Best Diet Plan for Healthy Heart For your healthy heart, you need to avoid the food that is high in saturated fat. It is not just because of the cholesterol, but because saturated fat causes inflammation in your blood vessels and causes plaque buildup. So, turning to the diet that promotes good health is the best choice when it comes to a healthy heart.
Best Diets For Heart Health Of 2022, According To Experts
Diet has a significant impact on cardiovascular health, affecting factors like blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. And although some eating habits are excellent choices for developing muscle mass or fitting into smaller pairs of clothes, other diets are more suited for improving your heart health.
The Forbes Health editorial team assembled a panel of seven nutrition specialists that examined 19 diets using six measures, including heart health, for our Best Diets of 2022 ranking.
For our heart health category, the diets with the highest average scores are listed below. As usual, consult your doctor before beginning a new diet or eating regimen.
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Best Diets for Heart Health
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Nuts and legumes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Lean meat
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fruits and vegetables
- Legumes and nuts
- Whole grains
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The Forbes Health editorial team assembled a panel of seven nutrition specialists to evaluate 19 diets using six measures, including heart health, for our Best Diets of 2022 ranking. For our heart health category, the diets with the highest average ratings were declared the winners.
How Diet Impacts Heart Health
Healthy eating habits are a tried-and-true method of warding off cardiovascular disease, making nutrition the lifeblood of cardiovascular health. And it’s never been more important given that cardiovascular disease is the primary killer in Western nations.
A increased risk of cardiovascular disease is associated with diets that are high in sodium, processed foods, added sugars, and unhealthy fats, while being poor in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, legumes, fish, and nuts. A heart-healthy diet is also crucial because cardiovascular disease frequently co-occurs with other illnesses including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
Finding the best nutrition strategy for you can be trickier than you might think because “heart health” is such a broad concept.
According to Micah Eimer, M.D., a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine in Lake Forest, Illinois, and a member of the Forbes Health Advisory Board, “It sort of depends on the cardiac condition.” For instance, people who are prone to fluid retention or have high blood pressure need to watch their sodium intake.
He continues, pointing out how different cardiovascular conditions might necessitate different dietary recommendations. “[But] patients who have lots of blockages in arteries but are less troubled with blood pressure would be best served to focus on the limitation of saturated fats and increases in dietary fiber.”
Ask your doctor to recommend a qualified dietician who can assist you in choosing a diet that will be most beneficial for you and your needs.
The Importance of Heart Healthy Foods
The American Heart Association (AHA) advises maintaining a balanced dietary pattern that prioritizes a range of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils in order to promote heart health.
The group also stresses eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (such salmon and trout) at least twice a week, watching portion sizes, and consuming alcohol moderately (i.e., no more than one serving per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men).
There are many more heart-healthy eating plans available, and while our ranking highlights the best diets for heart health, it is not all-inclusive. In general, research shows that eating a healthy plant-based diet, which includes things like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, is linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease, as opposed to eating less healthy plant-based foods, which include things like juices, refined grains, fries, and sweets.
Which Foods to Avoid for Heart Health
The American Heart Association presently advises minimizing sodium, red meat, sweets, and beverages with added sugar.
You should not, however, replace all of those lipids with carbohydrates. Dr. Eimer describes the “Snackwell Effect” as the cause of the obesity epidemic. “While dietary cholesterol and saturated fat have been the focus of diets for decades due to their association with atherosclerosis, we now have an epidemic of obesity that resulted from substituting [refined] carbohydrates for fat,” he says.
In addition, he adds, “the harm that sodium produces in patients who are fragile, especially those with heart failure or kidney failure, is an issue that we see in the office and in the hospital every day. So watch the salt.”
Improving Your Heart Health
There are simple lifestyle changes you can make for better heart health, in addition to eating a heart-healthy diet and avoiding foods that are known to harm cardiovascular health. In particular, Dr. Eimer suggests
- Dining out less frequently
- Saving dessert for special occasions
- Exercising regularly
- Adding fresh fruit, vegetables and fiber-rich foods (like beans and nuts) to your plate
- Planning your meals ahead
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Limiting alcohol to no more than one drink a day
Heart-healthy diet: 8 steps to prevent heart disease
Although you may be aware that consuming particular foods can increase your risk of developing heart disease, it can be difficult to change your dietary habits. Here are eight heart-healthy diet suggestions, whether you’ve been eating badly for years or you just want to tweak your diet. You’ll be well on your way to a heart-healthy diet once you know which foods to eat more of and which ones to limit.
1. Control your portion size
Both what you eat and how much of it matter. Consuming more calories than necessary might result from overfilling your plate, going back for seconds, and stopping when you’re full. Restaurant portions are frequently larger than anyone needs.
You may improve the health of your heart and waistline as well as your nutrition by following a few easy recommendations for portion control:
- Use a small plate or bowl to help control your portions.
- Eat more low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables
- Eat smaller amounts of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods.
It’s also important to keep track of the number of servings you eat. Some things to keep in mind:
- A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces or pieces. For example, one serving of pasta is about 1/3 to 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is about 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.
- The recommended number of servings per food group may vary depending on the specific diet or guidelines you’re following.
- Judging serving size is a learned skill. You may need to use measuring cups and spoons or a scale until you’re comfortable with your judgment.
2. Eat more vegetables and fruits
Fruits and vegetables are excellent providers of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables are high in dietary fiber and low in calories. Like other plants or plant-based diets, fruits and vegetables contain compounds that may lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. You may be able to reduce your intake of high-calorie meals like meat, cheese, and snack foods by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables.
It can be simple to include fruits and vegetables in your diet. Maintain sliced and washed vegetables in your refrigerator for quick snacking. To ensure that you remember to consume it, keep fruit in a dish in your kitchen. Pick recipes using fruits or vegetables as the major ingredients, like fruit salads or stir-fries with veggies.
|Fruits and vegetables to choose||Fruits and vegetables to limit|
|Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruitsLow-sodium canned vegetablesCanned fruit packed in juice or water||CoconutVegetables with creamy saucesFried or breaded vegetablesCanned fruit packed in heavy syrupFrozen fruit with sugar added|
3. Select whole grains
Fiber and other nutrients included in whole grains help to control blood pressure and maintain heart health. By adopting straightforward substitutes for refined grain products, you may boost the proportion of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet. Alternately, be daring and experiment with a novel whole grain, such farro, quinoa, or barley.
|Grain products to choose||Grain products to limit or avoid|
|Whole-wheat flourWhole-grain bread, preferably 100% whole-wheat bread or 100% whole-grain breadHigh-fiber cereal with 5 g or more fiber in a servingWhole grains such as brown rice, barley and buckwheat (kasha)Whole-grain pastaOatmeal (steel-cut or regular)||White, refined flourWhite breadMuffinsFrozen wafflesCornbreadDoughnutsBiscuitsQuick breadsCakesPiesEgg noodlesButtered popcornHigh-fat snack crackers|
4. Limit unhealthy fats
To lower your blood cholesterol and lessen your risk of coronary artery disease, you should limit the amount of saturated and trans fats you consume. Atherosclerosis, or the formation of plaque in the arteries as a result of elevated blood cholesterol, can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
For a heart-healthy diet, the American Heart Association recommends the following amounts of fat to include:
|Type of fat||Recommendation|
|Saturated fat||Less than 6% of total daily calories.* If you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 11 to 13 grams.|
*Note: The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of total daily calories.
There are simple ways to cut back on saturated and trans fats:
- Trim fat off meat or choose lean meats with less than 10% fat.
- Use less butter, margarine and shortening when cooking and serving.
- Use low-fat substitutions when possible for a heart-healthy diet. For example, top a baked potato with low-sodium salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use sliced whole fruit or low-sugar fruit spread on toast instead of margarine.
Cookies, cakes, frostings, crackers, and chips should all have food labels checked. In addition to having little nutritional value, several of these foods—even those with reduced fat labels—may also include trans fats. Although trans fats cannot be added to food anymore, some older items may still contain them. On the ingredient label, trans fats could be identified as partly hydrogenated oil.
|Fats to choose||Fats to limit|
|Olive oil Canola oil Vegetable and nut oils Margarine, trans fat free Cholesterol-lowering margarine, such as Benecol, Promise Activ or Smart Balance Nuts, seeds Avocados||Butter Lard Bacon fat Gravy Cream sauce Nondairy creamers Hydrogenated margarine and shortening Cocoa butter, found in chocolate Coconut, palm, cottonseed and palm kernel oils|
When you do consume fats, choose for monounsaturated sources like canola or olive oil. A diet rich in polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in some fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds, is also recommended for heart health. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help decrease your total blood cholesterol when utilized in place of saturated fat. Moderation is necessary, though. All forms of fat include a lot of calories.
Utilizing ground flaxseed is a simple approach to increase your diet’s beneficial fat (and fiber) content. Small brown seeds called flaxseeds are rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. According to studies, flaxseed helps some people with their harmful cholesterol levels. A teaspoon of ground flaxseeds can be added to yogurt, applesauce, or hot cereal. Flaxseeds can be ground in a coffee grinder or food processor.
5. Choose low-fat protein sources
Some of the greatest sources of protein include eggs, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry, and fish. Choose lower-fat options like skim milk instead of whole milk and skinless chicken breasts instead of fried chicken patties.
A healthy substitute for high-fat meats is fish. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in some fish varieties, can reduce blood fats called triglycerides. Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring have the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, and canola oil are further sources.
Beans, peas, and lentils are legumes that make excellent meat alternatives since they are low-fat, cholesterol-free sources of protein. If you replace animal protein with plant protein, such as a soy or bean burger for a hamburger, you’ll consume less fat and cholesterol and more fiber.
|Proteins to choose||Proteins to limit or avoid|
|Low-fat dairy products, such as skim or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt and cheese Eggs Fish, especially fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon Skinless poultry Legumes Soybeans and soy products, such as soy burgers and tofu Lean ground meats||Full-fat milk and other dairy products Organ meats, such as liver Fatty and marbled meats Spareribs Hot dogs and sausages Bacon Fried or breaded meats|
6. Limit or reduce salt (sodium)
Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Limiting salt (sodium) is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends that:
- Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt)
- Most adults ideally have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day
Even though cutting back on the salt you use when cooking or adding it to food at the table is a smart starting step, a lot of the salt you consume comes from canned or processed foods like soups, baked goods, and frozen dinners. You can consume less salt by eating fresh foods and cooking your own soups and stews.
If you enjoy the convenience of prepared meals and canned soups, seek for ones with no or low sodium. Sea salt has the same nutritional value as ordinary salt, so be skeptical of goods that claim to be reduced in sodium because they are seasoned with it rather than regular table salt.
Making wise condiment selections is another method to cut back on your use of salt. There are many condiments with lower sodium content. With less sodium, salt replacements can taste your cuisine.
|Low-salt items to choose||High-salt items to limit or avoid|
|Herbs and spices Salt-free seasoning blends Canned soups or prepared meals with no added salt or reduced salt Reduced-salt versions of condiments, such as reduced-salt soy sauce and reduced-salt ketchup||Table salt Canned soups and prepared foods, such as frozen dinners Tomato juice Condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise and soy sauce Restaurant meals|
7. Plan ahead: Create daily menus
Use the six tactics from the above list to create daily menus. Put an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, and healthy grains when choosing foods for each meal and snack. Limit your intake of salty foods and go for lean protein sources and healthy fats. Keep an eye on your portion sizes and diversify your menu options.
For instance, the following night, if you had grilled salmon the night before, try a black bean burger. This makes it more likely that you’ll consume all the nutrients your body requires. Meals and snacks are more entertaining when they are varied.
8. Allow yourself an occasional treat
Allow yourself to occasionally treat yourself. Your heart-healthy diet won’t be ruined by a candy bar or a bag of chips. But don’t let it become a justification for abandoning your diet. Over time, you’ll achieve equilibrium if overindulgence is the exception rather than the rule. The majority of the time, eating healthy foods is what matters.
If you follow these eight suggestions, you’ll discover that eating heart-healthily is both achievable and fun. You may prepare meals with your heart in mind by using a few straightforward adjustments.
Foods That Can Save Your Heart
When you add these to foods instead of salt and fat, you’re making a heart-healthy choice. They add flavor without the bad stuff. Spices and other foods are delicious ways to eat heart-smart.
Black beans are mild, delicate, and full of minerals that are good for the heart. Blood pressure can be lowered with the use of magnesium, folate, and antioxidants. Their fiber aids in blood sugar and cholesterol regulation. To improve soups and salads, add beans.
Prep Tip: Rinse canned beans to remove extra salt.
Red Wine and Resveratrol
If you consume alcohol, even a little red wine can be good for your heart. Red wine contains two antioxidants, resveratrol and catechins, which may shield arterial walls. Additionally, alcohol can increase HDL, the good cholesterol.
Tip: Too much alcohol hurts the heart. Don’t have more than one drink a day for women or two drinks for men. It’s best to talk to your doctor first. Alcohol may cause problems for people taking aspirin and other medications.
Salmon: Super Food
A top food for heart health, it’s rich in omega-3s. Omega-3s are healthy fats that may lessen the risk of heart rhythm disorders and lower blood pressure. They may also lower triglycerides and curb inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of salmon or other oily fish a week.
Cooking Tip: Bake salmon in foil with herbs and veggies. Toss extra cooked salmon in fish tacos and salads.
Tuna for Omega-3s
Often cheaper than salmon, tuna also has omega-3s. Albacore (white tuna) has more omega-3s than other tuna varieties. Try grilling tuna steak with dill and lemon. Reel in these other sources of omega-3s, too: mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and anchovies.
Health Tip: Choose tuna packed in water, not oil, to keep it heart-healthy.
This oil is a healthy fat made from smashed olives. It’s rich in heart-healthy antioxidants. They may protect your blood vessels. When olive oil replaces saturated fat (like butter), it can help lower cholesterol levels. Try it on salads and cooked veggies, or with bread.
Taste tip: For the best flavor, look for cold-pressed and use it within 6 months.
A daily serving of a few walnuts may help decrease cholesterol. It might also guard against artery inflammation in your heart. Omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, plant sterols, and fiber are all abundant in walnuts. When walnuts are used in place of unhealthy fats found in chips and cookies, benefits result.
Tip: Try walnut oil in salad dressings.
Slivered almonds go well with vegetables, fish, chicken, and desserts. They have plant sterols, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. Almonds may help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Grab a small handful a day.
Taste Tip: Toast them to boost their creamy, mild flavor.
These might have been an appetizer at an Asian eatery. The Japanese word for soybeans is edamame. Cholesterol levels can be reduced with soy protein. 8 grams of heart-healthy fiber are also included in one cup of edamame. You would need to eat around four slices of whole wheat bread to get that much fiber.
Tip: Take frozen edamame, boil it, and then serve warm in the pod. Popping out the yummy beans from the tough pod makes a satisfying snack.
Eat tofu and you’ll get a great form of vegetarian soy protein with heart-healthy minerals, fiber, and polyunsaturated fats. It can take on the taste of the spices or sauces you use to cook it.
Tips: Chop firm tofu, marinate, then grill or stir-fry, going easy on the oil. Add tofu to soups for protein with little added fat.
Swap white potatoes for sweet potatoes. With a lower glycemic index than white potatoes, these spuds won’t cause a quick spike in blood sugar. They also have fiber, vitamin A, and lycopene.
Taste Tip: Boost their natural sweetness with a sprinkle of cinnamon and lime juice instead of sugary toppings.
Sweet and juicy, oranges have the cholesterol-fighting fiber pectin. They also have potassium, which helps control blood pressure. In one study, 2 cups of OJ a day boosted blood vessel health. It also lowered blood pressure in men.
Nutrition Tip: A medium orange has about 62 calories and 3 grams of fiber.
This leafy dark green vegetable is high in magnesium and potassium. These minerals aid in blood pressure regulation. Additionally heart-healthy fiber, vitamin A, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin are all present in Swiss chard. Serve it with grilled meats or use it to serve fish on.
Prep Tip: Sauté it with olive oil and garlic until wilted. Season with herbs and pepper.
Try this nutty whole grain in place of rice. You can also simmer barley into soups and stews. The fiber in barley can help lower cholesterol levels. It may lower blood sugar levels, too.
Tip: Get to know your barley. Hulled or “whole grain” barley is the most nutritious. Barley grits are toasted and ground. They make a nice cereal or as a side dish. Pearl barley is quick, but a lot of the heart-healthy fiber has been removed.
Oatmeal is beneficial for diabetics as well since it keeps blood sugar levels consistent over time, fills you up for hours, and prevents snack attacks. The fiber in oats lowers harmful cholesterol, which is good for your heart (LDL). Steel cut or slow cooked oats produce the best results.
Baking Tip: Making pancakes, muffins, or other baked goods? Swap out one-third of the flour and put in oats instead.
This shiny, honey-colored seed has three things that are good for your heart: fiber, phytochemicals called lignans, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Tip: Grind flaxseed for the best nutrition. Add it to cereal, baked goods, yogurt, or mustard on a sandwich.
When you think of dairy foods, you probably think, “Good for my bones!” These foods can help control high blood pressure, too. Yogurt is high in calcium and potassium. To really boost the calcium and minimize the fat, choose low-fat varieties.
Foods Fortified With Sterols
Some margarines, soy milks, almond milks, and orange juices have cholesterol-fighting sterols and stanols added. These plant extracts block your gut from soaking up cholesterol. They can lower LDL levels by 10% without messing with good cholesterol.
Sweet cherries, sour cherries, dried cherries, and cherry juice — they’re all good. All are packed with an antioxidants called anthocyanins. They’re believed to help protect blood vessels.
Get More: Sprinkle dried cherries into cereal, muffin batter, green salads, and wild rice.
Blueberries are simply brilliant when it comes to nutrition. They’ve got anthocyanins, those blood vessel-helping antioxidants. Those antioxidants give the berries their dark blue color. Blueberries also have fiber and more than a handful of other great nutrients. Add fresh or dried blueberries to cereal, pancakes, or yogurt.
Dessert Idea: Puree a batch for a sweet sauce you can use as a dip or to drizzle on other sweet treats.
Dark Leafy Greens
When your parents advised you to eat your greens, they were on to something. They are rich in minerals and vitamins. They contain a lot of nitrates as well, which helps to widen blood vessels so that oxygen-rich blood can flow to your heart. They are present in vegetables like:
- Bok Choy
- Mustard greens
Serving tip: Bring out the flavor by adding greens to a stir-fry, sauté them with olive oil, or roast them with garlic.