Atherosclerosis occurs when fatty deposits accumulate along artery walls. You may have heard the condition referred to as clogged arteries or a hardening of the arteries.

This causes the arteries to narrow and restricts blood flow to the heart and other parts of the body.

This article lists 15 foods that may help prevent clogged arteries.

Atherosclerosis is considered a major underlying cause of heart disease, including coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease in the United States.

Atherosclerosis is the underlying cause of about 50% of deaths in Western countries (1).

It’s a chronic inflammatory disease with numerous risk factors.

You’re more likely to develop atherosclerosis if you (1, 2, 3):

  • have high LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • have high blood pressure
  • smoke cigarettes
  • have diabetes
  • have a family history of atherosclerosis
  • have obesity
  • consume a poor diet
  • engage in a sedentary lifestyle

On the other hand, following a diet rich in certain foods like vegetables, fruits, and fish has been shown to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease (4).

Here are 15 foods that may help prevent clogged arteries.

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Berries include blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

These fruits are associated with an impressive amount of health benefits, including their ability to reduce inflammation and improve heart health.

Berries are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. These include flavonoid antioxidants, which are known to help boost heart health (5).

Research has also shown that eating berries significantly reduces atherosclerosis risk factors, including elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels (6, 7).

Berries may help prevent clogged arteries by reducing inflammation and cholesterol accumulation, improving artery function, and protecting against cellular damage (8).

Beans are packed with fiber and well known for their heart health benefits. Eating fiber-rich foods like beans is essential for preventing atherosclerosis (9).

Eating beans is an excellent way to keep cholesterol levels in check, thereby reducing your risk of clogged arteries. Many studies have demonstrated that eating beans can significantly reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (10, 11, 12).

One review of 26 high quality studies found that diets that included about 1 serving (130 grams) of beans daily were associated with significantly lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol compared with control diets (12).

Research has also shown that bean-rich diets may reduce blood pressure, improve artery function, and decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. All of these effects may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (13, 14, 15).

Fish is loaded with essential nutrients, including omega-3 fats. Eating omega-3-rich fish may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Studies show that omega-3s help reduce the expression of cellular adhesion molecules, which are proteins that allow cells to stick to one another and their surroundings.

Your body releases cellular adhesion molecules in response to inflammation, and they’re a driving force behind clogged arteries (16, 17, 18, 19).

What’s more, fish intake has been associated with a reduced risk of atherosclerosis.

A study in 961 people compared participants who ate less than one serving of fish per week with those who ate two or more servings of fish per week.

The study found that 13.3% of people who ate less fish had atherosclerosis in their carotid arteries, which deliver blood to the brain, compared with just 6.6% of those in the fish-eating group (20).

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Tomatoes and tomato products contain plant compounds that may be particularly helpful for reducing the development of atherosclerosis.

For example, tomatoes contain the carotenoid pigment lycopene, which may have impressive health benefits.

Studies show that consuming lycopene-rich tomato products may help reduce inflammation, boost HDL (good) cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease (21, 22, 23).

Interestingly, combining cooked tomato with olive oil may offer the greatest protection against clogged arteries.

One study in 40 people found that eating tomato sauce with olive oil had the greatest effect on reducing adhesion molecules and inflammatory proteins, compared with raw tomatoes and plain tomato sauce.

However, all the tomato preparations boosted HDL (good) cholesterol and reduced total cholesterol (24).

Onions are part of the Allium genus and linked to a number of health benefits. Research has shown that a diet rich in these popular veggies may protect the arteries.

A 15-year study that followed 1,226 women ages 70 and older found that a higher intake of Allium vegetables like onions was associated with a lower risk of death related to disease caused by atherosclerosis (25).

Onions contain sulfur compounds that scientists think may help prevent blood vessel inflammation, inhibit the clumping together of platelets in the blood, and increase the availability of nitric oxide (25, 26).

All of these effects may help protect against atherosclerosis and improve artery health.

Citrus fruits are delicious and provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including flavonoids.

Citrus flavonoids can decrease inflammation and help prevent free radicals in the body from oxidizing LDL (bad) cholesterol. Oxidized LDL is associated with atherosclerosis development and progression (27, 28).

This may be why citrus consumption is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke — two conditions linked to atherosclerosis (29).

Spices, including ginger, pepper, chili, and cinnamon may help protect against clogged arteries (30).

These and other spices have anti-inflammatory properties and may help scavenge free radicals, improve blood lipid levels, and reduce the clumping together of platelets in the blood (30).

You can increase your spice consumption easily by adding these versatile flavorings to oatmeal, soups, stews, and just about any other dish you can think of.

Flax seeds are tiny powerhouses of nutrition.

They are high in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. In addition to being highly nutritious, flax seeds may help prevent atherosclerosis.

One study found that rabbits that ate flax seed after a high cholesterol diet experienced a 40% reduction in plaque formation compared with animals that did not eat flax seeds (31).

Flax seeds contain secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG), an anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering lignan compound whose properties counter atherosclerosis (32).

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Adding cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower to your diet may help reduce your chances of developing clogged arteries.

Studies show that eating cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of atherosclerosis.

A study in 1,500 women found that eating cruciferous vegetables was associated with lower carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) (33).

Healthcare providers use this measurement to assess a person’s risk of atherosclerosis-related disease.

Research has also linked cruciferous vegetable intake to reduced arterial calcification and risk of death caused by atherosclerosis-related disease (25, 34, 35).

Arterial calcification leads to the hardening of the arteries in atherosclerosis.

Beets are a rich source of nitrates, which your body converts to nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that plays many essential roles in your body.

Inflammation in the blood vessels leads to decreased nitric oxide production.

Eating foods like beets that are rich in dietary nitrates may help improve blood vessel function and decrease inflammation, which may help prevent atherosclerosis (36, 37).

Research has also found an association between dietary nitrate intake and a reduced risk of atherosclerosis-related death (38).

Oats are an excellent choice for those who have atherosclerosis or are trying to prevent clogged arteries.

Eating oats can help significantly reduce atherosclerosis risk factors, including high levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol (39).

Oats also contain antioxidants called avenanthramides, which may help inhibit inflammatory proteins called cytokines, as well as adhesion molecules. This may help prevent atherosclerosis (40, 41).

Consuming oat bran, which is packed with fiber, may be helpful as well.

A study that included 716 people with coronary artery disease found that those who consumed oat fiber regularly had lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and inflammatory markers than those who did not eat oat fiber (42).

The study also found that oat fiber intake was associated with a lower risk of needing revascularization — a procedure to increase oxygen delivery to the heart and other parts of the body. A person may need this if atherosclerosis has impeded their blood flow (42).

Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. What’s more, these tiny and versatile foods may help prevent clogged arteries.

Research has consistently shown that nut and seed intake can significantly improve atherosclerosis risk factors.

For example, eating nuts and seeds can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure and may help boost HDL (good) cholesterol (43, 44, 45, 46).

Research has also shown that eating nuts and seeds reduces blood sugar levels and may help protect against diabetes, a known risk factor for atherosclerosis (43, 47).

Additionally, eating nuts and seeds may help improve blood vessel function and protect against heart disease (48, 49).

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Leafy greens, including lettuces, kale, arugula, Swiss chard, and spinach, offer an abundance of nutrients that may help protect against atherosclerosis.

Green leafy vegetables are a good source of dietary nitrates, which can help improve blood vessel function and reduce inflammation.

They’re also packed with potassium. This mineral helps prevent vascular calcification, a process that contributes to atherosclerosis (36, 50).

Plus, numerous studies have shown that eating green leafy vegetables is an excellent way to reduce your risk of heart disease.

A review of eight studies found that consuming green leafy vegetables was associated with a significantly reduced risk of heart disease by up to 15.8% (51).

Cocoa and dark chocolate products are not only delicious but also may help ward off atherosclerosis.

A study that included 2,217 participants found that eating chocolate was associated with less atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries. These arteries transport oxygen-rich blood to the heart (52).

Studies have also found that eating chocolate is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes (53).

What’s more, cocoa and dark chocolate products are rich in polyphenol plant compounds.

These help increase nitric oxide production and decrease inflammation in the arteries, which may help improve physical function in people with atherosclerosis (54).

One study compared the effects of eating dark and milk chocolate in 20 people with peripheral artery disease, a condition caused by atherosclerosis.

The study defined dark chocolate as having more than 85% cocoa content.

The researchers found that consuming 40 grams of dark chocolate significantly improved walking time and blood levels of nitric oxide compared with consuming milk chocolate (54).

The Mediterranean diet is rich in high fiber vegetables, beans, and olive oil. It has long been associated with improved heart health.

Olive oil may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

A 4-month study in 82 people with early atherosclerosis found that daily intake of 1 ounce (30 mL) of olive oil significantly improved participants’ blood vessel function and reduced inflammatory markers (55).

A 2018 review also concluded that olive oil consumption is associated with reduced atherosclerosis-related inflammatory markers and a decreased risk of heart disease and complications (56).

Scientists attribute olive oil’s ability to increase heart and blood vessel health to its high content of polyphenol compounds.

Keep in mind that less refined extra virgin olive oil has significantly greater amounts of polyphenols than more refined olive oils (56, 57, 58).

A healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods may help reduce your risk of developing clogged arteries.

Research has shown that adding foods like cruciferous vegetables, fish, berries, olive oil, oats, onions, greens, and beans to your diet may be an effective way to prevent atherosclerosis.

All of the foods listed above offer many other benefits as well. Adding them to your daily routine may significantly decrease your risk of disease and boost your overall health.