Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods

The statistics seem grim: People who have diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than people who don’t have diabetes. It’s tough to read this, but take heart. In honor of February being Heart Health Month, know that there’s a lot that you can do to keep your ticker ticking!

Being told to follow a “heart-healthy diet” may conjure up images of dry, tasteless meals and giving up your favorite foods. The good news is that there are plenty of healthy foods that taste good and help your heart at the same time. You might even be surprised at the foods that made the list!

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Beef. What? You mean steak is OK to eat? As long as you go for lean cuts, such as top sirloin, tenderloin, or 95% lean ground beef, red meat can definitely be heart healthy, and may even help you lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. You might also be surprised to learn that lean beef has more monounsaturated fat, a healthy type of fat, than saturated fat. The key is making beef part of an overall heart healthy diet, and keeping portions reasonable (aim for no more than about 4 ounces per day).

Enjoy it: Stretch lean been further by slicing it into thin strips and stir-frying it with veggies of your choice — snow peas, broccoli, and red pepper are great choices. Serve as is or over a whole grain of your choice. Four ounces of tenderloin contains 160 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat.

Coffee. Coffee-lovers can rejoice: A 2015 study out of Harvard University found that people who drank 3–5 cups of coffee every day were less likely to die from heart disease and stroke compared to people who drank little or no coffee. Other studies have shown similar benefits. Coffee contains polyphenols (plant compounds) that are thought to help prevent heart disease. However, before you reach for that additional cup of joe, keep in mind that coffee can raise blood pressure in some people, and it can make you feel jittery and keep you awake.

Enjoy it: If you’re a coffee-lover, drink filtered coffee, rather than using a French press, to remove cafestol, a substance that can raise cholesterol levels. Also, skip the sweeteners and flavored syrups, which can add unwanted calories and carbs.

Popcorn. Think popcorn, and you might think of the super-sized bucket of popcorn you get at the movies (weighing in at more than 1200 calories, by the way, and don’t get me started on how much saturated fat it contains). Or maybe you picture an envelope of popcorn that you pop into the microwave. But these may contain unhealthy trans fat, as well as artificial coloring and flavoring. Popcorn — the kind that you pop yourself on top of your stove — is actually a whole grain; it’s also high in fiber and antioxidants, which are important in the fight against heart disease.

Enjoy it: Try popping your own popcorn on the stove, using olive oil. Once popped, forgo the salt, but add flavor by sprinkling on cayenne pepper, lemon pepper, Parmesan cheese, herbs, or nutritional yeast. You can even sweeten up popcorn using cinnamon, nutmeg, or apple pie spice. Three cups of oil-popped corn contains 165 calories and 19 grams of carb.

Potatoes. For a long time, potatoes have gotten a bad rap. They’re blamed for packing on the pounds and raising blood sugar levels. However, potatoes contain nutrients that promote a healthy heart, including potassium, vitamin C, fiber, and magnesium, plus antioxidants.

Enjoy them: For a change, look for purple potatoes. They contain four times the amount of antioxidants as Russet potatoes. One half-cup contains just 70 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate. Plus, you won’t be able to resist their beautiful purple hue.

Eggs. Think of eggs and think of cholesterol, right? Well, not exactly. Yes, eggs contain cholesterol, but not as much as you might think (only 212 milligrams per large egg). More importantly, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines state that dietary cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption. This means that you can enjoy eggs as part of a healthy eating plan without worrying that they’ll raise your cholesterol level.

Enjoy them: Eggs are delicious and easy to enjoy anytime. For a quick breakfast, try making scrambled eggs in the microwave — in a mug! Check out the recipe here. One large egg contains 78 calories, 6 grams of protein, and less than 1 gram of carbohydrate.

  • RAWLCM

    Thanks for the great article. Much has changed over the years when it comes to attitudes about diet and heart health. In addition to the change in recommendations about dietary cholesterol, our understanding of the role of medication in regulating cholesterol levels is evolving. Specifically, although there is a correlation between high blood cholesterol and heart disease, recent studies have shown that using medication to reduce cholesterol levels doesn’t seem to do much to reduce instances or severity of heart disease. The assumption was that lowering blood cholesterol by any means would save lives or at least reduce the impact of heart problems, but that doesn’t seem to happen. This is of particular interest when you consider that statin drugs are widely reported to be the most prescribed substance on the planet, and that for many they induce some pretty nasty side effects. If, in fact they do not have the expected therapeutic effect, it could (and should) completely change the way we approach heart disease management.