Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for around 1 in 4 deaths each year. But fear not—you can greatly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease through diet and lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise and eating heart-healthy foods.
All five of the following superfoods are easy to incorporate into your meal plan and have been validated by peer-reviewed science to help protect your body’s most important muscle. By selecting foods and supplements that support heart health, you lock in a critical piece of the longevity puzzle that can keep your heart happy for decades to come.
1. Omega-3 Fats
The health benefits of consuming a diet rich in essential fatty acids are clearly established, including the boost these healthy fats provide to your heart. Omega-3 fats are so important to heart health that being deficient is associated with higher risk of cardiac mortality.
Conversely, eating foods that are high in omega-3 fats can help protect the heart from disease. A 2018 study found that consuming a diet with a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats rapidly changes the fat composition of cardiac tissue, resulting in cardiac protection. For most people, this would mean cutting down on omega-6s while increasing omega-3s.
To ensure that your diet contains enough of these heart-healthy fats, include wild-caught cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines two to three times per week.
Nuts such as almonds and walnuts (be sure and eat the paper-like skin around them, which has high concentrations of polyphenols) and flax and chia seeds provide vegetarian sources of these essential fats, as do organic soybeans. You can also find omega-3 fats in supplement form.
Curcumin is the primary polyphenol found in turmeric, the bright orange spice that is a staple in many South Asian dishes. A member of the ginger family of plants, turmeric has long been studied for its beneficial effects on human health, particularly its anti-inflammatory properties and, more recently, its potential to benefit the heart.
Diabetics have a particular need to safeguard heart health, and curcumin may be a key ally in its defense. A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed that supplementing with curcumin conferred protection from atherosclerotic heart disease to patients with Type 2 diabetes.
Another study revealed that regular ingestion of curcumin provided human trial participants, made up of 32 postmenopausal women, with the same cardiac health benefits as regular aerobic exercise.
At least some of curcumin’s amazing health benefits come from its ability to thin the blood and expand the arteries. Cooking with this pungent spice is easy and flavorful, with numerous Indian and Southeast Asian dishes calling for the bright orange aromatic. Aim for around two tablespoons per day in your recipes, or supplement with a high-quality, preferably organic, supplement in liquid or capsule form.
3. Green tea
You might not think of your heart when you sip a relaxing cup of tea, but science has been considering the numerous ways that green tea can benefit your well-being. Don’t stop at just one cup—when it comes to protecting your heart, the more green tea you drink, the better.
A study of more than 40,530 Japanese adults found that individuals who consumed five or more cups of green tea each day had a 26 percent lower risk of death from heart attack than people who do not drink green tea.
A 2015 meta-analysis arrived at similar findings, determining that just one cup of green tea per day was associated with a 5 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 4 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality
Catechins, the potent natural flavanols that impart much of green tea’s antioxidant punch, are credited with providing some of green tea’s beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. Catechins’ antioxidant power has been shown to reduce LDL oxidation, effectively reducing heart disease risk from associated oxidative stress.
4. Magnesium-Rich Foods
Protecting your heart begins by ensuring that you consume adequate amounts of essential daily nutrients. Magnesium, a mineral involved in hundreds of biochemical functions in your body, helps maintain healthy heart function by normalizing blood pressure and keeping your heart’s rhythm beating steadily. Conversely, magnesium deficits are linked to clogged arteries and sudden cardiac arrest.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Biomedical Science found that individuals with higher dietary intakes of magnesium and the amino acid taurine had significantly lower incidences of heart disease mortality.
Foods that are rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, and avocados.
Supporting your body with a high-quality magnesium supplement has also proven beneficial to the heart. A 2005 study on the clinical and metabolic effects of oral magnesium supplementation found that doses of 300 mg daily for 30 days were effective in achieving cardioprotective effects in some patients.
You may not think of chocolate as a health food, but when it comes to dark chocolate, there’s a growing body of evidence showing that it not only makes your Valentine smile, it can help keep your heart happy, too. Rich in flavanols, which are found in high concentrations in grapes, dark berries, tea and cocoa, chocolate made with at least 70 percent cocoa is a tasty and heart-healthy snack.
A research team from the University of Cambridge evaluated the association of chocolate consumption with the risk of developing cardiometabolic disorders. They conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and observational studies and found that levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders.
It’s never too late to add a few large squares of decadent dark chocolate to your diet. A 2012 study of patients with congestive heart failure found that daily consumption of two flavanol-rich chocolate bars per day acutely improved vascular function, an effect that was sustained after daily consumption over a four-week period.