Heart-Healthy Foods

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Heart-Healthy Foods

cranberries
Cranberries. Westend61/Getty Images

Following a healthy diet is a recommended way to prevent heart disease and there appears to be growing consensus on what a heart-healthy diet looks like. In addition to these basics, certain foods are being explored for their potential cardiovascular benefits. While much of the research is in the earliest stages, these foods can add variety to a plant-based diet. Here's the lowdown on 12 foods, with some delicious ways to prepare them.

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Tomato

Tomato salad
Tomatoes. Patrizia Savarese/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Tomatoes may help fend off cardiovascular diseases, according to a study published in Atherosclerosis. In a review of previously published studies, scientists concluded that increasing intake of tomato products has positive effects on LDL cholesterol (often called "bad" cholesterol) and endothelial function (the functioning of cells in the inner lining of blood vessels).

The researchers also found that supplementation with the tomato-antioxidant lycopene reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading).

A delicious way to have tomatoes is in this Mothership Tomato Salad recipe by chef Jamie Oliver.

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Flaxseed

flaxseeds
Flaxseeds. Arx0nt/Moment Open/Getty Images

Eating flaxseed may help reduce your blood pressure, according to a research study. Researchers examined the effects of a diet supplemented with foods containing either 30 grams of ground flaxseed or 30 grams of whole wheat in people with periphery artery disease. At the study's end, the researchers found that flaxseed lowered total and LDL cholesterol levels, and had additional LDL-lowering effects in people taking medications.

Rich in fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed has been shown to benefit people with diabetesmenopausal symptoms, and high blood pressure in previous studies.

Try grinding flaxseed (in a coffee grinder, for instance) before adding it to cereals, smoothies, and other foods. 

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Oats

oats
Oats. Arx0nt/Moment Open/Getty Images

A substance found in oats may help keep your cholesterol in check, a research review suggests. Researchers reviewed 58 previously published studies on oat beta-glucan on cholesterol and cardiovascular risk reduction and found that a dose of three to five grams per day of oat beta-glucan significantly lowered LDL cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and apoB (said to be a predictor of cardiovascular disease risk).

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Chocolate

cocoa powder
Cocoa powder. Stepan Popov/E+/Getty Images

In past research, cocoa extract has been found to boost defense against heart disease, keep cholesterol in check, and prevent blood vessel damage in people with diabetes, due to the flavonoid content. Several studies suggest that consuming chocolate may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

In a research review published in Heart in 2018, for instance, researchers analyzed 23 studies (including a total of 405,304 participants) and concluded that chocolate consumption of less than 100 grams (the size of a typical chocolate bar) per week may be associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. They noted that greater intake may negate any health benefits of chocolate and result in adverse effects due to the high sugar intake.

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Chia Seeds

Chia pudding with mango.
Chia pudding with mango. vanillaechoes/Moment/Getty Images

High in fiber, chia seeds serve as a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid shown to fight inflammation). What's more, preliminary research suggests that chia seeds may help keep your cholesterol in check and decrease risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Many proponents claim that adding chia seeds to your diet can enhance your health by increasing energy, boosting mood, regulating blood sugar, and preserving bone health. However, there's little evidence to support any of these health claims.

Although chia seeds are also widely touted as a natural weight loss aid, evidence for chia's weight-loss-promoting effects is weak. In fact, the existing research shows that chia may have no effect on body weight at all. Still, adding chia seeds to your diet can increase your fiber intake.

Ways to try chia include this chia breakfast pudding recipe and this chia baked chicken nugget recipe

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Pomegranate

pomegranates
Pomegranate seeds. Jennifer K Rakowski/Moment/Getty Images

In recent years, pomegranate juice has gained recognition for its possibly heart-health-boosting benefits. For instance, a research review published in Pharmacological Research in 2017 examined the effect of pomegranate juice on blood pressure and found that pomegranate juice reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading).

Another study, however, found that a daily drink of 500 mL of pomegranate juice reduced blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome but it also increased levels of triglycerides and VLDL cholesterol (considered "bad" forms of cholesterol).

Instead of drinking the juice, try eating pomegranate seeds as a snack or sprinkling them on yogurt. Also try this pomegranate beet salad recipe or this spinach-pomegranate salad recipe.

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Walnuts

walnuts
Walnuts. Giuseppe Esposito/Moment/Getty Images

Rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, minerals, and essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid), walnuts are often touted as a natural means of enhancing cardiovascular health and fighting off heart disease.

In a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers sized up 26 previously published trials. Results revealed that that walnut consumption was associated with greater improvements in several measures of cardiovascular health (lower total cholesterol, triglyceride, and Apo B levels). Although walnuts contain about 65 percent fat by weight, the walnut-rich diet did not result in increased body weight.

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Kefir

kefir
A glass of kefir. esemelwe/E+/Getty Images

Like yogurt, kefir is a food usually made from fermented milk. Rich in probiotics, kefir is said to enhance health by boosting immunity, stimulating the digestive system, and protecting against a number of common health problems. For example, proponents suggest that kefir can shield heart health by keeping your cholesterol in check.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology in 2017, for instance, assessed the effects of a low-fat kefir drink in women who were considered overweight or obese. After the eight-week study period, participants who took kefir had lower cholesterol levels.

The researchers noted that those who drank low-fat milk had similar results. Kefir beverages are often sweetened, so kefir may be best consumed occasionally in combination with other forms of low-fat dairy.

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White Mulberry

white mulberry
White mulberry. Ion-Bogdan Dumitrescu/Moment/Getty Images

Since antioxidants are said to help thwart plaque formation in your arteries (known as atherosclerosis), some people consume antioxidant-rich foods like white mulberry to boost their heart health.

One of the most important antioxidant compounds in mulberry fruits are anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are also available in substances such as cranberryelderberry, and tart cherries.

Try ripe white mulberries in a fruit salad or any recipe that calls for berries. However, unripe white mulberries (and the unripe white fruit of the mulberry tree) are toxic and should not be consumed.

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Acai

acai fruit
Acai fruit. Brasil2/E+/Getty Images

For help in preventing cardiovascular disease, some people add acai fruit to their diets. Acai contains a class of antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins. Also abundant in berries, cherries, and dark grapes, anthocyanins are thought to lower blood pressure and fight atherosclerosis in addition to curbing cholesterol.

Although research on acai's potentially heart-protective effects is limited, some preliminary studies suggest that the antioxidant-rich berry may help. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016, for instance, found that consumption of an acai-based smoothie was associated with improved vascular function, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Here is a recipe for three acai bowls and an acai breakfast bowl.

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Apples

apples
Apples. Verdina Anna/Moment Open/Getty Images

Apples are rich in antioxidants such as the flavonoid quercetin. Some preliminary research suggests that eating apples may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. In a study published in Nutrients in 2016, for instance, researchers analyzed data from 1052 women over the age of 70 and found that higher apple intake was associated with lower levels of with abdominal aortic calcification (a measure of atherosclerosis).

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Cranberries

cranberry
Cranberries. Westend61/Getty Images

Research suggests that cranberries may boost heart health. Previous studies have found that cranberries contain compounds known to prevent the constriction of blood vessels and, in turn, protect against high blood pressure.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2015, scientists assessed the cardioprotective effects of cranberry juice. Their findings revealed that cranberry juice consumed daily for eight weeks lowered triglycerides, C-reactive protein, glucose, and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading)..

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