Heart disease is often thought of as a lifestyle disease because many of the risk factors associated with heart disease can be controlled through your diet and lifestyle choices. In fact, the foods you regularly consume can strongly determine your risk for developing heart disease.
There are nutrients that if consumed adequately reduce your risk for heart disease. If you've already been diagnosed with a heart-related condition, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you can still make changes to your diet that will help you live happier and healthier too. However, it is one thing to know what nutrients you need to add to your diet and another to go to the grocery store and make sure you buy the right foods to meet your goals.
To overcome this hurdle, let’s take you around the grocery store so you know how to shop for the foods containing the top heart health nutrients so you can load up your grocery cart wisely.
Shopping by grocery store section
Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories to help with weight control and blood pressure. They also contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The American Heart Association recommends at least 4.5 servings a day.
- Berries: blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries
- Green Vegetables: Spinach and broccoli
- Colored vegetables with red, orange, and yellow: Sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and carrots
- Other fruits: Oranges, papaya, tomatoes, and grapes
Seafood, especially fatty fish are very beneficial for heart health, especially for people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease. Try to include at least two 3.5-ounce servings a week. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can decrease triglyceride levels and lower blood pressure.
- Good fatty fish: salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, mackerel
- Limit processed meats processed meat (bacon, sausage or processed deli meats)
This section should be navigated carefully. Added sugars, which should be avoided, are very high in cookies, candy, cakes, pies, and most desserts. Limit the amount of these sweets. Opt for whole grain bread (see Dry Goods below).
- Chicken (skinless) and fish contain lower amounts of saturated fats.
- Ground turkey
- Beef, pork, lamb contain more cholesterol and saturated fats. You may include red meat in your diet, but limit the amount. One portion is about 3 oz.
- Choose lean cuts of meat (round, loin, sirloin) and lean ground beef (no more than 15 percent fat).
Children should have around two servings and adults should have around four (one serving is about 1 cup of milk).
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese)
- Avoid coconut oil, palm oil or palm kernel oil due to high amount of saturated fats
Whole grains, which contain the entire grain, are a great source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber helps lower the risk of heart disease, and can improve your blood cholesterol levels. Recommended to eat at least three 1-ounce servings a day, which could be:
- Whole grain bread (1 slice is 1 serving)
- Popcorn, unsalted (2 cups)
- Whole grain crackers
- Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and quinoa (about ½ cup)
- Whole oats (about ½ cup)
Canned foods can contain a high amount of sodium, especially soups and vegetables. Try to limit the amount of these, or opt for low sodium choices. Beans are a great way to add protein and fiber to help improve your blood cholesterol.
- Black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans
- Include low-sodium soups with beans, vegetables, and a lean protein (chicken)
- Try to opt for fresh produce when possible and limit amount of canned items
Avoid packaged meals, which can contain a high amount of sodium.
- Frozen vegetables: broccoli, green beans, peas, squash, and carrots
- Frozen fruits: berries, mangos, pineapple, papaya, and peaches
Shopping by heart health nutrient
While you may be aware eating certain foods increase your risk for heart disease there are also certain foods that reduce your risk. These foods reduce your risk due to the specific nutrients they contain. There are some key nutrients that play a significant role in reducing heart disease risk. These nutrients include:
Folic acid helps maintain healthy homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels increase vascular disease and stroke risk.
- Brewer’s yeast
- Rice and wheat germ
- Beef liver
- Beans: lima, mung, navy
Adequate potassium intake is directly connected to lower blood pressure levels, while potassium deficiency is connected to irregular heart rates.
- Vegetables: potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, tomato sauce (no added salt)
- Fruits: dried apricots, frozen blackberries, cherries
Needed to maintain a normal heartbeat, magnesium has also been shown to lower blood pressure.
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Squash, broccoli, spinach
Low vitamin D levels contribute to high blood pressure and increase heart attack risk. Sunlight is a primary source for vitamin D, but there are foods that will also boost vitamin D intake.
- Beans: kidney, pinto, black, navy, garbanzo
- Air popped popcorn
- Brown rice
- Berries: raspberries, blackberries
A high fiber diet lowers heart disease risk by reducing total and LDL cholesterol levels.
- Fortified cow’s milk
- Salmon, mackerel, tuna
- Dole Portobello Mushrooms
Omega-3 fatty acids boost heart health by reducing inflammation, triglycerides, and blood clot formation.
- Seafood: salmon, tuna, oysters, sea bass, herring
- Chia seeds and flaxseed
Lycopene lowers blood pressure and C-reactive protein levels.
Niacin, also called vitamin B3, is connected to reduced LDL and triglyceride levels. Supplemental doses lead to vasodilation to lower blood pressure.
- Mushrooms, Crimini and portabello
- Grass-fed beef
Polyphenols increase nitric oxide levels which promotes vasodilation leading to lower blood pressure levels.
- Garlic, asparagus, carrots
- Pears, prunes
Including monounsaturated fats in your diet leads to lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while also boosting HDL cholesterol levels.
- Olive oil
- Peanut butter