Heart healthy diet tips: Choose foods that lower cholesterol

Heart Disease

Unhealthy cholesterol levels increase your risk for heart disease, so keeping yours low is key to a healthier heart. Your diet is central to controlling your cholesterol. Some foods can actually lower your cholesterol, while others only make matters worse.

  • Avoid saturated or trans fats. Foods containing high levels of saturated fats or trans fats—such as potato chips and packaged cookies—can increase your cholesterol levels much more significantly than cholesterol- containing foods such as eggs. Saturated fat and trans fat both increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Even worse, trans fat lowers your levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
  • Make smart choices. Choose foods rich in unsaturated fats, fiber, and protein. Fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, nuts, and seeds are all great cholesterol regulators. The best foods for lowering cholesterol are oatmeal, fish, walnuts (and other nuts), olive oil, and foods fortified with sterols or stanols—substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol.
  • Remember that labels can be deceiving. Navigating food labels can often be complicated since packaged foods with labels like “cholesterol free” or “low cholesterol” aren’t necessarily heart-healthy; they might even contain cholesterol that’s heart-risky. Stick to basics whenever possible: fruit, veggies, nuts, and lean proteins.
  • Lowering your cholesterol with fish or fish oil supplements

    By adding fish like salmon or herring to your diet twice a week, you can significantly lower your cholesterol, and thus your risk for heart attack. Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which work like superheroes, doing good deeds for your heart—and your whole body.

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Heart healthy diet tips: Cut out saturated and trans fats

Heart Disease

Of all the possible improvements you can make to your diet, limiting saturated fats and cutting out trans fats entirely is perhaps the most important. Both types of fat raise your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol level, which can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. Luckily, there are many ways to control how much saturated and trans fats you take in. Keep these culprits in mind as you cook and make food choices—and learn how to avoid them.

  • Limit solid fat. Reduce the amount of solid fats like butter, margarine, or shortening you add to food when cooking or serving. Instead of cooking with butter, for example, flavor your dishes with herbs or lemon juice. You can also limit solid fat by trimming fat off your meat or choosing leaner proteins.
  • Substitute. Swap out high-fat foods for their lower-fat counterparts. Top your baked potato, for example, with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use low-sugar fruit spread on your toast instead of margarine. When cooking, use liquid oils like canola, olive, safflower, or sunflower, and substitute two egg whites for one whole egg in a recipe.
  • Be label-savvy. Check food labels on any prepared foods. Many snacks, even those labeled “reduced fat,” may be made with oils containing trans fats. One clue that a food has some trans fat is the phrase “partially hydrogenated.” And look for hidden fat; refried beans may contain lard, or breakfast cereals may have significant amounts of fat.
  • Change your habits. The best way to avoid saturated or trans fats is to change your lifestyle practices. Instead of chips, snack on fruit or vegetables. Challenge yourself to cook with a limited amount of butter. At restaurants, ask that sauces or dressings be put on the side—or left off altogether.
  • Not all fats are bad for your heart

    While saturated and trans fats are roadblocks to a healthy heart, unsaturated fats are essential for good health. You just have to know the difference. “Good” fats include:

    • Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, or herring and flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts all contain polyunsaturated fats that are vital for the body.
    • Omega 6 Fatty Acids. Vegetable oils, soy nuts, and many types of seeds all contain healthy fats.
    • Monounsaturated fats. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, and butters made from these nuts, as well as avocadoes, are all great sources of “good” fat.

10 best foods for your heart

Heart Disease

Almonds are rich in omega-3s, plus nuts increase fiber in the diet, says Dr. Sinatra. “And like olive oil, they are a great source of healthy fat.”

Berries Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries — whatever berry you like best — are full of anti-inflammatories, which reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.

“Blackberries and blueberries are especially great,” says Sinatra. “But all berries are great for your vascular health.” Health.com: How I survived a heart attack at 43

Legumes Fill up on fiber with lentils, chickpeas, and black and kidney beans. They’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber.

Spinach Spinach can help keep your ticker in top shape thanks to its stores of lutein, folate, potassium, and fiber.

But upping your servings of any veggies is sure to give your heart a boost. The Physicians’ Health Study examined more than 15,000 men without heart disease for a period of 12 years. Those who ate at least 2½ servings of vegetables each day cut their risk of heart disease by about 25 percent, compared with those who didn’t eat the veggies. Each additional serving reduced risk by another 17 percent.

Flaxseed Full of fiber and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, a little sprinkling of flaxseed can go a long way for your heart. Top a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal with a smidgen of ground flaxseed for the ultimate heart-healthy breakfast.

Soy Soy may lower cholesterol, and since it is low in saturated fat, it’s still a great source of lean protein in a heart-healthy diet.

Look for natural sources of soy, like edamame, tempeh, or organic silken tofu. And soy milk is a great addition to a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal. But watch the amount of salt in your soy: Some processed varieties like soy dogs can contain added sodium, which boosts blood pressure.

10 best foods for your heart

Heart Disease

Simple food choices go a long way when it comes to your heart’s health. Focusing on fresh foods full of heart-healthy fats and antioxidants can decrease your risk of developing heart disease and cut your chances of a heart attack. These 10 foods will help keep your ticker in top shape.

Oatmeal Start your day with a steaming bowl of oats, which are full of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. This fiber-rich superfood can lower levels of LDL (or bad) cholesterol and help keep arteries clear.

Opt for coarse or steel-cut oats over instant varieties — the coarse and steel-cut contain more fiber — and top your bowl off with a banana for another four grams of fiber.

Salmon Super-rich in omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can effectively reduce blood pressure and keep clotting at bay. Aim for two servings per week, which may reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack by up to one-third.

“Salmon contains the carotenoid astaxanthin, which is a very powerful antioxidant,” says cardiologist Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, the author of “Lower Your Blood Pressure In Eight Weeks.” But be sure to choose wild salmon over farm-raised fish, which can be packed with insecticides, pesticides, and heavy metals.

Not a fan of salmon? Other oily fish like mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines will give your heart the same boost.

Avocado Add a bit of avocado to a sandwich or spinach salad to increase the amount of heart-healthy fats in your diet. Packed with monounsaturated fat,

avocados can help lower LDL levels while raising the amount of HDL cholesterol in your body.

Health.com: What puts you at risk for high cholesterol?

“Avocados are awesome,” says Dr. Sinatra. “They allow for the absorption of other carotenoids — especially beta-carotene and lycopene — which are essential for heart health.”

Olive oil Full of monounsaturated fats, olive oil lowers bad LDL cholesterol and reduces your risk of developing heart disease.

Results from the Seven Countries Study, which looked at cardiovascular disease incidences across the globe, showed that while men in Crete had a predisposition for high cholesterol levels, relatively few died of heart disease because their diet focused on heart-healthy fats found in olive oil. Look for extra-virgin or virgin varieties — they’re the least processed — and use them instead of butter when cooking. Health.com: Good fats vs. bad fats — what to eat

Nuts Almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are all full of omega-3 fatty acids and mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

9 Superfoods for Your Heart

Heart Disease

The single most important step you can take for heart health starts with what you put on your plate

Sardines

Rx Effect: Lower triglycerides, raise HDL

The Evidence: The omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish are crucial for heart health, and sardines have among the highest levels. These “good fats” lower harmful triglycerides, raise protective HDL, reduce potentially fatal heart arrhythmias, and tamp down inflammation. It’s inflammation that ultimately destabilizes plaque, causing it to rupture and produce a heart-attack-inducing clot. Though you can get omega-3s from plant sources such as flaxseed, the “long chain” omega-3s in fish are far more powerful. A large Danish study last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a 38% reduction in ischemic heart disease among women who consumed the most.

Try: Wild Planet sells wild sardines in extra virgin olive oil with lemon.

9 Superfoods for Your Heart

Heart Disease

The single most important step you can take for heart health starts with what you put on your plate

Kale
Rx Effect: Prevents atherosclerosis

The Evidence: Your mom was right: You need to consume your dark leafy greens. “Kale has everything you would want in a superfood,” says Joel Fuhrman, MD, the author of the bestseller Eat to Live, who uses diet and exercise to help patients reverse their cardiovascular disease. For starters, kale boasts a bumper crop of heart-healthy antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin E. It’s also rich in lutein, which correlated in the Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study with protection against early atherosclerosis. Kale even contains an unusual compound, glucoraphanin, that activates a special protective protein called Nrf2. “It creates a sort of Teflon coating in your arteries to keep plaque from adhering,” says Dr. Fuhrman.

Try: For a snack, try Brad’s Raw Leafy Kale—actual kale that is dehydrated, then coated with ground cashews, sunflower seeds, lemon juice, and garlic.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 22: Take Vitamin D and Fish Oil

While research on multivitamins for preventing heart disease is mixed, science does stand behind these two supplements. “The only dietary supplement consistently shown in randomized clinical trials to work against cardiac death is fish oil,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, an assistant professor medicine at Harvard Medical School. Omega-3 fatty acids stabilize the heart’s electrical system, lower blood pressure and triglycerides, slow arterial plaque buildup, and ease systemic inflammation. Fish oil was more successful than statins at preventing death in heart failure patients, according to a recent Italian study.

Vitamin D boasts a wide range of health benefits, heart health among them. Recent studies show that too-little amounts can raise the risk of peripheral arterial disease by 80% and increase the odds of developing diabetes (a known heart disease risk factor).

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 6: Feast on Fish

Meat’s saturated fat will clog your arteries. On the other hand, fish such as salmon and anchovies are loaded with the omega-3 fatty acids that will help your heart maintain a steady rhythm. Having even one serving of fish high in omega-3s a week could reduce your risk of death from a heart attack by 52%!

Try these 10 fast fish recipes for salmon, tilapia, and more

Healthy Power Foods for Your Heart

Heart Disease

Our one-day heart-healthy menu is loaded with foods to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation.

For a Snack

Roasted lentils (serves 8): These are high in folate and magnesium, two nutrients that help reduce heart attack risk. Drain, rinse, and dry two 15-ounce cans of lentils. Combine in a bowl with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons zesty adobo seasoning. Roast on a baking sheet at 425°F until lightly crisp, 20 minutes.

For Dinner

Seared salmon: Nothing beats wild salmon for delivering omega-3 fatty acids, which can help fight inflammation and lower triglycerides. Sear it in a nonstick frying pan coated with olive oil 3 minutes per side. Then blend 1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise, 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, 4 chopped scallions, and 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice for a creamy sauce. Top with a dollop.

Barley-shiitake pilaf: Barley is a great source of cholester-lowering fiber, and mushrooms are one of the few vegetable sources of heart-strengthening vitamin D.

Sautéed spinach: The folate in spinach counteracts a chemical called homocysteine, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.