Eat Smart for Your Heart
Eating the right foods for your heart is especially important if you have atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ACSVD), which occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries. A heart-healthy diet can also help prevent ACSVD. But if you’re confused about what to put in your grocery cart, you’re not alone.
“Several controversial dietary patterns, foods, and nutrients have received significant media exposure and are mired by hype,” write the authors of a recent paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC). To separate the hype from helpful information, they reviewed and summarized numerous nutrition studies.
There’s enough scientific evidence for researchers to recommend these foods for heart health.
- Nuts. These nutritional powerhouses can improve ACSVD risk factors, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, improving blood pressure, lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and more. Eat a 30-gram serving of nuts per day (about one ounce or one handful). In moderation, any nuts can be a healthy snack, but “I tend to advise against peanut consumption based on the superior health properties of other nuts,” says MDVIP-affiliated physician Louis Malinow, who was not involved in the JACC paper. “There are a few studies [of peanut consumption] revealing improvement in lipid markers such as triglycerides and LDL.”
- Berries. Their benefit comes in part from anthocyanins: red, blue, and purple pigments that have powerful antioxidant properties. One study found that eating more than three servings per week of blueberries and strawberries was associated with a lower risk of heart attack. Other research has shown that eating blueberries can help lower blood pressure and reduce diabetes risk.
- Leafy greens. For heart health, make deep green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, swiss chard, and arugula part of your daily diet. They can help reduce artery stiffness and lower blood pressure. But they’re not the only heart-smart green veggies. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery and others have also been shown to benefit the heart in many ways.
- Extra-virgin olive oil. Among the benefits to regularly consuming olive oil as part of a heart-healthy diet: It may lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. It may also decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. “I recommend that patients aim for 1.5 to 2 tablespoons daily, which is the amount in most of the studies demonstrating benefit,” Malinow says.
What to Limit or Avoid
If you’re adopting a heart-healthy diet, watch out for foods that can raise your cholesterol.
- Coconut oil. Although this oil has become trendy in recent years, a review of 21 research papers found that it generally raised total and LDL cholesterol (though less so than butter). The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend liquid vegetable oils, not fats that are solid at room temperature (such as coconut oil), as part of a calorie-controlled, heart-healthy diet to decrease ASCVD risk.
- Eggs. In 2015 the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported its findings that dietary cholesterol did not significantly impact blood cholesterol. The report made plenty of headlines, but it didn’t actually change the guidelines. You should still limit eggs and other food sources of cholesterol. One reason is because eating eggs can raise some people’s blood cholesterol more than others’, so it’s better to play it safe.
- “Southern” eating. This describes a dietary pattern with added fats, fried food, eggs, processed meats, and sugar-sweetened drinks. No surprise that it’s associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. If this is your dietary pattern, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated physician about healthy swaps that can make a big difference for your heart – and your waistline.
What else can you do to help control cardiovascular disease? See which five things you should do every day to keep your heart healthy and work with your MDVIP-affiliated physician. As part of the MDVIP Wellness Program, your doctor can customize a wellness plan for you and your needs. Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? Find one near you by clicking here.