It’s no secret that keeping your heart healthy is important for overall health and wellness. Nutrition plays an important role in heart health and can help avoid or control high blood pressure, promote healthy levels of blood lipids like LDL cholesterol, and support healthy blood vessels by avoiding endothelial dysfunction and inflammation.
According to Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, a Registered Dietitian with expertise in heart health, those with high cholesterol may need to reduce their saturated fat intake. She explains, “It is best to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and carbohydrates from whole foods. Focus eating habits on heart healthy foods and limit choices that raise risk, including excess calories.” Additionally, those with high-blood pressure may need to reduce their sodium intake. Karen notes, “There is strong evidence for reducing sodium intake and reducing sodium in the context of a healthy dietary pattern.”
Following a plant-focused eating pattern emphasizing whole food carbohydrates, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds, fish, and non-tropical vegetable oils can help reduce saturated fat and sodium intake and may even help reduce inflammation. Let’s explore these food groups, their heart-health benefits, and some delicious ways to enjoy them…
Whole Food Carbohydrates
Nutrient-rich carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet and can be a healthy replacement for saturated fats. These foods are nutrient-rich and the dietary fiber in these foods can help to lower LDL cholesterol. Consume 3 to 5 modest servings per day of whole grains and 7-10 servings per day of a variety of vegetables and fruits. Try this veggie-loaded Arugula and Butternut Squash Salad.
Legumes and Pulses
Pulses are the dried edible seeds of legumes. They include dried peas, lentils, chickpeas, and beans such as black beans, kidney beans, and navy beans. Pulses are high in protein and fiber and low in fat. They may promote healthy blood sugar, lower blood cholesterol, and aid in weight loss and maintenance. They’re an affordable option and can be a great addition to meals and snacks. Ideally, consume 5-7 servings per week. Our favorite pulse, lentils, shine in this hearty [pun intended] Beet and Lentil Salad.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of unsaturated fats, which are healthy replacements for saturated fats. Unsaturated fats may lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease when used to replace saturated fats. Walnuts, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds are good sources of polyunsaturated fats. Tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, and pecans and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame are good sources of monounsaturated fats. Consume 1 ounce at least 4 to 5 times per week. We can think of no better way to enjoy pumpkin seeds: Cinnamon Spiced Pepitas
Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, and sardines are a great source of polyunsaturated fats. The polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats, both of which are essential fats, meaning that they must be consumed in the diet. Fatty fish are known for being a source of omega-3 fats. Consume at least 8 oz of oily fish per week. This recipe for Sheet Pan Salmon comes together in less than 30 minutes.
Non-Tropical Vegetable Oils
Non-tropical vegetable oils are excellent sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Canola oil, peanut oil, flaxseed oil, original high-linoleic varieties of safflower and sunflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil are good sources of polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, peanut oil, canola oil, and high-oleic varieties of safflower and sunflower oil are good sources of monounsaturated fats. Although not an oil, avocados are also an excellent source of monounsaturated fats. While these fats are heart-healthy, they are high in calories so be sure to use them in moderation. Try our tasty Roasted Carrots with Tahini Dressing recipe for a good dose of monounsaturated fats from the sesame seeds in the tahini.
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Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020.
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