Which foods help keep your heart in good shape?

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Foods such as nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables and oils contain beneficial compounds that include plant sterols, soluble fiber and monounsaturated fats. When these foods are used in a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet, they can lower your cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, no diet will do the trick if portions are too big, you don’t stop smoking or without adequate physical exercise and weight control.

Weight control

Weight control for most people will not happen unless reasonably sized portions are used in combination with adequate exercise, burning off those calories that are not used your basic needs.

In most people who want to lose weight that means up to 2000 cal/week! While any exercise is better than none, a short walk a couple of times/week is simply not going to do this.


Saturated and trans-fats (found in meats, egg yolks, whole-milk dairy products, baked goods, fried foods and more) raise your cholesterol, increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. So, limit saturated fat to no more than 7% of your total calorie intake each day. Replace the “bad” fats with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, like the ones in nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3s can reduce your “bad cholesterol” and increase your “good” cholesterol. Good sources of omega 3s are fresh water fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts.

Eat fish at least twice a week.

Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and beta-sitosterol, a plant sterol that has cholesterol-lowering properties. People who consume a diet high in avocado for seven days may lower their total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides significantly while raising “good” HDL cholesterol.

Years of well-conducted studies have established that beans promote heart health. Researchers from Arizona State University found significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol in people who simply added pinto beans to their diet. A study of 16,000 middle-age men from around the world found that those who consumed the most beans and legumes had an incredible 82 percent reduction in risk of heart disease.

Cocoa flavanols help reduce the risk of clotting and protect the inside lining of arteries that feed the heart. Cocoa also has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. Some chocolate products now have plant sterols added.

Cinnamon may help reduce harmful fats in the blood and lessen the chance of blood clots forming. The results of a study showed that relatively small amounts of cinnamon per day, about 1 teaspoon, can lower blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in diabetics.

Exotic fruits

Mangosteen is a fruit from Southeast Asia that contains xanthones, a group of extremely powerful antioxidants that are rarely found in fruits and vegetables.

Guava is another exotic fruit that’s especially high in the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene has been shown to decrease the buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries. Studies have shown that consuming high amounts of lycopene may cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 50 percent!

Acai berries are among the most nutritious foods of the Amazon, rich in B vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Acai berries also contain oleic acid (omega-9), a beneficial fatty acid (often mistakenly referred to as essential).

Fresh herbs and spices

High sodium intake is related to hypertension, a risk factor for heart disease. Sodium intake should be limited to no more than 2300 mg/day. Canned and frozen foods often are very high in sodium. “Lower Sodium” on a food label only means 25 percent less than the original, meaning the foods can still be high in sodium.

To add that extra flavor, use sea salt – a lot more flavorful in a lot less volume and try different herbs and spices such as onions, garlic, lemons, parsley, thyme, basil, mint, vinegars and pepper, and you will soon forget that extra salt!


The “French Paradox” refers to the lower rates of heart disease in French people despite a diet that includes lots of rich, creamy foods (saturated fat) and, often, cigarettes. Researchers believe that compounds found in red wine fight the “bad” effects of smoking and red meat. This is due in part to two powerful phyto-nutrients found in wine: quercitin and resveratrol. Recent research has shown that resveratrol has been identified as an activator of an enzyme that is responsible for the extension of lifespan in many species when they’re placed on calorie-restricted diets. Grapes (and foods made from grapes) have potent anti-inflammatory properties and protection from oxidative stress damage.

Have a glass of red wine with your diner; it’s good for you!


Nuts are high in fat, but it’s the right kind of fat for your heart. Almonds are especially heart-healthy and taste great! The mono-unsaturated fat found in almonds is proven to protect against heart disease. A Health Study found that women who ate more than five ounces of nuts each week lowered their risk of heart disease by 35% compared to women who didn’t eat nuts. Almonds also contain photo-chemicals and arginine-rich proteins, which have beneficial effects for the heart, as well.

Portion size; no more than 10 almonds at a time!

More than 40 clinical studies spanning 40 years confirm oats’ ability to fight heart disease. Eating three grams of soluble fiber from oats daily, basically 1½ cups of cooked oatmeal, can lower total and LDL cholesterol. This may be due to the beta glucan component of the soluble fiber.

The allyl sulfides found in onions decrease the tendency of blood clots to form, and significantly lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. A study of Japanese women found that those with the highest onion intake had the lowest LDL cholesterol. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found that the stronger-tasting and -smelling onions made blood platelets less sticky, thus reducing risk of plaque formation, cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.

Pistachios are loaded with four heart-healthy substances—phytosterols, vitamin E, L-arginine and monounsaturated fat—that can lower total and LDL cholesterol and increase HDL levels.

Consuming yogurt for four weeks can improve LDL/HDL cholesterol ratios. Researchers also found that yogurt lowers homocysteine levels, an inflammatory risk factor for heart disease. Several yogurt products on the market now have plant sterols added to them for even more cholesterol-reducing power.

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