As you may already know, February is American Heart Month. What better way to give your ticker some well-deserved love than to cook up some tasty fare that also promotes a healthy heart? Since studies have shown that 70% of heart disease cases are preventable with the right diet, we’ve outlined 12 delectable foods (each with a recipe for you to try out!) that have been scientifically proven to support cardiovascular health. From hearty oatmeal to rich red wine, each of these foods helps provide your body the nutrients it needs to prevent damage to the cells, promote healthy arteries, and improve your blood pressure—effectively stopping heart disease in its tracks. We chose a wide variety of selections so you can integrate these foods into breakfast, lunch, and dinner; your heart will be sure to thank you at the end of the day!
No longer the bland, sticky stuff of generations past, oatmeal has been upgraded to a popular, delicious vessel for all your favorite spices and mix-ins. Approved by the FDA as a certified heart-healthy food, oatmeal contains soluble fibers that help lower LDL cholesterol. In 2008, a study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that the link between oats and cardiovascular health is even stronger than researchers previously thought—the tasty breakfast food also reduces your risk for elevated blood pressure and prevents the hardening of the arteries.
Eat this in: Rise and Shine Oatmeal
Bugs Bunny would be proud. According to the British Journal of Nutrition, eating more deep-orange-colored fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Because of their rich beta-carotene content, carrots specifically have been found to lower the risk of CHD by 32%. An added bonus for the ladies: if you eat carrots, you’ll significantly reduce your chance of having a heart attack!
Eat this in: Maple-Glazed Roasted Carrots
3. Whole Grains
Devotees to the low-carb lifestyle might need to reconsider their allegiance; studies show that people who eat whole grains tend to have a lower risk of heart disease than people who don’t. In fact, in one Harvard study, researchers found that people who ate a high-fiber diet full of whole grains had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. Why, you ask? Whole grains contain antioxidants, phytoestrogens, and phytoserols, all of which protect against coronary disease.
Eat this in: Hearty Whole Grain Basil Bread
No matter whether its smoked or grilled or pan-seared, this tasty fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to improve the metabolic markers for heart disease. A 2010 review article in “Current Atherosclerosis Reports” concluded that omega-3-rich fish—like salmon—help protect against heart disease and reduce mortality in patients with congestive heart failure.
Eat this in: Grilled Salmon with Avocado Salsa
5. Soy Milk
This popular dairy alternative packs a punch in terms of its heart-healthy benefits. In fact, doctors specifically recommend soy milk for people with high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease. The reason? It significantly lowers your blood concentrations of triglyceride and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and raises your level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL). More simply put, it makes you less likely to develop a clogged artery and protects your body from heart disease.
Eat this in: Vegan Vanilla Milkshake Smoothie
6. Dark Chocolate
We can definitely get on board with this one! Dark chocolate has gotten popular in health circles during recent years due to its beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. In moderation, cocoa beans help protect against heart disease because they are rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that lowers blood pressure, improves blood flow to the brain and heart, and makes blood platelets less likely to clot.
Eat this in: Dark Chocolate Cherry Rum Truffles
Little, tasty, and good for you! In a 2013 Harvard study, researchers found that women who ate more blueberries were 34% less likely to suffer a heart attack than women who ate them less frequently, most likely due to the flavonoids known as “anthocyanins” that give the berries their color and help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. The people with the healthiest hearts ate three or more half-cup servings of berries each week.
Eat this in: Blueberry Flax Superfood Smoothie
Who knew that all that late-afternoon snacking could be so good for you? Four recent, large-scale epidemiological studies (Nurses Health Study, Iowa Health Study, Adventist Health Study, Physicians Health Study) concluded that nut consumption leads to a lower risk of heart disease. Almonds in particular contain a significant amount of monounsaturated fat, which helps lower cholesterol, and Vitamin E—a helpful antioxidant.
Eat this in: Slower Cooker Cinnamon Almonds
Maybe Popeye was on to something. Because of its high potassium level, spinach helps people with high blood pressure negate the effects of sodium on their body. Its iron content also helps improve the quality of your blood.
Eat this in: Spinach and Cheese Tortilla Pizza
10. Red Bell Peppers
Add a little spice to your life with these red superfoods. Unlike green peppers, red peppers contain a big dose of lycopene, which make them a fantastic dietary choice to promote heart health. They’re also filled with cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and Vitamin A and C, antioxidants proven to help the cardiovascular system.
Eat this in: Turkey Stuffed Peppers
11. Sweet Potato
We’re all about this Thanksgiving staple, even after the holiday season is long past! Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral often overlooked and under-consumed by Americans. Absolutely vital to the human body, magnesium promotes healthy arteries, blood, bone, heart, muscle, and nerve function.
Eat this in: Baked Sweet Potato Fries
- Red Wine
Red wine—in moderation—has long been regarded as beneficial to heart health. Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart, reduce LDL, and prevent blood clots. Bottoms up!