Healthy Heart Foods: Essential Vitamins for Heart Health
One thing’s for certain: a well-balanced diet is essential to your heart health arsenal. In addition to avoiding the sneaky culinary culprits – sugar, saturated fat, and ultra-processed treats – it’s important to pack in plenty of nourishing goodness to supercharge your cardiovascular health. Spoiler alert: this means eating foods in as close to their natural, whole form as possible.
A plant-based diet – eating foods that derive exclusively from plants, like vegetables, fruit, pulses, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – is a potent weapon for cardiovascular health. And the science for this pretty unanimous. Notable trials, including the work of Caldwell Esselstyn (1980-present day), The Lifestyle Heart Trial (1990), and The Courage Trial (2007), all provide compelling data to suggest plant-centred eating can significantly reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and improve overall heart healthi.
The Mount Abu Open Heart Trial (2011)
In an open trial in India, researchers analysed the impact of plant-based nutrition on 123 cardiac patientsii. Participants on a wholefood, plant-powered diet saw an impressive 91% trend towards regression of plaque inside their heart vessels. Incredible, isn’t it?
Fill up on fibre
Wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds have one thing in common: they’re all crammed with fibre. In many ways, fibre is the numero uno nutrient for heart health. Dietary fibre supports the reduction of non-HDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels and helps control blood sugar levels. In the UK, the recommended daily intake is 30g. But most people only consume 17-20g a day. Eating more plant foods is a simple way to boost your fibre intake.
A taste of the Med
With an abundance of fruits, vegetables, oily fish (sardines, salmon, anchovies, and mackerel), wholegrains, legumes, nuts, beans, unsaturated fats (olive oil), and a modest amount of meat and dairy, the Mediterranean diet is uniquely equipped to support heart health. Your heart loves this cuisine because it’s low in unhealthy saturated fats and rich in nourishing omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids. Best of all, it boasts high fibre, antioxidants, potassium, and B vitamins, which feed and nurture your cardiovascular health. Now, how can you beat that?
Heart-healthy food rules
Avoid artery-clogging foods – limit your intake of saturated fats (often found in high-fat dairy foods, cured meats, fatty cuts of meat, and biscuits), and trans fats (frozen meals, baked goods, and fast food)
Switch to healthier fats – go for olive, canola, and rapeseed oil instead. Rapeseed oil is a nutritional and culinary star because it can be used at high temperatures.
Slash the salt: cook without salt, go easy on the saltshaker, and limit your consumption of refined, ultra-processed foods.
Pump in the produce – eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. They’re satiating, versatile, and full of nourishing fibre for your heart.
Go for grains – wholegrains help to manage cholesterol, blood pressure, and may even prevent type 2 diabetes. Think quinoa, brown rice, and oats.
Do you hesitate to graze on nuts in light of their high-fat reputation? Think again. Sure, these little powerhouses contain fat, but, crucially, it’s the healthy kind: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids that help to lower levels of non-HDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. Try to munch a healthful handful every day. Add them to yoghurt, salads, or your morning porridge (another heart-healthy dish). Oh, and where possible, choose unsalted, raw varieties.
Did you know?
A recent study published by the American Heart Association found that women who consumed a higher proportion of their daily calories after 6pm were at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseaseiii.
Beyond eating your greens and passing on the bacon, there’s a heap of heart-healthy nutrients you should also try to eat in abundance. To give your heart the energy it needs to beat happily for years to come, make a conscious effort to include as many of these nutritional heroes as possible.
An amino acid found in animal protein, fermented soy foods, and avocado, L-carnitine is located in almost every cell of our bodies. This nutrient has demonstrated immense promise in supporting heart health. Alongside helping to maintain optimal cholesterol levels, this critically important nutrient assists the breakdown of fats into energy, thereby contributing to overall cardiovascular health.
Famed for its powerful antioxidant credentials, vitamin E is packed with goodness to nourish the heart. It’s believed that non-HDL (‘bad’) cholesterol harms the integrity of blood vessels. To protect your heart, cram in plenty of vitamin E-rich almonds, avocado, butternut squash, and spinach to your diet.
Thanks to its role in normal collagen production and the functioning of the blood vessels, vitamin C is another potent antioxidant that’s indispensable for cardiovascular health. No wonder there’s such a well-established link between high intakes of fruit and vegetables and heart healthiv. For the ultimate heart hug, ensure you hit at least your five-a-day. If you can surpass this target, even better – your heart will love you all the more.
A member of the flavonoid family – powerful plant pigments – anthocyanidins are traditionally found in purple-coloured foods, like berries. These impressive antioxidants are purported to support the body’s collagen – the structural protein that gives blood vessels their strength. Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are some of the healthiest (and most delicious) heart foods going.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
A naturally occurring enzyme found in every cell of the body – with the highest concentrations in the heart – CoQ10 acts as an energy-producer and antioxidant. Studies suggest CoQ10 may support cardiovascular healthv. Interestingly, prescription cholesterol-lowering medication is known to deplete CoQ10 in the body, so it’s critically important to get enough from your diet if you’re taking them. Fish and meat are the best sources of CoQ10, though smaller quantities can be found in wholegrain cereals, nuts, soybeans, and vegetables, namely broccoli and spinach.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Abundant in oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and tuna), long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – are lauded for nourishing the heart. Both DHA and EPA contribute to the normal function of the heart (based on a daily intake of 250mg). Did you know eating just two servings of oily fish is enough to support overall heart healthvi?
Not a fish fan? Fear not. You can still get your omega-3 fix from walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. Be mindful, however, these plant sources only contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA must be converted in the body to DHA and EPA, but this process is highly inefficient, so you will need to consume more of these sources to support your cardiovascular heart health.
This family of vitamins has got your wellbeing covered on every front, with vitamin B6, B9 and B12 pulling out all the stops for heart health. These nutrients contribute to the normal metabolism of homocysteine – an amino acid that may adversely impact heart health. To keep your B vitamins stores plentiful and healthful, make a conscious effort to cram in enough wholegrains, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, and leafy veggies to your meals.
Magnesium is your one-stop-shop for health and nourishment, playing a role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Alongside contributing to normal bone health, muscle function, and protein synthesis, this mineral is a powerful weapon for cardiovascular health. To get your magnesium hit, tuck into a smorgasbord of wholegrains, legumes, green leafy veggies, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate.
Despite being little known, vitamin K2 can make a big difference to your cardiovascular health. Vitamin K2 helps the body utilise calcium properly to ensure it’s deposited in the bones, not circulating in the blood. To get your heart-loving dose of vitamin K2, try to include more servings of organ meats, liver, high-fat dairy products, and egg yolks in your weekly diet.
Plant sterols are robust, cholesterol-like substances that occur naturally in vegetables, fruits, cereals, and nuts. When consumed in high amounts, these nifty compounds are believed to decrease the absorption of non-HDL (‘bad’) cholesterol in the intestine, which may otherwise compromise heart health. Some foods, like spreads and juices, are even enriched with plant-sterols to help you achieve the recommended daily amount of 2-2.5g.
From fighting the common cold to zapping zits, garlic has long been celebrated for its medicinal and versatile properties. The antioxidant, allicin, gives this bulb some seriously stellar purported health benefits. Packing more garlic into your daily diet may support cholesterol levels, positioning it as a nutritional star for cardiovascular health. Add liberally to curries, soups, salad dressings, and veggies (yes, it’s worth the garlic breath).
Esselstyn. C.B. (2017). A plant-based diet and coronary artery disease: a mandate for effective therapy. Journal of geriatric cardiology: JGC. 14(5), 317–320.
Wheatley. D. & Bass. C. (1991). Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. British Journal of Psychiatry. 158(2), 264-267.
Boden. W.E. , O'Rourke. R.A., et al. (2007). Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease. New Engl J Med. 1356:1503–1516.
Gupta. S., Sawhney. R., et al. (2011). Regression of coronary atherosclerosis through healthy lifestyle in coronary artery disease patients - Mount Abu Open Heart Trial. Indian Heart J. 63(5), 461-9.
ScienceDaily (2019). Evening eating linked to poorer heart health for women. Available online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191111084918.htm
Joshipura. K.J., et al. (2001). The Effect of Fruit and Vegetable Intake on Risk for Coronary Heart Disease. Ann. Intern. Med. 134:1106–1114.
Singh. R., Niaz. M., et al. (1999). Effect of hydrosoluble coenzyme Q10 on blood pressures and insulin resistance in hypertensive patients with coronary artery disease. Journal of Human Hypertension. 113(3), 203-208.
Burr. M., Gilbert. J., et al. (1989). Effects Of Changes In Fat, Fish, And Fibre Intakes On Death And Myocardial Reinfarction: Diet And Reinfarction Trial (Dart). The Lancet 334(8666), 757-761.
You Might Also Like
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.