Woman eating a heart healthy bowl of oatmeal

10 Best Heart Healthy Foods

Published: January 2022

Many people think of the heart strictly as an organ, but in fact, it is also a muscle – and a strong one at that! Just as you need to fuel all the other muscles in your body with the right foods, your heart also needs proper nutrition so that it can be a lean, mean pumping machine.

So how do you nourish a healthy heart? Fortunately, there are a number of tasty and nutritious foods that will help maintain your already-healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels while supporting overall cardiovascular health.

Here's what you need to know about following a heart-healthy diet.

What are heart-healthy foods?

The American Heart Association offers a comprehensive list of foods that not only support the strength of your heart and its ventricles, but also the health of your blood vessels, as well as already-healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Best of all, you don't have to go foraging for these foods—they all can be found in your local grocery store.

10 healthy foods for your heart

Table set with a bowl of fruits, olives and other various heart healthy foods

The following foods are key to maintaining heart health and also happen to be mainstays of the Mediterranean Diet, an approach to eating linked to a variety of whole-body health benefits.

  1. Olive oil:

    Salad dressing, marinades and healthy baked goods – oh my! The list of uses for a healthy fat like EVOO are endless, and that's a good thing, too, since it has been linked to optimal cardiovascular health.
  2. Pomegranate:

    Pomegranate is considered a heart-healthy food and is packed with antioxidants – even more than green tea. Pomegranate has been shown to inhibit oxidative stress and promote already-healthy cholesterol levels. In fact, in a recent study including 101 patients, those who drank 100 mL of pomegranate juice three times a week for a year maintained already-healthy blood pressure, triglycerides and HDL levels compared to the placebo group. Cheers to that!
  3. Whole grains:

    Bread often gets a bad rap, but whole grains have been linked to heart health benefits and overall cardiovascular health and longevity.
  4. Fatty fish:

    There's nothing fishy about the heart health benefits of salmon. This fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Don't love seafood? You can get the same benefits from a high-quality fish oil supplement.
  5. Walnuts:

    Walnuts are a staple of the Mediterranean diet because they are packed with fiber and micronutrients which support already-healthy cholesterol levels.
  6. Berries:

    Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries – pick a berry, any berry and you'll get berry big heart health benefits. Berries are rich in antioxidants and help protect against oxidative stress. A meta-analysis found that consuming berries supported already-healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  7. Dark chocolate:

    Did you know that you can not only satisfy your sweet tooth and support heart health? Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants that can help keep your heart healthy, but that doesn't mean you can go on a dark chocolate-only diet, of course (although that does sound amazing, right?).
  8. Garlic:

    If you're Italian, garlic is a staple in your kitchen. But garlic has benefits beyond making your pasta dishes tastier. Garlic is also touted for its heart health benefits, including supporting already-healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  9. Green tea:

    We're ready to spill the tea on all the benefits that green tea has to offer when it comes to heart health. Green tea is packed with polyphenols that have antioxidant properties that benefit heart health. More consumption means more benefits, too. A meta-analysis found that people who drank 1-3 cups per day were significantly more likely to maintain optimal heart health compared to those who had one cup a day.
  10. Leafy greens:

    Greens, greens—they're good for your heart! In fact, eating large amounts of leafy greens like magnesium-rich spinach, watercress, microgreens and collard greens are associated with significant support for cardiovascular health.

Foods to avoid

If you're eating your way to your best heart health, you are going to want to avoid overly processed foods, as well as foods that are high in sugar, saturated fats and trans fats. This means skipping the chips and driving past the drive-through.

Of course, these foods taste great—they are hyperpalatable, a term referring to foods that have been engineered to induce cravings. But, they are anything but great when it comes to their impact on your heart health!

Which fruit is best for the heart?

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but if you are looking to support heart health, you'll want to eat more pomegranates and consume its juice. Pomegranate juice is top contender when it comes to healthy juice, as it protects the heart and arteries.

The juice helps support healthy blood flow, arteries, and already-healthy blood pressure levels. While this juice is definitely worth the squeeze when it comes heart benefits, if you're watching your calorie intake, a high-quality pomegranate supplement packs in the polyphenol content of 12 oz. of pomegranate juice without any calories.

Why is fish considered to be a heart healthy food?

Fish and fish oil are heart healthy because they are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. One of the healthiest fish you can eat is salmon, which is not only chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, but also boasts other heart-healthy lifestyle benefits like promoting a healthy lipid profile.

If salmon doesn't wet your whistle, there are other heart healthy fish you can incorporate into your diet like, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna.

Is honey a heart healthy food?

Want to satisfy your sweet tooth while avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners? Good news: honey was shown in recent research to protect heart health by promoting lipid metabolism and antioxidant activity, among other benefits. (Of course, as is the case with chocolate, you want to watch portion sizes…a little bit of honey can go a long way!)

Is there any fast food that is heart-healthy?

If your goal is to protect your heart health, you are going to have to be mindful about what and where you eat. It is not a myth that traditional fast-food chains tend to use overly processed food ingredients and saturated fats to cook with, making them a last resort for mealtime.

However, if you do find yourself in a pinch and hunger strikes, there are options on the menu. Instead of a burger made from beef, opt for grilled chicken and hold the sauce (which is often filled with sugar and artificial flavors). You can also go for a salad as well, but make sure to use the dressing sparingly (or not at all) since premade dressings are usually packed with additives and can rival other fast food menu items in terms of calories and saturated fat.

Is food enough to keep my heart healthy?

Woman exercising on a treadmill to improve heart health

Food is a great starting place for keeping your heart healthy, but there are lifestyle changes and heart healthy supplements that you should be incorporating into your wellness routine as well.

Follow these tips to keep the beat on a healthy heart:

  • DO: Exercise.

    Physical activity helps improve heart health. Benefits of daily exercise include increased heart strength to pump blood more efficiently. Make sure to incorporate at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise coupled at least five times a week with strength training to help promote your cardiovascular health.
  • DON'T: Let stress get the upper hand.

    Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but too much can impact your heart and body. Your internal stress maintenance hormone, cortisol, controls how you react to stressful situations. Increased levels of this hormone over long periods of time can impact heart health.
  • DO: Get enough sleep.

    Make sure you are getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night for your overall health—including your heart health. Catching enough ZZZs has a positive impact on your already-healthy blood pressure and blood sugar, and promotes a healthy inflammatory response.

References

By: Andrew Davis, Health & Wellness Writer

Andrew Davis is a graduate of Pace University NYC with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He has more than a decade's worth of experience in content and social media in the health and wellness space. An avid traveler, Andrew also has volunteered as an English teacher and humanitarian in countries throughout Asia.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD