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Shop for Your Heart

What you eat is a big part of staying healthy after a heart attack. There are a few diets that have proven heart benefits, like the Mediterranean and DASH diets. But many of them feature a lot of the same foods. When you head to the grocery store, make sure these items make it into your cart on a regular basis.

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This fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated fat that keeps your heart and blood vessels healthy. When possible, buy wild, organic salmon. It has more omega-3s than farm-raised fish. Other good choices are sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, and tuna. Aim for 2-3 servings a week. 

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Olive Oil

This oil’s nutrients include lignans, part of a group of antioxidants called polyphenols. They fight inflammation, a process that damages your heart and blood vessels. Olive oil is also rich in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. It’s likely that the oil’s polyphenols and omega-3s work together to protect your heart.

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They’re high in soluble fiber, which helps sweep cholesterol from your blood. That can limit the plaque buildup in arteries that leads to heart attacks. They come in a rainbow of colors -- white, black, red kidney, green lima, navy, and more. If you buy them canned, make sure the label says there’s no added salt. Better yet, make your own from dried beans. Many cook quickly in boiling water after you’ve soaked them for a few hours or overnight.

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Other Legumes

Dried yellow and green split peas, lentils of all colors, and other legumes help lower your cholesterol. They also make great swaps for meat. That’s because they have protein but less unhealthy saturated fats than meat. You can skip the presoaking with many lentils. Enjoy them in salads, soups, and many Asian recipes.

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These nutrient powerhouses offer heart-healthy fats and coenzyme Q (CoQ10), an antioxidant that almost all your organs and tissues need. Aim for 5 servings a week of a mix of choices like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pine nuts. One study found you can get more heart benefits by adding walnuts and fatty fish in your diet to double up on omega-3s.

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Good things come in these small packages. Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3s, lignans, and fiber. One to 2 tablespoons a day should be enough. Eat them ground instead of whole so that your body can digest more of their nutrients. Chia seeds deliver omega-3s, fiber, and protein. Eat them whole or sprinkle on yogurt or oatmeal. For snacking, sunflower seeds are a tasty way to get phytosterols, plant chemicals that lower cholesterol.

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Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries all get high marks for heart health because of their various polyphenols, the antioxidants that fight inflammation. They also give the fruits their bright colors. Berries are low enough in calories that you can make them your go-to snack every day.

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Apples and Pears

Both are rich in flavonoids, another type of plant-based nutrient with antioxidant action to help protect your heart. They also have soluble fiber to help lower bad cholesterol. Both fruits are part of the Nordic Diet, an alternative to the Mediterranean diet for people living in cold climates.

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The chemical lycopene that gives tomatoes their red hue is a powerful nutrient that fights high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and inflammation. It also helps rebalance good and bad cholesterol levels. Watermelon, papaya, red grapefruit, and guava also are good sources of lycopene. Some studies found that you may get more lycopene from cooked than raw tomatoes, especially when you prepare them with olive oil.

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Leafy Greens

Studies show that nitrates, naturally found in spinach, chard, kale, and similar veggies, can play a role in heart health. Your body converts them to nitric oxide and uses it to boost blood flow and keep arteries clear. Beets and radishes also are good sources of nitrates. A salad or a side dish of greens can help you hit the recommended five servings of vegetables a day.

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Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts serve up great heart-health benefits. That’s thanks to their sulfur compounds, the same chemicals that give off a strong smell during cooking. Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, and chives also have sulfur compounds.

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This whole grain is an easy way to add soluble fiber to your diet -- 1 cup has about 4 grams of fiber. Other whole grains like brown rice and barley are good sources, too. They also deliver potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.

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This creamy-fleshed fruit is high in healthy unsaturated fat as well as fiber and potassium. Studies have found that an avocado a day can lower bad cholesterol. They’re also a great source of the antioxidant lutein. Mashed avocado makes a great veggie dip and sandwich spread. Just watch your portions, since avocados have more calories than many fruits.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 11/17/2022 Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on November 17, 2022


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American College of Cardiology: “Eat Smart for a Healthy Heart.”

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Journal of Complementary & Integrative Medicine: “Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents.”

The American Heart Association: “The Benefits of Beans and Legumes.”

Harvard Health: Legumes: “A quick and easy switch to improve your diet.”

Journal of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Research: “Effects of a therapeutic lifestyle change diet and supplementation with Q10 plus L-carnitine on quality of life in patients with myocardial infarction: A randomized clinical trial.”

Food & Function: “Berries and oxidative stress markers: an overview of human intervention studies.”

BMC Medicine: “Nordic diet, Mediterranean diet, and the risk of chronic diseases: the EPIC-Potsdam study.”

International Journal of Epidemiology: “Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.”

Frontiers in Pharmacology: “Lycopene and Vascular Health.”

Mayo Clinic: “Can whole-grain foods lower blood pressure?” “High Blood Cholesterol, Oatmeal Good for Overall Health, Heart-Healthy Diet and Whole Grain Foods,” “Does ground flaxseed have more health benefits than whole flaxseed?”

The Journal of Nutrition: “A Moderate-Fat Diet with One Avocado per Day Increases Plasma Antioxidants and Decreases the Oxidation of Small, Dense LDL in Adults with Overweight and Obesity: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”

Atherosclerosis: “Lutein exerts anti-inflammatory effects in patients with coronary artery disease.”

Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences (India): “Coenzyme Q10: The Essential Nutrient.”

British Heart Foundation: “Green veg: a one-stop-shop for a healthier life?”

California Avocado Commission: “The Avocado: Fruit or Vegetable?”

USDA: “FoodData Central: Avocados, Apples.”

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on November 17, 2022

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

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.