Want to take care of your heart? Start with your plate. As I explain here, making diet changes can affect heart health. And it’s not just about cutting out junk—adding certain foods to your dietary rotation can have a big impact on your cardiovascular system, even protecting you from disease. Here are my top 5 foods for heart attack and stroke prevention.
Research shows starting your day with a big bowl of fiber-rich oatmeal can lower your risk of heart disease, helping to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and keep your arteries clear. One analysis of 24 studies looking at blood lipids in people who ate whole-grain foods versus a control group who didn’t found an oat-heavy diet dropped cholesterol by an average of 6.5 points compared to control. To reap the heart-protecting benefits of oatmeal, opt for rolled or steel-cut oats instead of the instant variety. Can’t stomach hot cereal in the morning? Add some oat bran, another whole grain full of soluble fiber, to a smoothie or yogurt.
There’s a reason super-fit people frequently choose fish over steak. Cold-water fish like salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to reduce the inflammation that can lead to cardiac events like heart attack and stroke. According to a recent American Heart Association advisory, omega-3s may be especially beneficial for people who’ve recently had a heart problem. Their study showed a daily 1,000 mg dose of fish oil could reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 10% in heart attack and heart failure patients. Try eating salmon a couple times a week—wild is best, but even the canned stuff may give your heart a boost. Not sure how to prepare fish and/or don’t want to stink up your kitchen? Fire up the grill! The Food Network has collected some of their best grilled salmon recipes here.
Eating more vegetables in general is a good way to protect your heart—an analysis published in the journal Stroke shows you can decrease your stroke risk by 11 percent for every extra 200 gm of vegetables you eat—broccoli appears to be particularly cardio-protective. Along with other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and kale, broccoli contains a compound called sulfurophane that may prevent heart disease. According to researchers at Imperial College London, sulfurophane can activate Nrf2, a protein that helps keep arteries clear. Eating these veggies raw or lightly steamed is your best bet for maximizing their heart-healthy potential.
Legumes like lentils can have a huge impact on your blood pressure. A landmark international study following nearly 13,000 people for 25 years found an 82 percent reduction in the risk of death from heart disease was associated with legume consumption. In addition to cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, lentils are an excellent source of magnesium and folate, nutrients that are crucial for cardiovascular health. While high in fiber, lentils are fairly low-cal so adding lentil soup to your menu on a regular basis might lead to weight loss, too.
5. Olive oil
A key component of the Mediterranean diet, which has been consistently shown to improve heart health, olive oil is rich in “good” fats like monounsaturated oleic acid. Many studies indicate consuming olive oil can improve cholesterol and keep blood vessels healthy. And, much like fish oil, olive oil seems to be of special help to people at risk of developing heart problems. One randomized clinical trial found a link between olive oil consumption and reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality in individuals at high cardiovascular risk. Olive oil makes a tasty addition to salad dressing recipes or as a dip for your (heart-healthy) whole grain bread. Just make sure you’re getting the real deal—The Dr. Oz Show recommends the cold-pressed, extra-virgin variety.
Lest you think being heart smart means a sad life of lentils and oatmeal, I’m adding a bonus item to this list of 5 foods for heart attack and stroke prevention: red wine. According to the Mayo Clinic, antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A specific polyphenol, resveratrol, could also reduce LDL cholesterol and prevent clotting. Feel free to enjoy a glass or two knowing you’re boosting your cardiovascular health in the process. Want a few more heart-healthy superfoods to work into your diet? Check out a few of these simple smoothie ingredients here.
Are you getting the nutrients you need for long-term health? Download my Top 10 Supplements For Men PDF to learn about the most critical supplements you need.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He was most recently National Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer of a national medical practice, but is available to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.