Heart disease accounts for about one-third of all deaths worldwide (1Trusted Source).
Diet plays a major role in cardiovascular health and can affect your risk of heart disease.
In fact, some foods can affect blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Here are 15 Health foods you should eat to maximize your heart health food.
1. Leafy Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, bananas and collard greens are well known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
In particular, they are a great source of vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and promote proper blood clotting (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
They are also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, reduce arterial stiffness, and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels (4Trusted Source).
Some studies have also found a link between increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables and lower risk of heart disease.
An analysis of eight studies found that growing leafy green vegetable intake was associated with a 16% lower incidence of heart disease (5Trust Source).
Another study in 29,689 women showed that a high intake of leafy green vegetables was associated with a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease (6Trusted Source).
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains have three parts that are rich in nutrients from grains: microbes, endosperm and bran.
Common types of grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Compared to refined grains, whole grains are high in fiber, which can help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
Several studies have found that including more whole grains in your diet can benefit your heart health.
An analysis out of 45 studies concluded that eating three more servings of whole grains was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease (10Trusted Source).
Similarly, another study found that eating at least three servings of whole grains decreased the systolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg, enough to reduce the risk of stroke by about 25% (11Trusted Source).
When purchasing whole grains, be sure to read the ingredients label carefully. Phrases such as “whole grain” or “whole wheat” denote a whole grain product, while words such as “wheat flour” or “multigrain” may not.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are jam-packed with important nutrients that play a central role in heart health.
Berries are also rich in antioxidants such as anthocyanin, which protect against oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease (12Trusted Source).
Studies show that eating too many berries can reduce many risk factors for heart disease.
For example, a study of 27 adults with metabolic syndrome found that drinking alcohol in frozen strawberries decreased by 11% over eight weeks (13 reliable sources).
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions associated with a high risk of heart disease.
Another study found that eating blueberries daily improves the function of cells lining the blood vessels, which helps control blood pressure and blood clots (14Trusted Source).
Additionally, analysis of 22 studies showed that eating berries was associated with a decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, body mass index, and some markers of inflammation (15Trusted Source).
Berries can be a satisfying snack or a delicious low-calorie dessert. Try adding a few different types to your diet to take advantage of its unique health benefits.
Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which is associated with lower levels of cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease (16Trusted sources).
One study found that the effects of three diets to low cholesterol were seen in overweight and obese people, with one of the experimental teams consuming avocado daily.
The avocado group experienced a decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol, including lower levels of smaller, dense LDL cholesterol, which are believed to increase the risk of heart disease (17Trusted sources).
Another study, including 17,567 people, showed that people who regularly ate avocado were less likely to have metabolic syndrome (18Trust Source).
Avocados are also rich in potassium, a nutrient that is essential for heart health. In fact, just one avocado supplies 975 mg of potassium or about 28% of the amount you need in one day (19).
Acquiring at least 4.7 grams of potassium per day can reduce blood pressure by an average of 8.0 / 4.1 mmHg, which is associated with a 15% lower risk of stroke (20Trusted Source).
5. Fatty Fish and Fish Oil
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been extensively studied for their cardiovascular health benefits.
In a study of 324 people, eating salmon three times a week for eight weeks reduced diastolic blood pressure (21Trusted Source).
Another study showed that prolonged fish eating was associated with lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and systolic blood pressure.
Additionally, each 3.5-ounce (100-gram) decrease in weekly fish consumption was associated with a 19% greater likelihood of being an additional risk factor for heart disease, such as hypertension, diabetes, or obesity (22Trusted Source).
If you do not eat much seafood, fish oil is another option to get a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function, and decrease blood pressure (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).
Other omega-3 supplements such as krill oil or algal oil are popular alternatives.
Walnuts are a great source of fiber and micronutrients such as magnesium, copper, and manganese (27).
Research suggests that including a few servings of walnuts in your diet can help prevent heart disease.
According to one review, eating walnuts can reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol by 16%, reduce diastolic blood pressure by 2-3 mm Hg, and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation (28Trusted Source).
Another study in 365 participants showed that a diet supplemented with walnuts led to a greater decline in LDL and total cholesterol (29Trusted Source).
Interestingly, some studies have also found that regular nut consumption such as walnuts is associated with a lower risk of heart disease (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
Beans contain resistant starch, which inhibits digestion and is fermented by beneficial bacteria in your gut (32Trusted Source).
According to some animal studies, resistant starch can improve heart health by lowering blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol (33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source).
Several studies have also found that eating beans may reduce some risk factors for heart disease.
In one study in 16 people, eating pinto beans decreased blood triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol (36Trusted Source) levels.
A review out of 26 studies has also found that beans and a legally high diet have decreased LDL cholesterol levels (37Trust Source).
What’s more, eating beans has been added to lower blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart disease (38Trusted Source).
8. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants such as flavonoids, which can help promote heart health.
Interestingly, in many studies, eating chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease.
A large study showed that people who ate chocolate at least five times per week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-chocolate eaters (39Trusted Source).
Another study found that eating chocolate at least twice per week had a 32% lower risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries (40Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that these studies show an association but do not necessarily account for the other factors involved.
Additionally, chocolate may be high in sugar and calories, which may negate its many health promoting properties.
Be sure to choose a high quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to provide healthy benefits to your heart.
Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with natural antioxidant properties (41Trusted source).
Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which can contribute to heart disease.
Low blood levels of lycopene are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke (42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source).
A review of 25 studies showed that high intake of foods rich in lycopene was associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke (44Trusted Source).
Another study in 50 overweight women found that eating two raw tomatoes four times per week increased the level of “good” HDL cholesterol (45Trusted Source).
High levels of HDL cholesterol can help remove excess cholesterol and plaque from the arteries to keep your heart healthy and protect against heart disease and stroke (46Trusted Source).
Almonds are incredibly nutrient-dense, claiming a long list of vitamins and minerals important for heart health.
They are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and fiber, two important nutrients that can help protect against heart disease (47Trusted Source).
Research suggests that eating almonds also affects your cholesterol levels.
A study in 48 people with high cholesterol showed that eating 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of almonds daily for six weeks reduced stomach fat and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, two risk factors for heart disease ( 48Trusted Source).
Another small study had similar findings, suggesting that eating almonds for four weeks led to a significant reduction in both LDL and total cholesterol (49Trusted Source).
Research also suggests that eating almonds is associated with high levels of HDL cholesterol, which can help reduce plaque formation and keep your arteries clean (50Trusted Source, 51Trusted Source).
Remember that when almonds are very high in nutrients, they are also high in calories.If you are trying to lose weight, measure your portions and moderate your intake.
Chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds are all excellent sources of heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
Several studies have found that incorporating these types of seeds into your diet can improve a number of heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
For example, hemp seeds are high in arginine, an amino acid associated with low blood levels of certain inflammatory markers (52Trusted sources).
In addition, flaxseed may help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.
A study in people with hypertension has shown that eating 30 grams of flax seeds every day for half a year has reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 10 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 7 mmHg (53Trusted Source).
In a study of 17 people, eating bread made with flaxseed showed total cholesterol by 7% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by less than 9% (54Trusted Source).
Although more research is needed on the effects of chia seeds on heart health in humans, a study in mice found that eating chia seeds reduces blood triglyceride levels and increases the beneficial HDL cholesterol (55Trusted Source). Levels increase.
For centuries, garlic has been used as a natural remedy to treat various diseases.
In recent years, research has confirmed its powerful medicinal properties and found that garlic can also help improve heart health.
This is thanks to the presence of a compound called allicin, which is believed to have a multitude of therapeutic effects (56Trusted Source).
In one study, garlic extract in doses of 600–1500 mg daily for 24 weeks was effective as a common prescription drug in lowering blood pressure (57Trusted Source).
A review compiled the results of 39 studies and found that garlic can lower the average cholesterol of 9 mg / dL with high cholesterol (58Trusted Source) to an average of 17 mg / dL and “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Other studies have found that garlic extracts can inhibit platelet buildup, which can reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke (59Trusted Source, 60Trusted Source).
Be sure to consume raw garlic, or crush it and leave it for a few minutes before cooking. This allows the formation of allicin, maximizing its potential health benefits.
13. Olive Oil
The heart-healthy benefits of olive oil, a staple in the Mediterranean diet, have been well documented.
Olive oil is packed with antioxidants, which can relieve inflammation and reduce the risk of chronic disease (61Trusted Source, 62Trusted Source).
It is also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, and several studies have linked it to improvements in heart health.
In fact, a study of 7,216 adults at high risk for heart disease showed that those who consumed the most olive oil had a 35% lower risk of developing heart disease.
In addition, greater intake of olive oil was associated with a 48% lower risk of dying from heart disease (63Trusted Source).
Another large study also showed that higher intake of olive oil was associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure (64Trust Source).
Take advantage of the many benefits of olive oil by squeezing it over cooked dishes or mixing it in vinaigrettes and sauces.
Edamay is an immature soybean often found in Asian cuisine.
Like other soy products, edamame soy is rich in isoflavones, a type of flavonoid that can help reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
An analysis of 11 studies showed that soy isoflavones reduced total cholesterol by 3.9 mg / dL and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 5 mg / dL (65Trusted source).
Another analysis showed that 50 grams of soy protein per day reduced LDL cholesterol by an average of 3% (66Trusted Source).
If combined with other changes in diet and lifestyle, even slightly lowering your cholesterol levels can have a major impact on your risk of heart disease.
One study showed that a mere 10% reduction in total cholesterol levels was associated with a 15% lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease (67Trusted Source).
In addition to its isoflavone content, edamame is a good source of other heart-healthy nutrients, including dietary fiber and antioxidants (68, 69Trusted Source).
15. Green Tea
Green tea has been associated with many health benefits, ranging from fat burning to improving insulin sensitivity (70Trusted Source, 71Trusted Source).
Also known to be brooming with polyphenols and catechins, which can act as antioxidants to prevent cell damage, reduce inflammation, and protect your heart health.
According to a review of 20 studies, higher intake of green tea catechin was associated with lower levels of LDL and total cholesterol (72Trusted Source).
Considering more, an analysis including 1,367 people showed that green tea decreased both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (73Trusted Source).
Another small study found that taking green tea extracts for three months reduced blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol compared to a placebo (74Trusted Source).
Taking green tea supplements or drinking matka, a drink that is similar to green tea but made with whole tea leaves, can also benefit heart health.
The Bottom Line
Anything you put on your plate can affect every aspect of heart health, from blood pressure and inflammation to cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help keep your heart in good shape and reduce your risk of heart disease.