The best and worst foods for heart health, according to doctors

Despite a recent movement toward body positivity and body neutrality, when we talk about “good” and “bad” foods as a society, we still tend to ask ourselves whether they will make us gain weight or help us lose weight. to lose. But there’s a lot more to the conversation than the calorie count of a specific food, and when it comes to heart health, one thing is abundantly clear: Not all foods are created equal.

Some foods are really good for your heart, some aren’t great (but not terrible either), and some are just plain bad. So which foods should you eat for better heart health and which should you avoid? We spoke with cardiologists and nutritionists – here’s what to keep in mind.

The best foods for heart health

First, let’s focus on the positive – the foods you should eat if you want to improve our heart health. They understand:

We know, we know: The idea that you should be eating leafy green vegetables isn’t new or exciting. But most of us don’t get enough of them, and they’re crucial for heart health.

“Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, kale, bok choy and collard greens are a key part of a heart-healthy diet, and something most of us don’t. we don’t have enough,” said Dr Sanjeev Aggarwal, a former chef. heart surgeon who is currently a medical advisor at Hello Heart. “Several studies have shown a reduced incidence of heart disease with increased consumption of green vegetables. Foods like spinach are heart-healthy superfoods because they are high in potassium, folate, and magnesium.

Folate is a key vitamin for a healthy heart, he notes. “It helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid in our blood that can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.”

Salmon is also an excellent food for heart health. “Salmon is a popular source of omega-3 fatty acids,” says Dr. Marianela Areces, cardiologist at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in research to have anti-inflammatory effects, lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and have a positive effect on obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

Beans, cauliflower and lentils

Foods high in double fiber, such as beans, cauliflower, and lentils, can be heart-healthy. “These foods have been shown to lower cholesterol,” Areces said.

These foods also contain plant sterols and stanols, which are natural compounds that resemble cholesterol and have been shown in studies to lower cholesterol. Plant sterols and stanols can also be found in fruits like blueberries and apples.

Whole grains like quinoa, whole wheat, oats and barley are healthy carbohydrates that reduce the risk of heart disease, Aggarwal said. “Quinoa is a great heart-healthy food option and a great substitute for white rice. It is not only high in protein, but also high in potassium and fiber, which help people maintain healthy blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

This is very good news for avocado fans.

Another reason to eat avocados? Yes please! “Avocados contain monounsaturated fats that can improve cholesterol and reduce inflammation,” Aggarwal said. “Several studies have shown the positive effects of avocados in reducing bad form of cholesterol (LDL) which leads to plaque buildup in the arteries and increased risk of heart disease. Like quinoa, they can be effective in managing blood pressure and blood sugar due to their high fiber and potassium content.

Looking for something super specific that will benefit the heart? Stock up on nuts. “Studies have shown that eating nuts on a regular basis can lower our LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol,” explained a registered dietitian nutritionist. Kylene Bogden.

The worst foods for heart health

Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad – and sadly, there are some truly delicious foods that aren’t good for your heart. They understand:

Processed meats can be very tasty (who doesn’t love hot dogs?), but they’re not very heart-healthy. “Consuming even small amounts can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Aggarwal said. “Processed meats are often high in unhealthy saturated fats. Even low-fat options tend to have high sodium levels, which can lead to high blood pressure.

Sorry, but all that sugar isn’t good for heart health. “These items are loaded with sugars as well as saturated and trans fats,” Areces said. “A diet high in sugar is detrimental to our health in a number of ways, including raising triglyceride and insulin levels and contributing to overweight or obesity, which in turn can lead to prediabetes or diabetes. All of these are well-known risk factors for the development of heart disease.

You may want to limit these treats on the cautious side of moderation. “Frying foods adds unhealthy trans fats and salt,” Aggarwal said. “Trans fats worsen a person’s cholesterol profile by raising bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering good cholesterol (HDL). Study participants who ate larger amounts of fried foods had a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease, as reported by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Foods labeled as low-fat or fat-free

Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But according to Aggarwal, these types of foods are not good for heart health. “Foods labeled as low or fat-free give the illusion of being healthy, but it may be quite the opposite,” he said. “To retain the taste, as the fat is removed, more sugar is pumped in. Read food labels to see how many grams of sugar may have been added as a fat substitute. Many types of natural fats are healthy, so no fat isn’t necessarily healthier! Refined sugars and carbohydrates increase the risk of heart disease.

Think twice before you think diet sodas are better for your heart than regular sodas.

Mario Tama via Getty Images

Think twice before you think diet sodas are better for your heart than regular sodas.

If you think diet sodas are the answer to your health problems, think again: these drinks may be calorie-free, but they don’t do amazing things for your heart. “While many turn to diet sodas to improve their health, just the opposite may be true with chronic consumption,” Bogden said. “Not only are artificial sweeteners sweeter than table sugar, causing you to crave and ingest more sugar, which can lead to chronic inflammation, but studies are starting to emerge suggesting that artificial sweeteners may harm to our gastrointestinal balance, thereby promoting inflammation and increasing our risk of disease.”

If you eat a lot of very salty foods, beware. “A diet high in sodium has adverse effects on blood pressure, kidney function, and physiological fluid regulation,” saysD Dr. Vicken Zeitjian, a cardiologist. “Most processed foods and marketed foods are high in sodium, so limiting their intake is advised to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

A word on moderation

As the saying goes, “everything in moderation”. But does that apply to foods that are downright bad for heart health? “Healthy eating is all about moderation, and maintaining your heart health goes beyond what you eat,” Aggarwal says. “People need to assess their lifestyle choices, exercise habits, stress levels and more to properly manage their heart health. When it comes to your diet, you can certainly indulge in “bad” foods occasionally, if in moderation and balanced with other healthy lifestyle choices. Make indulgence the rare exception, not the rule.

So here it is: you box treat yourself to hot dogs and cookies this summer, but don’t go crazy. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to stock up on salmon and leafy greens!


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