What is the single most effective method for preventing heart attacks? If you said aspirin or statins, you’re in for a surprise. That’s because the number-one enemy of heart disease is not medication prescribed by your physician, but rather heart-healthy foods you can buy at the local grocery store.
Before you wind up at your nearest hospital or cardiologist’s office complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath, try eating plenty of fish and green leafy vegetables to lower your risk of heart disease.
The verdict is in: There’s nothing better for your heart than a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, wine, and garlic. In fact, when it comes to beating heart disease, healthy eating is more powerful than the most powerful drug on the market. Figures published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, say it all: While statins lower the chances of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke by 25 to 30 percent, a heart-healthy diet can reduce your risk by 35 percent.
The bigger picture looks even better. Overall, a proper diet can slash the odds of developing heart disease by up to 70 percent.1 What is more, you need don’t need an expensive prescription to start down the road to heart health today. While foods as varied as garlic, oatmeal, lentils, and almonds can protect your heart, these 4 superfood combinations deserve an especially honored place on your weekly menu.
Whether you prefer salmon, sardines, or even mackerel, you’ll reap plenty of benefits when you down a plate of cold-water heart-healthy fish. The reason is simple: they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which lower the risk of blood clots, reduce the incidence of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), and cut down on the amount of fat (or triglycerides) in your blood. Although sardines pack the greatest punch, salmon isn’t too far behind when it comes to the omega-3 count.
Recommendation: Fatty fish twice a week will keep the cardiologist at bay, according to the American Heart Association.
Any fruit is good for your heart, but some have near-magic properties. The entire panoply of berries, including blueberries, contain plenty of antioxidants known to lower blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Oranges, on the other hand, are packed with all sorts of goodies, including cholesterol-soaking pectin and salt-busting potassium.
Add in citrus pectin’s ability to prevent heart tissue scarring, and you have a veritable wonder-food. It’s no wonder studies have shown a 19 percent reduction in the risk of ischemic stroke among women.2
Recommendation: Eat as much fruit as your heart desires. Your body will thank you.
If it’s green and leafy, it’s guaranteed to be good for your heart. Vegetables like kale are chock full of almost every heart-friendly substance known to humankind, from antioxidants and fiber to omega-3 fatty acids and potassium. Add in folate, vitamin E, lutein … and you get the point.
Recommendation: The American Heart Association recommends 1 cup of leafy vegetables per day.
Who said a heart-healthy diet had to be odious to your taste buds? Given the heart-healthy qualities of red wine and dark chocolate, you can be health-conscious and enjoy life at the same time. In addition to boosting your “good” cholesterol, red wine reduces clotting and improves the health of blood vessels. The flavonoids present in dark chocolate also fight high blood pressure, dangerous inflammation, and clotting.
Recommendation: As far as wine goes, there is a limit to the goodness. Stick to one glass a day to maximize health benefits. As far as chocolate goes, find products that contain at least 60 to 70 percent cocoa to reap any cardiovascular rewards.
Weill Cornell Medicine is dedicated to providing advanced, patient-centered care in the areas of cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery, as well as heart disease prevention. To learn more about our commitment to cardiovascular research and preventative heart health, visit our Cardiac Disease Prevention (HeartHealth) page.