Heart-Healthy Foods

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Heart-Healthy Foods

A healthy heart is critical for people of all ages and should never be taken for granted. Yet, according to Statistics Canada, heart disease and stroke are two of the four leading causes of death in Canada [1]. In fact, their research found that every 7 minutes in Canada, someone dies from heart disease or stroke.   

What you eat has a profound effect on the health of your heart. In fact, dietary intervention is the number one factor in choosing a heart-healthy lifestyle. Several different nutrition strategies have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Eat a Plant-Based Diet

  • Increase vegetable intake to about 5–10 servings per day.
  • Vegetables protect the heart through their antioxidant and bioflavonoid content. Bioflavonoids are found in some fruits and vegetables. They have potent antioxidant power and are better dietary choices than red meat, bad fats, and sugar.

Eat High Fibre

  • Focus on a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
  • Fibre intake has been correlated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease in several studies.
  • Fibre helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce blood sugar.
  • Women should aim for about 25 g of fibre per day, while men should obtain 38 g per day.
Males Females
Age (years) Fibre per day (g) Age (years) Fibre per day (g)
1-3 19 1-3 19
4-8 25 4-8 25
9-13 31 9-18 26
14-50 38 19-50 25
Over 50 30 Over 50 21
Pregnant 28
Breastfeeding 29

Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fibre, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (document on internet). 2005 (cited 2009 Jan 13) [18]

Decrease Meat Consumption

  • Focus on consuming leaner meats such as poultry, fish, or eggs.
  • Try to keep the total amount of meat in your diet to 10–15% of your total calories.
  • Eat red meat only occasionally and buy grass-fed beef where possible.
  • Keep your portion size to fit in the palm of your hand.
  • If possible, buy organic.
  • Add beans and other plant-based protein sources to your meals.
  • Avoid processed meats such as hotdogs, sausage, and deli meats.

There are some specific foods that maximize heart health. Below are 10 of our favourites for heart health.

1. Green leafy vegetables

A source of vitamin K, B vitamins, and antioxidants to support heart health! Spinach, kale, arugula and collard greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and are also a great source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is beneficial for arterial health and supports proper blood clotting.[2] Research has also found a link between increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables and a lower risk of heart disease. [3,4]

2. Whole grains

Oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, millet, teff, and other whole grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, including soluble and insoluble fibre, and provide protein, vitamins, and minerals. Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fibre, which may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease.[5,6]

3. Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are packed with important nutrients that are important for heart health. Berries are rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that may contribute to the heart disease.[7]

4. Avocados

Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease (16 Trusted Source).

5. Cold-water fish and omega-3

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids support cardiovascular health.

6. Nuts and seeds

  • Walnuts are a great source of fibre and micronutrients and can help protect against heart disease.[8,9]
  • Almonds are nutrient-dense and a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fibre – two important nutrients that help protect against heart disease.[10]
  • Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are great sources of nutrients like fibre and omega-3 that are good for your heart.

7. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids that can help support heart health. Choose a dark chocolate that has a cocoa content of at least 70% and consume in moderation such as two squares per day.[11]

8. Extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil is high in antioxidants and rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Many studies have supported its heart health benefits.[12]

9. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Eating tomatoes has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.[13,14]

10. Garlic

Garlic has been shown to help reduce blood pressure[15] and cholesterol [16] and may also help inhibit blood clot formation.[17]

Fill Your Plate

Each meal we eat provides us with the opportunity to nourish our bodies and support our cardiovascular system. Choosing to add in heart-healthy staples into your diet are simple ways to support a healthy heart.

Joyce Johnson, ND (Inactive)

Joyce Johnson, ND (Inactive)

Naturopathic Doctor, natural health and lifestyle expert with 18 years of experience in her field.

References :
  1. Statistique Canada. Tableau 102-0561 – Les 10 principales causes de décès, 2012. CANSIM (base de données sur les décès) [Internet]. Ottawa (Ontario) : Statistique Canada [cité le 14 sept. 2016]. Accessible sur : https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14296-fra.htm
  2. Maresz K. Proper calcium use: Vitamin K2 as a promoter of bone and cardiovascular health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2015; 14(1): 34-39.
  3. Pollock RL. The effect of green leafy and cruciferous vegetable intake on the incidence of cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis. JRSM Cardiovasc Dis. 2016; 5:2048004016661435.
  4. Bendinelli B, Masala G, Saieva C, et al. Fruit, vegetables, and olive oil and risk of coronary heart disease in Italian women: the EPICOR Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011; 93(2):275-83.
  5. Bazzano LA. Effects of soluble dietary fiber on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and coronary heart disease risk. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2008; 10(6):473-7.
  6. Pietinen P, Rimm EB, Korhonen P, et al. Intake of dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease in a cohort of Finnish men. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study. Circulation. 1996; 94(11):2720-7.
  7. Zafra-Stone S, Yasmin T, Bagchi M, et al. Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007; 51(6):675-83.
  8. Li TY, Brennan AM, Wedick NM, et al. Regular consumption of nuts is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in women with type 2 diabetes. J Nutr. 2009; 139(7):1333-1338.
  9. Aune D, Keum NN, Giovannucci E, et al. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Med. 2016; 14(1):207.
  10. Joris PJ, & Mensink RP. Role of cis-monounsaturated fatty acids in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2016; 18(7):38.
  11. Djoussé L, Hopkins PN, North KE, et al. Chocolate consumption is inversely associated with prevalent coronary heart disease: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Clin Nutr. 2011; 30(2):182-7.
  12. Guasch-Ferré M, Hu FB, Martinez-Gonzales MA, et al. Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC Med. 2014; 12:78.
  13. Cheng HM, Koutsidis G, Lodge JK, et al. Lycopene and tomato and risk of cardiovascular diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological evidence. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019; 59(1):141-158.
  14. Ali KM, Wonnerth A, Huber K, et al. Cardiovascular disease risk reduction by raising HDL cholesterol--current therapies and future opportunities. Br J Pharmacol. 2012; 167(6):1177-94.
  15. Ashraf R, Khan RA, Ashraf I, et al. Effects of Allium sativum (garlic) on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2013; 26(5):859-63.
  16. Ried K, Toben C, Fakler P. Effect of garlic on serum lipids: an updated meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2013; 71(5):282-99.
  17. Rahman K, Lowe GM, Smit S, et al. Aged garlic extract inhibits human platelet aggregation by altering intracellular signaling and platelet shape change. J Nutr. 2016; 146(2):410S-5S.
  18. Trumbo P, Schlicker S, Yates AA, Poos M; Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, The National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002 Nov;102(11):1621-30. doi: 10.1016/s0002-8223(02)90346-9. Erratum in: J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 May;103(5):563. PMID: 12449285.
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