Five Super Foods for Your Heart
Every heart-healthy diet should include these foods.
Food for the Heart: Soy Protein
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals, soy protein is a good alternative for red meat, says Hobbs; it's also lower in fat and higher in fiber than many meat choices.
In people with high cholesterol, studies show that soy protein, when eaten with a healthy low-fat diet, lowers cholesterol. In fact, researchers found that people who ate a diet of several cholesterol-fighting foods lowered their cholesterol as much as people who took medicine.
Both the FDA and the American Heart Association encourage eating at least 1 oz (28 grams) of soy protein daily. You can get your soy from soybeans, soy nuts, soy milk, soy flour, energy bars, fortified cereal, tempeh, and tofu.
Food for the Heart: Oatmeal
Grandma may have known what she was doing when she served up her piping hot bowl of oatmeal every morning, says Kim Seidl, MS, RD, LD, spokesperson for the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. A half-cup daily serving of oatmeal contains only about 130 calories while delivering 5 grams of heart-healthy fiber that helps to lower cholesterol and keep body weight to a healthy level.
Another benefit of oatmeal is that it will fill you up and likely keep you filled until lunchtime, so you're not tempted by unhealthy snacks, says Peter Schulman, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center.
Oatmeal and other whole grains such as whole wheat, barley, rye, millet, quinoa, brown rice, and wild rice also help reduce the risk of diabetes, which in itself is a risk factor for heart disease, says Zelman.
It's important to use whole grains, not refined grains, says Zelman, "so you get the whole package." Refined or processed grains lose their nutrients and fiber.
You can get your whole grains in other forms besides oatmeal, Zelman adds, including whole grain breads and pastas.
The daily recommendation for fiber intake is between 21 and 38 grams, depending on your sex and age, according to the American Dietetic Association.
Food for the Heart: Spinach
This dark green, leafy vegetable (and its cousins such as kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, and collard greens) is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may protect against cardiovascular disease; it's also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, says Suzanne Havala Hobbs, DrPH, MS, RD, clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Spinach is also rich in folate, says Hark, explaining that folate helps reduce the blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. "An emerging risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease is a high level of homocysteine," says Hark, who recommends eating a cup a day of your favorite dark green, leafy vegetable.