Heart health is not a subject to take lightly.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. An estimated 44 million U.S. women are affected by cardiovascular disease, causing 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year. And one of the most common forms of heart disease is coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease happens when a buildup of plaque narrows artery walls and restricts proper blood flow to the heart. This can eventually lead to a heart attack or cardiac death.
Coronary artery disease can be treated or prevented through lifestyle modifications. One major influence on disease management or prevention is your diet.
Foods rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats, and antioxidants all have their role in heart health. We’ve rounded up 10 artery-friendly foods and highlighted what makes them so great and how they can keep your arteries clean.
Is there anything avocados can’t do? It turns out avocados are good news when it comes to your arteries, too. This heart-healthy fruit increases your “good” cholesterol while lowering your “bad” cholesterol.
Avocados are also chock-full of potassium — more than a banana, in fact. Potassium has been proven to help prevent cardiovascular disease and vascular calcification in your arteries.
Add it to your diet: Replace mayo with avocado and use in sandwiches, chicken salad, or tuna salad. Fan of smoothies? Drink your daily dose of avocado by adding it to your favorite blended beverage (bonus: it makes it extra creamy!).
2. Fatty fish
While the myth that fat is bad for your arteries has been debunked, it’s important to know what kind of fat you should be eating.
Like avocado, fish is packed with healthy fats, also known as unsaturated fats. Fish consumption is linked to fewer heart attacks. Their omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to reduce levels of triglycerides and prevent the risk for cardiac death.
Add it to your diet: Eat salmon or your favorite fatty fish, such as tuna or mackerel, one to four times a week to reap these benefits. When it comes to taking fish oil supplements or eating fish, the latter is considered the most beneficial for heart health.
Nuts are a powerhouse when it comes to heart health. Rich in unsaturated fats, vitamins, and fiber, nuts are a solid choice when it comes to a healthy snack. Try almonds, cashews, or Brazil nuts — all of which are very high in magnesium. Magnesium hinders buildup and cholesterol plaque in arteries, helping to prevent clogged arteries.
4. Olive oil
The monounsaturated oleic acid (say that three times fast) found in olive oil protects your heart and significantly lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Add it to your diet: Drizzle on your salads and use in cooking, but make sure you’re using the right type. To get all of this oil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, purchase 100 percent extra virgin olive oil (organic if possible).
Good news for coffee lovers. This beloved pick-me-up helps keep your arteries clean. One study found that drinking three cups a day significantly lowers your risk for developing atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries.
If coffee isn’t your cup of tea, green tea has also been proven beneficial to cardiovascular health.
Add it to your diet: Drinking three cups a day, you say? No problem! But while getting your daily dose, it’s important to stay away from adding sugars or lots of cream. Try and make your coffee as healthy and beneficial as possible.
Turmeric contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce damage to arterial walls. Inflammation levels have been shown to have a direct effect on arteriosclerosis — the hardening of the arteries.
A study on rats shows that this antioxidant-rich spice can reduce fatty deposits in the arteries by over 25 percent.
Add it to your diet: The easiest way to add turmeric to your diet is by making turmeric tea. You can also make our easy, five-ingredient golden milk.
Drink pomegranate juice for optimal heart health. The powerful pomegranate has been shown to clear clogged arteries and improve blood flow. This is due to the free radical-fighting fruit’s high level of antioxidants, which stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the blood.
Add it to your diet: Buy 100 percent pure pomegranate juice with no added sugar or snack on pomegranate seeds. Pomegranate juice can be added to your smoothies or mixed into a festive mocktail, and seeds are great sprinkled on your morning oatmeal.
Both antioxidants and vitamin C are good news for artery health — and citrus fruits have plenty of both.
Studies have shown that vitamin C has a powerful role in reducing heart disease risk and the flavonoids found in them help protect arterial walls.
Add it to your diet: Drink plenty of lemon water throughout the day or start your morning with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice or a grapefruit half.
Also, keep an eye out for the bergamot fruit when in season or bergamot tea. Bergamot has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels as effectively as a statin drug according to research published in the International Journal of Cardiology and Frontiers in Pharmacology.
9. Whole grains
The dietary fiber found in whole grains help improve blood cholesterol levels and protect the heart against disease.
Recent studies have also found that diets with plenty of whole grains are linked to thinner carotid artery walls. These arteries are responsible for delivering blood to your brain. Thickening of carotid arteries causes atherosclerosis buildup and increases risk for heart disease and stroke.
Add it to your diet: The American Heart Association recommends that at least half of your grains come from whole grains. The recommended daily intake is 25 grams of fiber each day for women and 34 grams per day for men. You can do this by consuming whole grains such as brown rice; whole-grain pasta, barley, or oatmeal; or quinoa.
Like whole grains, broccoli is packed with fiber that’s beneficial for overall heart health. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, have been proven to specifically help prevent clogged arteries and protect against vascular disease.
Add it to your diet: Need some new inspiration to eat more veggies? Check out these 11 recipes that will make you fall in love with broccoli again.
Do you already include these artery-loving foods in your daily diet? For more ways to keep your heart healthy, check out our 28 best tips.
Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.