Tips for choosing a diet that helps your heart
It’s no coincidence that February—a month dominated by heart-related Valentine’s decorations—is also American Heart Month. You might not find any “American Heart Month” greeting cards in the store aisle, but you can still show your heart some love with these five heart-healthy eating habits.
1. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids have several benefits for your heart. They lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and decrease triglycerides (a type of fat that can increase your risk of heart disease). Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fish: Salmon and other fatty fish like sardines and mackerel
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts (such as walnuts, beechnuts and pecans) and seeds (such as flaxseed and chia seeds)
- Beans: Soybeans, navy beans or kidney beans
Note: Keep away from fried fish, and make sure your nuts, seeds and beans don’t have added salt.
2. Reduce your sodium intake
Speaking of salt, sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. While it’s a good idea to avoid the salt shaker, it’s even more important to watch for salt in processed foods. Most of the sodium you eat comes from processed foods (such as canned vegetables, canned soups or frozen dinners). Eating fresh foods and homemade meals is your best bet. If you eat canned or processed foods, look for low-sodium options.
3. Add more fruits and veggies to your diet
Every healthy diet includes eating fruits and vegetables, but some fruits and veggies are especially good for your heart, including:
- Berries: Blueberries, strawberries and many other berries have antioxidants that help decrease blood pressure
- Green vegetables: Greens (such as broccoli, spinach and kale) provide high heart-healthy antioxidants and fiber
- Avocados: Avocados are rich in the monounsaturated fats that may lower heart disease risk factors, such as cholesterol
- Tomatoes and potatoes: Both tomatoes and potatoes are rich in potassium, which can help lower blood pressure; tomatoes also contain lycopene, which can decrease "bad" cholesterol and lower heart attack risks
4. Choose whole grains
Whole grains contain a significant amount of fiber, which helps regulate blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating several servings of whole grains—such as oats, whole wheat or brown rice—each day. Try a variety of whole grains in your diet, because each one has different benefits. Oatmeal, for example, is a high-soluble fiber which can lower cholesterol; while wheat and rice are mostly insoluble fiber, which is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk.
5. Have some chocolate—as long as it’s dark chocolate
You won’t have to say “no” to all the Valentine’s Day treats. Many studies have suggested that eating a small amount of dark chocolate each day benefits your heart—possibly reducing nonfatal heart attacks, helping blood pressure and more. Unfortunately, milk chocolate and most candy bars don’t count. The benefits only come from chocolate that is at least 60-70% cocoa.