasing blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. Beans also contain folate, antioxidants, and magnesium which help lower blood pressure. On top of all that goodness, the fiber in beans helps control cholesterol and blood sugar levels. And here’s another plus for pulses: Studies link pulses to weight loss.
Nuts are chock-packed with nutrients. They’re also very high in monounsaturated fats. Walnuts are rich in the plant variety of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat associated with heart health. Almonds and other nuts are particularly rich in L-arginine, an amino acid that helps your body make nitric oxide. This helps regulate blood pressure. Calcium, magnesium and potassium, also found in nuts, may reduce blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease. So snack on nuts and skip the pretzels.
3. Whole Grains
Whole grains have all parts of the grain intact. This provides you with more vitamins, minerals, plant compounds and fiber than refined grains. Oats and barley are especially heart heatlhy. Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Eating oats may lower total cholesterol by 5% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 7% Barley is also rich in beta-glucans and can help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol.
4. Fruits and Berries
Fruit is an excellent addition to a heart-healthy diet for several reasons. Many types of fruit are rich in soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels. It does this by encouraging your body to get rid of cholesterol and stopping your liver from producing cholestrol. Fruit also contains bioactive compounds that help prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases because they are antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory effects.
5. Dark Chocolate and Cocoa
Is a dream come true? Is chocolate really good for you? Nope, milk chocolate is not okay! But research does tell us that dark chocolate and cocoa can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Cocoa and dark chocolate also seem to protect the “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood from oxidation, which is a key cause of heart disease. Watch out though because chocolate is high in added sugar. Opt for cocoa alone or dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 75–85% or higher.
Tea has many plant compounds that improve your heart health. While green tea gets a lot of attention, black tea and white tea have similar properties and health effects. Two of the primary beneficial compounds in tea are catechins: which help towards healthy blood pressure and quercetin which improves blood vessel function and lowers inflammation. Not for nothing did your grandmother tell you to use a tea bag to cure a stye.