Quick Health Scoop
- You can make lifestyle changes that improve your heart health, including eating a diet filled with heart healthy foods
- As a starting point, your heart healthy foods list should include fatty fish that provide omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), whole grains, leafy greens, extra-virgin olive oil, berries, nuts, seeds
- Foods that are harmful for the heart include saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, added sugars
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States? In fact, one person dies every 36 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease.1
Fortunately, you can make lifestyle changes that improve your heart health, including not smoking, eating a diet filled with heart healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, managing blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and controlling high blood pressure.
Foods That Are Good for Your Heart
When it comes to eating a nutritious diet, it might help to have a go-to heart healthy foods list that can help you make better choices. Problem solved! Whether you’re trying to incorporate good-for-you foods into your meal plan, ordering take-out, or doing your weekly grocery shopping, here's a quick run-down of foods that are good for your heart as well as a few that are harmful for the heart.
Fatty Fish and Fish Oil
When it comes to heart healthy foods, fatty fish should be at the top of your list. The American Heart Association suggests eating two servings of fatty fish per week to get the recommended amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.2 Why? Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and can help support heart health.3, † Fatty fish include albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, mackerel, salmon, and sardines. Because different types of fish contain variable amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, be sure to eat a variety of fish. Not a fan of eating fish? Consider taking a supplement such as a fish oil supplement or krill oil supplement.
Learn More: How Much EPA & DHA Per Day Should I Take?
Part of a heart healthy diet should include eating a variety of whole grains such as barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, spelt, and whole wheat. As a good source of soluble fiber, whole grains keep fats from building up in the body (potentially causing artery-clogging plaque) and slightly decrease cholesterol production in the liver.4 Whole grains are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems.5 The recently updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of all the grains you eat should be whole grains.6
Another group of food good for heart health includes leafy green vegetables such as collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, and spinach. Rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, leafy greens are full of dietary nitrates, which studies have shown to lower blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness and improve cell function in blood vessels.7
Learn More: Green Food's Health Benefits
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
When you make heart healthy meals, you’ll want to reach for extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) whether you’re cooking a stir fry or preparing a salad dressing. Loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants, EVOO can help decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol and prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.4
When it comes to fruits good for the heart, choose colorful berries, including blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Rich in Vitamin C, folate, manganese, potassium, and soluble fiber, berries are also bursting with phytonutrients. Produced by plants, phytonutrients are linked to promoting health and possibly protecting against heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and other chronic health conditions.8
Nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, and protein-packed, nuts make great heart healthy snacks. Plus, they’re easy to sprinkle on salads, toss into stir-fries, or even add (as nut butters) into smoothies. Try almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, and pistachios. Walnuts, in particular, contain a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, the same heart-healthy fat found in oily fish.9
Another addition to your heart healthy diet plan? Seeds, like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. In particular, flaxseeds and chia seeds provide good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—the unsaturated fatty acids that convert to Omega-3s (EPA and DHA) typically found in fatty fish.10 Like nuts, you can use seeds to top off salads and entrees, bake into breads, or stir into desserts and smoothies.
Foods Bad For The Heart
Now that you know the best foods for heart health, what about foods that are harmful for the heart? Are there foods to avoid if you’re concerned about heart health? The following “foods” are basically ingredients you’ll find in other foods—namely, packaged, processed, convenience foods. Here’s a list of foods bad for the heart, from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:11
- Saturated fats. Often found in bacon, baked goods, fried chicken, hamburgers, ice cream, pizza
- Trans fats. Primarily found in commercially manufactured foods (think cookies, chips, fried foods, and margarine)
- Cholesterol. Found in foods made from animals (think bacon, cheese, eggs, ice cream, and whole milk)
- Sodium. Found in salt, but most commonly found in breads, cheese, condiments (i.e., ketchup and mustard), hot dogs, lunch meats, and pizza
- Added sugars. Found in fruit and dairy products, which naturally contain sugar. Avoid or limit foods that contain added sugars, such as cake, candy, ice cream, sodas, and sports drinks. Note: sugars often go by many different names, including corn syrup, honey, molasses, and ingredients ending in -ose (like lactose and dextrose)
The best advice? Check nutrition labels to see what’s actually in the foods you buy. Steer clear of bad-for-you foods and opt for healthy foods instead.
The Bottom Line
If you’re hoping to improve your cardiovascular health, you can set a good foundation by eating heart healthy foods. The above list is not all encompassing, but it’s a great starting point! If you’re concerned about not getting adequate amounts of key heart-healthy nutrients, talk to your doctor and ask about supplements to support heart health such as Nature Made’s Fish Oil, Krill Oil, Triple Omega, and Flaxseed Oil.†
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
More Heart Health Tips:
- Omega 3 vs Omega 6 vs Omega 9: What's the Difference?
- Fish Oil Uses & Health Benefits
- The Best Vitamins for Heart Health
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heart Disease Facts.” 2020. Accessed February 4, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
- American Heart Association. “Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” 2017. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids
- American Heart Association. “Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins.” 2017. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/meat-poultry-and-fish-picking-healthy-proteins
- Harvard University. “5 foods to eat to help your heart.” 2020. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/5-foods-to-eat-to-help-your-heart
- Mayo Clinic. “Whole grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet.” 2020. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/whole-grains/art-20047826
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2020-2025.” 2020. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/
- Hypertension. “Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” 2015. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4288952/
- University of Missouri Extension. “Phytonutrients.” Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/pdf/phytonutrients.pdf
- American Heart Association. “Go Nuts (But just a little!).” 2015. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/go-nuts-but-just-a-little
- American Heart Association. “Know the flax (and the chia): A little seed may be what your diet needs.” 2019. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/07/19/know-the-flax-and-the-chia-a-little-seed-may-be-what-your-diet-needs
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Heart-healthy eating.” 2019. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://www.womenshealth.gov/healthy-eating/how-eat-health/heart-healthy-eating
- Cleveland Clinic. “12 Heart-Healthy Foods to Work into Your Diet.” 2019. Accessed on: February 4, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/12-heart-healthy-foods-to-work-into-your-diet/