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5 Foods That Fight Heart Disease

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  October 16, 2012 08:03 PM

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Photo Source: NIH
Finally, some good news about cholesterol and heart disease.  According to a study in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the total blood cholesterol levels among adult Americans, on average, have declined to an all-time low of 196 mg/dL.  This is a major accomplishment since the average level was 222 mg/dL in adults in the 1960’s.   An elevated blood cholesterol level, especially the bad LDL cholesterol carrier form, increases the risk for heart disease.   Since experts recommend that your total cholesterol be less than 200 mg/dL, it appears that it may be time to celebrate.

But before you break out the celebratory steaks and apple pie a la mode, the researchers involved in this JAMA study point out that during the last 15 years there has also been an increase in the number of folks taking cholesterol-lowering medications.   Since obesity is still rampart, our heart-unhealthy saturated fat intake is still too high, and our daily physical activity is way too low, we have ways to go before we can boast that Americans have nailed a heart-healthy lifestyle.   The somewhat good news from this study is that cholesterol levels, on average, also declined among folks who aren’t taking medication, so some lifestyle changes maybe working for some folks.

While losing excess weight, reducing saturated fat in the diet, and partaking in daily physical activity are all key to lowering  your risk of heart disease,  adding heart-healthy foods to your diet can also help.

Here are 5 foods that are deliciously good for your heart:

1)    Beans
Soluble fiber-rich beans can help curb your appetite by helping you feel fuller sooner so you’ll eat less at the meal.  Trimming calories will help trim your waistline.  Beans can also replace higher calorie, higher saturated fat-containing meats and cheeses in entrees.

  • Replacing a ½ cup of cheddar cheese for the same amount of beans can shave off about 100 calories from your lunchtime salad.   
  • Replacing ½ pound of ground beef with 1 cup of kidney beans will cut 190 calories from a chili recipe.

2)    Oats
Research suggests that consuming 3 grams or more per day of ß-glucan, soluble fiber, which is found in oats (or barley, for that matter) can help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Source: Cooking Light

  • Start your morning off with a bowl of oatmeal.
  • Or, try this healthy Juicy Apple Crisp with dollop of yogurt for sweet and hot morning meal.

3.  Nuts
A small handful of nuts daily may be a nutty way to manage your blood cholesterol levels.  Research suggests that nuts can help lower blood cholesterol levels and that eating 1.5 ounces per day of almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, or walnuts along with a heart-healthy diet, may reduce you risk of heart disease.  (An ounce of nuts = 25 almonds, 9 whole walnuts, or 48 pistachio nuts.)

  • Sprinkle chopped nuts over your morning cereal or yogurt.
  • When hunger occurs between meals, reach for a few nuts.

4. Fish
While fish is low in heart-unhealthy saturated fat, it provides another healthy quality that makes it a ringer for your heart.   The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help slow the plaque buildup in your arteries that contribute to heart disease as well as reduce your risk of dying from heart disease.   It is currently recommended that you eat two fish meals, especially omega 3-rich fatty fish, weekly.   Salmon, sardines, and tuna are all good sources of omega 3.

  • When you eat out, order an 8-ounce grilled salmon.  Eat only half and take the remainder home for dinner the next day.  Pesto:  You just met you weekly quota of two fish meals.
  • Add canned tuna or salmon to your salad bar lunch.

5.  Whole Grains
While research shows that whole grains can reduce your risk of heart disease, most Americans are falling short of the recommended minimum three servings of whole grains daily.  Make sure that at least half your grain choices are whole grains, such as oats, 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, and popcorn to gain that heart-healthy benefit.

  • Oats in the morning not only provide cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber (see No. 2) but provide the added benefit of being a whole grain.  You get two for the price of one when you eat oats.
  • When looking for something crunchy for a snack, pop up a 100-calorie pack of microwave popcorn.

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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