A “cardiac diet”—a.k.a. a heart healthy diet—coupled with regular exercise, can help boost your heart health for years to come. Following a heart healthy—or cardiac—diet would be recommended to someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol or any other history of heart disease, or to someone who has a family history of heart disease. But even if you don’t have a cardiovascular health concern, sticking to a cardiac diet is important, since it can reduce risk of heart disease in the future
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K and nitrates, which can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function. One analysis of eight studies found that increasing leafy green vegetable intake was associated with up to a 16% lower incidence of heart disease. Some studies have also found a link between increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables and a lower risk of heart disease.
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 like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease. Eating blueberries daily improves the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which help control blood pressure and blood clotting.
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits. Eating dark chocolates has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.
Whole grains include all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain: germ, endosperm and bran. Common types of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa. Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fiber, which may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease. Eating at least three servings of whole grains significantly decreased systolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg, which is enough to reduce the risk of stroke by about 25%
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits. If you don’t eat much seafood, fish oil is another option for getting your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish and fish oil are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.