PhotoKeeping your ticker in top-notch condition by following a heart-healthy diet can lower your chance of having heart disease -- a disease that claims the lives of around 800,000 Americans each year.

Regularly consuming foods that support cardiovascular function can help lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, and break down arterial plaque, experts say. But amid an ever-changing health food landscape, it’s not always easy to know which foods to reach for.

“It’s no surprise people are confused about what constitutes a heart-healthful diet,” said nutrition researcher Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the nonprofit Physicians Committee. “With thousands of studies published each year, we get contradictory headlines.”

To weed through the confusion and “provide a real-time prescription based on the best available peer-reviewed research,” a team of 12 cardiovascular researchers from the Committee analyzed the latest research behind popular food trends.

Recommended foods

Plant-based eating patterns are the key to optimal heart health, the researchers say. Eating more leafy greens, berries, and plant proteins can help consumers manage several controllable risk factors for heart disease.

Top foods for boosting heart-health include:

  • Olive oil
  • Blueberries and strawberries
  • 30 grams of nuts daily
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Plant-based protein (like lentils and beans)

The researchers noted that these foods should be consumed whole, not blended in juices or grounded into antioxidant supplements. Nuts should be limited to 30 grams per day because of their high caloric value, and healthy oils should be consumed in moderation for the same reason.

Foods to avoid

On the reseachers' list of foods to avoid: coconut and palm oil, eggs, and southern diets. The team explained that southern dietary patterns are often rich in added fats, unhealthy fried foods, and sugary beverages, while coconut oil and eggs can raise cholesterol.

Bernard also offered a few other non-food based tips for lowering one's risk for heart disease.

“In addition to eating colorful, plant-based foods, it’s important to make time for sleep, exercise, and stress management, which could come in the form of social support or even listening to music,” said Barnard. “Diet comes first, but what we eat should fuel a heart-healthful lifestyle.”


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