7 rules for eating heart-healthy
Eating foods that are low in bad fats and rich in fiber can help prevent heart disease. Here are 7 simple rules for eating heart-healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, often caused by an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. Eating heart-healthy plays a significant role in preventing heart disease

The best foods for your heart are ones that fit one or more of the following 7 criteria:

  1. Lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL; bad) cholesterol increases your high-density lipoprotein (HDL; good) cholesterol
  2. Low in bad fats (saturated fats and trans fats)
  3. High in good fats (unsaturated fats)
  4. Low in sodium
  5. Rich in fiber
  6. Contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  7. Contains antioxidants such as vitamins E and C

1. Lowers LDL cholesterol and increases HDL cholesterol

When cholesterol builds up in your body, it can form plaques and obstruct the arteries that lead to your heart. However, there is a difference between “bad” and “good” cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is bad cholesterol that can undergo peroxidation due to free radical damage and cause plaque formation in the coronary arteries. 
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is good cholesterol that clears LDL cholesterol from the blood and takes it back to the liver to break down.

Your diet should therefore include foods that lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol levels in your blood.

2. Low in bad fats (saturated and trans fats)

High amounts of saturated fat and even a small amount of trans fat in your diet can cause cholesterol to accumulate in your arteries. Both of these types of fat increase your LDL cholesterol, making you prone to cardiovascular disorders.

Saturated fat can be found in foods such as butter, palm, oil, coconut oil, cheese, high-fat dairy, and red meat. Trans fat is found in commercially packaged foods such as pastries, doughnuts, and fried items such as French fries and chicken nuggets.

3. High in good fats (unsaturated fats)

Over the years, various studies have found that some foods contain healthy fats, known as unsaturated fats. Fat is essential for various biological processes such as the transport of vitamins, building of cell membranes, blood clotting, and muscle movement. So it’s important to include healthy fats in your diet.

Some good sources of unsaturated fat include:

  • Olive oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Peanut butter (not the ready-to-eat type that contains palm oil but the kind made from only peanuts)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna)
  • Walnuts
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu

Here are a few tips to reduce the amount of unhealthy fat from your diet and replace it with healthy fats:

  • Use oil instead of butter for frying or cooking.
  • Eat fatty fish instead of red meat.
  • Opt for poultry without the skin and cut off excess fat.

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

4. Low in sodium

Sodium can increase your blood pressure in multiple ways, causing water retention, disrupting hormonal balances, and overworking your kidneys. Damaged arteries due to constant high blood pressure can lead to cholesterol accumulation plaque formation. In turn, this increases your risk of heart disease and heart failure.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises not to include more than 1,500 milligrams (1.5 grams) in your daily diet. Avoid adding salt to your food or cooking with soy sauce and other high-sodium products. Instead, go for low-sodium foods, including:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli and kale
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, papaya, and apricots
  • Beans
  • Grains
  • Potatoes
  • Plain yogurt

5. Rich in fiber

While all types of fiber can help prevent heart disease, soluble fiber is especially beneficial. This type of fiber can reduce both LDL cholesterol and overall cholesterol. It works by binding with cholesterol particles in your gut and flushing them from the body before they are absorbed. 

Examples of foods that contain soluble fiber include beans, oats, flaxseed, and oat bran. Studies have also shown that high-fiber foods may have other health benefits such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation that can lead to heart disease.

6. Contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium

Include foods that are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, all of which promote heart health:

  • Calcium: Calcium helps the blood vessels tighten (contract) and relax when they need to, which is necessary to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
  • Potassium: Potassium counteracts the harmful effects of sodium on the kidneys and can help maintain normal blood pressure. Healthy potassium levels also help transmit electrical signals throughout the heart and protect against irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).
  • Magnesium: Magnesium not only helps maintain bone health but is also involved in the regulation of blood pressure and muscle and nerve function.

7. Contains antioxidants such as vitamins E and C

Antioxidants prevent oxidation. Peroxidation of LDL cholesterol can cause it to stick to the lining of your arteries and lead to the formation of plaque. If this plaque becomes large enough to obstruct the blood flow through the coronary, you can develop coronary artery disease and even heart attack.

Foods that contain antioxidants such as vitamin C or E work in your body to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol and thus play a role in the prevention of coronary heart disease:

  • Vitamin E can lower your risk of falling prey to a heart attack if you have heart disease. 
  • Vitamin C improves the efficiency of vitamin E in your body. It also improves the working of the artery. 

It’s best to get these antioxidants through your diet instead of supplements. Before starting supplements, make sure to discuss it with your doctor first.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2021
References
Penn Medicine. 5 Superfoods to Improve Heart Health. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/heart-and-vascular-blog/2019/january/5-superfoods-to-improve-heart-health

Key minerals to help control blood pressure. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/key-minerals-to-help-control-blood-pressure

Can Vitamins Help with Heart Disease? https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0901/p903.html