Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States. That’s a scary statistic, but thankfully there’s a lot we can do to protect our tickers—like eating a healthy diet.
But what exactly should we eat? Research has shown a certain way of eating is best for supporting heart health: a mostly plant-based, whole foods diet.
For example, a large study called REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) — designed to see if there was a connection between the risk of heart failure and diet patterns — found that out of about 15,000 people over 45 years old, those eating a plant-based diet decreased their risk of developing heart failure by 42 percent compared to others who ate less plant-based foods.
Plus, many other studies have shown a connection between nutrient-dense plant-based foods and a reduction in heart disease-related symptoms.
With that in mind, let’s talk about which healthy foods to eat for your heart.
Best Heart-Healthy Diet: Lots of Plants
Keep in mind not all plant-based diets are created equal, and you don’t need to completely veto meat or animal products to benefit. Just make this your focus: less foods high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats, and lots more plants (especially vegetables and fruits)!
Think: eating the rainbow.
Dark and/or leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and asparagus, sweet potatoes, red or orange bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes and squash are all great vegetables that can be eaten in abundance.
Berries like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are some of the most nutrient-rich fruits. Other popular options include bananas, apples, oranges, mango and papaya.
If you aren’t used to eating fruits and vegetables, don’t overwhelm yourself. Start small and build up to eating vegetables at every meal.
Instead of butter, get most of your fats from:
- nuts and seeds (especially walnuts and flax, chia, and hemp seeds for omega-3s)
- healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil
See how many daily grains you can replace with a whole grain source, such as having oatmeal instead of boxed cereal, sprouted whole grain bread instead of white bread, and eating grains like quinoa and barley.
If you eat meat every day, start by having fish or plant-based proteins, like beans, legumes and lentils, a few times a week.
Hemp seeds, peanut butter and quinoa are also rich sources of protein.
Eat Slowly and Mindfully
Another issue we face in modern times is overconsumption. We’re all moving fast and often eat at the same pace.
Set an intention to slow down and savor your food during meals. Notice the tastes and textures of each bite and truly enjoy it. You might even realize some convenience foods you were eating quickly don’t taste as good when savored!
Move Every Day
Exercise is the other half of a heart-healthy diet. Try to get some kind of movement in everyday, especially if you work at a sedentary job.
Think about types of exercise you like, such as walking, biking, lifting weights or hiking. Make these a regular part of your routine. You’ll not only be supporting your heart—your body and mind will feel better, too.
Identify Emotional Conflict
This is one area that gets overlooked with most health advice. If you want to eat better but still struggle to do so, take some time to think about what’s getting in your way.
If it’s stress, overwhelm, or emotional eating, make time each day for mindfulness—writing in a journal, breathing or meditating, thinking about your dreams and desires, etc. Think about what you truly need in life and how you can find more fulfillment in areas besides food.
The Bottom Line
By eating plenty of nutrient-rich plant foods, we can give our bodies, including our hearts, the nourishment they need to thrive.