Fresh herbs make many other foods heart-healthy when they replace salt, sugar, and trans fats. These flavor powerhouses, along with nuts, berries -- even coffee -- form a global approach to heart-wise eating. Read on for more delicious ways to fight heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Fact: Rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme contain antioxidants.
Mild, tender black beans are packed with heart-healthy nutrients including folate, antioxidants, magnesium, and fiber -- which helps control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Tip: Canned black beans are quick additions to soups and salads. Rinse to remove extra sodium.
Red Wine and Resveratrol
If you drink alcohol, a little red wine may be a heart-healthy choice. Resveratrol and catechins, two antioxidants in red wine, may protect artery walls. Alcohol can also boost HDL, the good cholesterol.
Tip: Don't exceed one drink a day for women; one to two drinks for men -- and talk to your doctor first. Alcohol may cause problems for people taking aspirin and other medications. Too much alcohol actually hurts the heart.
Salmon: Super Food
A top food for heart health, it's rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA. Omega-3s may lower risk of rhythm disorders and reduce blood pressure. Salmon also lowers blood triglycerides and reduces inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of salmon or other oily fish a week.
Tip: Bake in foil with herbs and veggies. Toss extra cooked salmon in fish tacos and salads.
Tuna for Omega-3s
Tuna is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3s; it generally costs less than salmon. Albacore (white tuna) contains more omega-3s than other tuna varieties. Reel in these other sources of omega-3s, too: mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and anchovies.
Tip: Grill tuna steak with dill and lemon; choose tuna packed in water, not oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This oil, made from the first press of olives, is especially rich in heart-healthy antioxidants called polyphenols, as well as healthy monounsaturated fats. When olive oil replaces saturated fat (like butter), it can help lower cholesterol levels. Polyphenols may protect blood vessels.
Tip: Use for salads, on cooked veggies, with bread. Look for cold-pressed and use within six months.
A small handful of walnuts (1.5 ounces) a day may lower your cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the arteries of the heart. Walnuts are packed with omega-3s, monounsaturated fats, and fiber. The benefits especially come when walnuts replace bad fats, like those in chips and cookies -- and you don't increase your calorie count.
Tip: A handful has nearly 300 calories. Walnut oil has omega–3s, too; use in salad dressings.
Slivered almonds go well with vegetables, fish, chicken, even desserts, and just a handful adds a good measure of heart health to your meals. They're chock full of plant sterols, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. Almonds may help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of diabetes.
Tip: Toast to enhance almonds' creamy, mild flavor.
These green soybeans are moving beyond Japanese restaurants, where they're a tasty appetizer. They're packed with soy protein, which can lower blood triglyceride levels. A half cup of edamame also has 9 grams of cholesterol-lowering fiber -- equal to four slices of whole-wheat bread.
Tip: Try frozen edamame, boil, and serve warm in the pod.
Make soy protein the main attraction more often at dinnertime by cooking with tofu instead of red meat. You gain all the heart-healthy minerals, fiber, and polyunsaturated fats of soy -- and you avoid a load of artery-clogging saturated fat.
Tip: Chop firm tofu, marinate, then grill or stir-fry, going easy on the oil. Add tofu to soups for protein with no added fat.
Sweet potatoes are a hearty, healthy substitute for white potatoes for people concerned about diabetes. With a low glycemic index, these spuds won't cause a quick spike in blood sugar. Ample fiber, vitamin A, and lycopene add to their heart-healthy profile.
Tip: Enhance their natural sweetness with cinnamon and lime juice, instead of sugary toppings.
This sweet, juicy fruit contains the cholesterol-fighting fiber pectin -- as well as potassium, which helps control blood pressure. A small study shows that OJ may improve blood vessel function and modestly lower blood pressure through the antioxidant hesperidin.
Tip: A medium orange averages 62 calories, with 3 grams of fiber.
The dark green, leafy vegetable is rich in potassium and magnesium, minerals that help control blood pressure. Fiber, vitamin A, and the antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, add to the heart-healthy profile.
Tip: Serve with grilled meats or as a bed for fish. Saute with olive oil and garlic until wilted, season with herbs and pepper.
The latest research on carrots shows these sweet, crunchy veggies may help control blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing diabetes. They're also a top cholesterol-fighting food, thanks to ample amounts of soluble fiber -- the kind found in oats.
Tip: Sneak shredded carrots into spaghetti sauce and muffin batter.
Try this nutty, whole grain in place of rice with dinner or simmer barley into soups and stews. The fiber in barley can help lower cholesterol levels and may lower blood glucose levels, too.
Tip: Hulled or "whole grain" barley is the most nutritious. Barley grits are toasted and ground; nice for cereal or as a side dish. Pearl barley is quick, but much of the heart-healthy fiber has been removed.
Oats in all forms can help your heart by lowering LDL, the bad cholesterol. A warm bowl of oatmeal fills you up for hours, fights snack attacks, and helps keep blood sugar levels stable over time -- making it useful for people with diabetes, too.
Tip: Swap oats for one-third of the flour in pancakes, muffins, and baked goods. Use oats instead of bread crumbs in cooking.
This shiny, honey-colored seed has three elements that are good for your heart: fiber, phytochemicals called lignans, and ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. The body converts ALA to the more powerful omega-3s, EPA and DHA.
Tip: Grind flaxseed for the best nutrition. Add it to cereal, baked goods, yogurt, even mustard on a sandwich.
While low-fat dairy is most often touted for bone health, these foods can help control high blood pressure, too. Milk is high in calcium and potassium and yogurt has twice as much of these important minerals. To really boost the calcium and minimize the fat, choose low-fat or non-fat varieties.
Tip: Use milk instead of water in instant oatmeal, hot chocolate, and dried soups.
Foods Fortified With Sterols
Want the heart-healthy power of vegetables in your milk or on toast? Margarine, soy milk, or orange juice can deliver -- when they're fortified with cholesterol-fighting sterols and stanols. These plant extracts block cholesterol absorption in the gut and can lower LDL levels by 10% without affecting good cholesterol.
Tip: Consume at least 2 grams of sterols a day.
Coffee and tea may help protect your heart by warding off type 2 diabetes. Studies show that people who drink 3-4 cups a day may cut their risk by 25% -- and even decaffeinated coffee works. Caution is due, however, for those who already have diabetes or hypertension; caffeine can complicate these conditions.
Tip: Choose black coffee or a non-fat latte to limit fat and calories.
Cayenne Chili Pepper
Shaking hot chili powder on food may help prevent a spike in insulin levels after meals. A small study in Australia showed that simply adding chili to a hamburger meal produced lower insulin levels in overweight volunteers.
Tip: Chili powder is a blend of five spices, while dried chili pepper comes from a single hot pepper. Both are good substitutes for salt in recipes.
This may be worth a try for people with high blood pressure. Kosher salt may give you more salty flavor with less actual salt -- and less sodium -- than if you sprinkled table salt on your food. The larger crystals impart more flavor than finely ground salt. You’ll still need to measure carefully; a teaspoon of Kosher salt has 1,120-2,000 mg of sodium, while the daily limit for most people is 1,500 mg. And in cooking, the taste advantage is lost.
Tip: Mix with your favorite herbs for a homemade, lower-sodium spice blend.
Cherries are packed with anthocyanins, an antioxidant believed to help protect blood vessels. Cherries in any form provide these heart-healthy nutrients: the larger heart-shaped sweet cherries, the sour cherries used for baking, as well as dried cherries and cherry juice.
Tip: Sprinkle dried cherries into cereal, muffin batter, green salads and wild rice.
The list of healthy nutrients in blueberries is extensive: anthocyanins give them their deep blue color and support heart health. Blueberries also contain ellagic acid, beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber.
Tip: Add fresh or dried blueberries to cereal, pancakes, or yogurt. Puree a batch for a dessert sauce.
1) Tom Grill/Iconica
2) Mitch Hrdlicka/White
3) Claver Carroll
4) Food Collection
5) Pixtal Images
6) Image Source
7) Mark Bolton/Garden Picture Library
8) Food Collection
9) Asia Images Group
10) Shimizu Takeo/Aflo Foto Agency
11) David Marsden/Fresh Food Images
13) Sven Olof John
14) Food Collection
15) Martin Hospach
16) Leigh Beisch/Foodpix
17) Steve Pomberg/WebMD
18) Altrendo Images
19) Graham Kirk/Fresh Food Images
20) Zoran Milich/Riser
21) Vladimir Shulevsky/StockFood Creative
22) Beau Lark/Fancy
24) Crystal Cartier Photography/FoodPix
American Diabetes Association web site.
American Dietetic Association web site.
American Heart Association web site.
Edgar R. Miller III, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition, Tufts University, Boston. Mayo Clinic web site.
National Cholesterol Education Program, Natl. Institutes of Health.
Liu, S. Diabetes Care, December 2004.
MensHealth web site.
News release, Public Library of Science.
NutritionData web site.
Nutrition Diva web site.
Ronald Prior, PhD, research chemist/nutritionist, USDA, Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, Little Rock, Ark .
Samieri, C. Neurology, 2011.
Scarmeas, N. Neurology, 2011.
Sun, Q. PLoS Medicine, published online Sept. 6, 2011.
USDA web site.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.