Your cardiovascular system, composed of the heart and blood vessels, is vital to overall health. The foods you regularly eat can significantly impact your heart health and risk of heart disease.
Choosing foods that strengthen the cardiovascular system is key to preventing heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems.
Let’s examine the best foods you can add to your diet for optimal cardiovascular wellness.
What Are Cardiovascular Foods?
Cardiovascular foods are those that have positive effects on your heart and circulatory system. These foods contain nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats, minerals, and phytochemicals that protect against the development of heart disease.
Some of the mechanisms by which cardiovascular foods promote heart health include:
- Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Reducing inflammation and oxidative stress
- Preventing plaque formation in arteries
- Improving blood flow and vessel dilation
- Regulating heart rhythms and blood clotting
- Supplying energy to the heart muscle
Overall, making smart dietary choices can keep your cardiovascular system functioning properly and allow you to maintain energy and vitality as you age.
10 Best Foods For Cardiovascular Health
Here are 12 of the top foods to eat for a healthy heart:
▪️ Fatty Fish
Fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s lower triglycerides, reduce arterial plaque, lower blood pressure, and decrease inflammation and risk of blood clots.
Aim to eat fatty fish at least twice a week.
Avocados are full of oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol.
The fiber, potassium, folate, and antioxidants in avocados also support cardiovascular health.
Walnuts provide a concentrated dose of omega-3 fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid. They also supply magnesium, folate, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin E that benefit heart health in various ways.
▪️ Olive Oil
Replacing unhealthier fats with olive oil has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats that improve cholesterol levels and decrease inflammation.
Extra virgin olive oil also contains polyphenols that further protect the heart.
The anthocyanins that give blueberries their color are incredibly powerful antioxidants. Blueberries improve artery function, lower blood pressure, reduce clotting, and decrease LDL oxidation.
Fiber and vitamin C also promote cardiovascular health.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli have sulforaphane, a compound that may prevent blood vessel damage. The vitamin K in broccoli is also important for proper blood clotting.
Plus broccoli supplies fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, and anti-inflammatory compounds.
▪️ Dark Chocolate
Flavanols in cocoa can lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, make platelets less sticky, and reduce LDL oxidation.
Opt for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Milk chocolate has added saturated fats and lacks flavanol content.
Lycopene in tomatoes is a carotenoid antioxidant that gives them their red color. Studies show lycopene helps prevent LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized and may reduce plaque buildup in arteries. Cooked tomatoes offer the most lycopene.
This legume is packed with fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, and protein without a lot of calories or fat. Lentils feed healthy gut bacteria that improve heart health. Iron improves blood flow and magnesium relaxes blood vessels.
Almonds provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, magnesium, fiber, antioxidant vitamin E, and plant sterols that help lower LDL cholesterol. They reduce inflammation, improve blood vessel function, and lower the risk of diabetes.
▪️ Green Tea
The flavonoids in green tea called catechins are potent antioxidants that prevent LDL oxidation and improve arterial function. Drinking green tea may also markedly reduce the risk of strokes.
Garlic has allicin, a compound that lowers blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and platelet aggregation. It acts as a natural blood thinner with anti-inflammatory effects.
Eating garlic regularly benefits cardiovascular health in multiple ways.
Supporting your cardiovascular system with nutritious foods is one of the best ways to protect your heart. Fill your diet with the fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, oils, legumes, teas, herbs, and spices discussed here to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Making smart dietary choices for your heart will keep you feeling energized and healthy for years to come.
Foods high in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, sodium, and cholesterol are bad for your heart. These include fatty red meats, processed meats, fried foods, pastries, cookies, sugary drinks, and frozen pizzas and meals. Avoiding these as much as possible protects your cardiovascular health.
Vitamins that benefit your heart include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D, folate, and the B vitamins niacin and B6. These vitamins act as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, improve blood flow, and prevent blood clots from forming.
Moderate intake of red wine may benefit the heart due to the antioxidants and polyphenols it contains. However, heavy or excessive drinking can damage the heart over time. Limit wine to no more than 1-2 glasses per day as part of a heart-healthy diet. More than this can be detrimental.
Pomegranate, beet, cranberry, grape, tart cherry, and Concord grape juices have cardiovascular benefits. Many supply polyphenols and antioxidants that improve blood pressure, blood flow, and cholesterol. They help prevent oxidative damage, plaque buildup, and inflammation.
Eating a nutritious diet high in heart-healthy foods, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, getting enough sleep, reducing alcohol, quitting smoking, and taking any medications as prescribed are all ways to strengthen your heart.