15 Heart-Healthy Superfoods

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15 Healthy Foods For Heart Disease

cranberries
Cranberries. Westend61/Getty Images

Following a healthy diet is a recommended way to prevent heart disease and there appears to be growing consensus on what a heart-healthy diet looks like. In addition to the fundamentals, certain foods are being explored for their potential cardiovascular benefits. While much of the research is in the earliest stages, some of these foods may make tasty additions to your regular grocery list. Here's the scoop on 15 of these foods with some delicious ways to prepare them!

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Oyster Mushroom for a Healthier Heart?

oyster mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms. Westend61/Getty Images

A type of fat found in foods like butter and oils and also made by the liver when you consume excess food, triglycerides can spell trouble for your heart health when too many build up in your blood. For example, elevated triglyceride levels are linked to increased risk of coronary artery disease (a common form of heart disease), especially in women.

Oyster mushroom, a type of mushroom commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, may help lower triglyceride levels. In a preliminary study published in 2003, for instance, treatment with oyster mushroom helped decrease animals' triglyceride levels. What's more, oyster mushroom was found to lower cholesterol and protect against atherosclerosis. Delicious ways to cook oyster mushrooms include this recipe for oyster mushrooms rockefeller and this vegan recipe for oyster mushroom "scallops".

Related: The Benefits of Oyster Mushrooms

Maintaining a healthy weight and following a plant-based diet that is low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods are two ways to reduce your triglyceride levels. Limiting your alcohol intake, avoiding smoking, and exercising regularly can also help, and some research shows that natural remedies like omega-3 fatty acids may keep triglycerides in check as well.

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Tomato for Healthier Arteries?

Tomato salad
Tomatoes. Patrizia Savarese/Photolibrary/Getty Images

A compound found in tomatoes may help fend off vascular diseases, according to a laboratory study recently published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. In tests on mice, scientists found that a substance called 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid could combat dyslipidemia (an abnormal buildup of cholesterol and/or fat in the bloodstream). By stopping dyslipidemia from setting in, the study's authors note, it may be possible to prevent vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis (also known as hardening of the arteries).

Past studies show that other substances in tomatoes might help protect against atherosclerosis. Lycopene, for instance, may reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries. An antioxidant also found in watermelon and pink grapefruit, lycopene has been found in preliminary studies to fight prostate cancer and enhance lung health as well. A delicious way to have tomatoes is in this Mothership Tomato Salad recipe from Jamie Oliver.

For more help in preventing atherosclerosis, it's important to avoid or manage risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, heavy alcohol use, and smoking.

Related: Natural Remedies to Quit Smoking 

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Cutting Cholesterol with White Mulberry

white mulberry
White mulberry. Ion-Bogdan Dumitrescu/Moment/Getty Images

Watching your cholesterol levels is a crucial way to keep your arteries clear and stay free of heart disease. When too much cholesterol builds up in your blood, plaques may form on artery walls and raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. Since antioxidants are said to help thwart plaque formation, some people use antioxidant-rich natural remedies like white mulberry to lower their cholesterol and boost their heart health.

So far, few studies have looked at whether white mulberry can curb cholesterol. Still, some preliminary research (including an animal-based study published in 2011) indicates that use of white mulberry may help improve cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerosis.

A class of antioxidant compounds found in white mulberry, anthocyanins are also available in substances such as cranberryelderberry, and tart cherries.

Try white mulberries in a fruit salad or any recipe that calls for berries (just don't confuse white mulberries with the unripe, white fruit of a regular mulberry tree).  

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Is Chia a Super-Seed?

Chia pudding with mango.
Chia pudding with mango. vanillaechoes/Moment/Getty Images

Even if you ditched your Chia Pet decades ago, there may still be good cause to keep some chia seeds around. High in fiber, the edible seeds serve as a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid shown to fight inflammation). What's more, preliminary research suggests that chia seeds may help keep your cholesterol in check and decrease risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Many proponents claim that adding chia seeds to your diet can enhance your health by increasing energy, boosting mood, regulating blood sugar, and preserving bone health. However, there's little evidence to support any of these health claims.

Although chia seeds are also widely touted as a natural weight loss aid, evidence for chia's weight-loss-promoting effects is weak. In fact, the existing research shows that chia may have no effect on body weight at all.

Related: What Should I Know About Chia?

Yummy ways to try chia include this chia breakfast pudding recipe and this chia baked chicken nugget recipe

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Flaxseed For Lower Cholesterol

flaxseeds
Flaxseeds. Arx0nt/Moment Open/Getty Images

Eating flaxseed may help cut your cholesterol, according to a research review. Sifting through 28 studies (with a total of more than 1,500 participants), researchers found that flaxseed consumption was linked to significant decreases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. HDL (so-called "good") cholesterol levels, however, were not significantly altered. What's more, flaxseed's cholesterol-lowering effects were more apparent in females (especially postmenopausal women) and people with higher cholesterol levels.

Rich in fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed has been shown to benefit people with diabetesmenopausal symptoms, and high blood pressure in previous studies.

Related:  3 Health Benefits of Flaxseeds

Try grinding flaxseed (in a coffee grinder, for instance) before adding it to cereals, smoothies, and other foods. 

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Oats May Cut Cholesterol

oats
Oats. Arx0nt/Moment Open/Getty Images

A substance found in oats may help keep your cholesterol in check, a study shows. The study included 367 participants with high cholesterol, all of whom ate two servings of a cereal containing either wheat fiber or oat beta-glucan every day for four weeks. Looking at data on the 345 people who completed the study, researchers determined that LDL cholesterol was significantly lower among those assigned to the oat beta-glucan cereal.

Beta-glucan is also found in a number of medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake and maitake. Test-tube research suggests that beta-glucan may stimulate the immune system and therefore combat cancer. However, little is known about beta-glucan's potential to reduce cancer risk in humans.

A number of other natural substances (including psyllium and glucomannan) may also help reduce cholesterol levels, according to past research.

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Carob for Healthy Cholesterol Levels

breakfast smoothie
Carob smoothie. Brian Macdonald/Photodisc/Getty Images

Perhaps best known as a sweetener or chocolate substitute, carob is also touted as a natural remedy for high cholesterol (which is linked to the development of heart disease). When used to reduce cholesterol levels, carob is typically consumed in pulp form (often as an ingredient in energy bars and other "functional foods").

Several small studies (including a 2010 report from Plant Foods for Human Nutrition) suggest that including carob pod fiber in your diet may help decrease LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol) and total cholesterol levels. However, more research needs to be conducted before carob can be recommended as a treatment for high cholesterol.

Related: Using Carob for High Cholesterol

Some tasty ways of using carob include this carob chia pudding. To increase your intake of fiber (the substance said to be responsible for carob's cholesterol-lowering effects), make sure to include high-fiber foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables in your daily diet. 

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Curbing Cholesterol with Pomegranate

pomegranates
Pomegranate seeds. Jennifer K Rakowski/Moment/Getty Images

In recent years, pomegranate juice has gained recognition for its possibly heart-health-boosting benefits. However, there's also some evidence that the peel of the pomegranate fruit may enhance heart health as well. Loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, pomegranate peel may help your heart in part by keeping cholesterol in check.

Some of the most recent research on pomegranate peel and cholesterol control includes an animal-based study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2014. Involving a group of animals placed on a high-fat diet, the study found that the animals experienced a significant drop in total cholesterol after being treated with pomegranate peel extract.

Related: Health Benefits of Pomegranate Peel Extract

Try eating pomegranate seeds as a snack or sprinkling them on yogurt. Also try this pomegranate beet salad recipe or this spinach-pomegranate salad recipe.

Other fruit extracts that may aid in cholesterol management include compounds sourced from goji berriesacaiblack currant, and chokeberry. Abundant in berries and grapes, a class of compounds called anthocyanins may also help improve your cholesterol levels.

Source:

Sadeghipour A, Eidi M, Ilchizadeh Kavgani A, Ghahramani R, Shahabzadeh S, Anissian A. Lipid Lowering Effect of Punica granatum L. Peel in High Lipid Diet Fed Male Rats. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:432650. doi: 10.1155/2014/432650. Epub 2014 Sep 10.

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Cocoa For The Heart

cocoa powder
Cocoa powder. Stepan Popov/E+/Getty Images

In past research, cocoa extract has been found to boost defense against heart disease, keep cholesterol, and reverse blood vessel damage in people with diabetes, due to the flavonoid content. Several studies suggest that consuming chocolate may lower cholesterol, but more research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

More: The Benefits of Cocoa

Upping your cocoa intake may also promote the growth of probiotic bacteria, beneficial bacteria shown to stimulate your immune system and enhance gut health. In a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that certain antioxidants in cocoa may act as prebiotics (non-digestible substances that serve as an energy source for probiotics and help the so-called "friendly bacteria" to thrive). 

For the study, 22 healthy subjects drank either an antioxidant-rich or antioxidant-poor cocoa drink every day for four weeks. Study results showed that daily consumption of the antioxidant-rich drink significantly increased the participants' counts of probiotic bacteria. The antioxidant-rich drink also appeared to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.

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Cutting Cholesterol with Kefir

kefir
A glass of kefir. esemelwe/E+/Getty Images

Like yogurt, kefir is a food usually made from fermented milk. Rich in probiotics, kefir is said to enhance health by boosting immunity, stimulating the digestive system, and protecting against a number of common health problems. For example, many proponents suggest that kefir can shield heart health by keeping your cholesterol in check.

Related: 4 Benefits of Kefir

While there's very little evidence that kefir can reduce your cholesterol levels, preliminary research indicates that soy-milk-based kefir may offer some cholesterol-fighting benefits. If you're looking for an all-natural way to lower your cholesterol, try sipping green tea, eating moderate amounts of soy, and using cinnamon to flavor your food. In addition, some studies show that consuming oats, flaxseed, and hibiscus tea on a regular basis may help prevent high cholesterol. 

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Can Acai Curb Your Cholesterol?

acai fruit
Acai fruit. Brasil2/E+/Getty Images

When it comes to watching your cholesterol and staving off heart disease, a healthy diet is essential. In fact, a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that middle-aged men and women who followed a heart-healthy diet (including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, oily fish, and limited intake of sugar and salt) for about three months experienced a significant decrease in cholesterol levels.

For more help in lowering your cholesterol levels, a natural remedy known as acai may be beneficial. Although research on acai's potentially cholesterol-cutting effects is limited, some preliminary studies suggest that the antioxidant-rich berry may help reduce your levels of LDL cholesterol.

A class of antioxidant compounds found in acai, anthocyanins are thought to lower blood pressure and fight atherosclerosis in addition to curbing cholesterol. You can also load up on anthocyanins by getting your fill of tart cherries, blackberries, blueberries, and grapes.

Here is a recipe for three acai bowls and an acai breakfast bowl.

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Plant Sterols for a Healthy Heart

almonds
Almonds are a source of plant sterols. Cultura/Nils Hendrik Mueller/Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

Found naturally in a number of foods, plant sterols are chemicals similar in structure and function to cholesterol. According to past research, consuming foods rich in plant sterols may help reduce your body's absorption of cholesterol and—in turn—reduce your risk of heart disease (the number-one cause of death in the country). 

A study from Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases examined 108 people with metabolic syndrome, who consumed either a plant-sterol-enriched yogurt drink or a plant-sterol-free yogurt drink twice daily for two months. By the study's end, members of the plant-sterol group showed a significantly greater decrease in total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol (compared to participants in the control group). According to the study's authors, these findings suggest that phytosterols may help reduce risk of heart disease among people with metabolic syndrome.

To incorporate plant sterols into your diet, boost your intake of foods like almonds, peanuts, vegetable oils (including olive oil and sesame oil), wheat bran, and wheat germ. In addition, many fortified foods (such as cereal and orange juice) are enriched with plant sterols.

While dietary supplements containing plant sterols are often touted as a natural treatment for high cholesterol, few studies have tested the cholesterol-fighting effects of taking plant sterols in supplement form.

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Apples for Heart Attack Prevention?

apples
Apples. Verdina Anna/Moment Open/Getty Images

About 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One key risk factor for heart attack is ischemia, a condition marked by blockage of your coronary arteries and decreased blood flow to your heart. While a number of healthy lifestyle practices (including following a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, and managing your stress) are crucial for fending off heart attacks, there's some evidence that natural remedies such as apple pectin  may help in combating ischemia as well.

A soluble fiber naturally present in apples, apple pectin has been tested in few scientific studies. Still, some preliminary research (including an animal-based study published in Nutrition Research and Practice in 2014) suggests that apple pectin may help fight ischemia. In tests on rats, the study's authors found that apple pectin helped shield cardiac muscle cells from injury related to blockage of the arteries.

Related: The Benefits of Apple Pectin

There's also some evidence that apple pectin may enhance heart health and aid in the prevention of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. However, more research is needed before apple pectin can be recommended for protection against any type of heart problem.

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Can Walnuts Boost Your Heart Health?

walnuts
Walnuts. Giuseppe Esposito/Moment/Getty Images

Rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, minerals, and essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid), English walnuts are often touted as a natural means of enhancing cardiovascular health and fighting off heart disease.

There's currently a lack of scientific studies examining the effects of walnuts on heart health. However, in a 2011 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers had 36 adults add about 1.06 ounces of black walnuts or English walnuts to their diets for 30 days. Results revealed that consumption of English walnuts led to greater improvements in several measures of cardiovascular health (compared to consumption of black walnuts).

To shield your heart health and lower your risk of heart disease, it's crucial to keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in check, manage your stress and weight, follow a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. 

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Cranberry for a Healthy Heart?

cranberry
Cranberries. Westend61/Getty Images

Research suggests that cranberries may boost heart health. In test-tube experiments, scientists compared the cardioprotective effects of cranberry juice to those of apple, cocoa, red wine, and green tea. Their findings revealed that cranberry juice contains compounds known to prevent the constriction of blood vessels and, in turn, protect against high blood pressure.

Further research is needed to understand whether cranberries can promote cardiovascular health in humans. Previous studies have shown that the antioxidant-rich berry may help prevent urinary tract infections and reduce risk of gum disease. 

A number of other natural substances are known to shield heart health. Flaxseed may help keep cholesterol in check, for instance, while vitamin D could help curb inflammation (a key risk factor for heart disease). 

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Tips

15 Heart-Healthy Superfoods
Cathy Wong

If you're considering any trying any form of alternative medicine, it's crucial that you speak with your physician before making any changes to your regimen. Self-treating and avoiding conventional care can have serious consequences.

Sources:

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Fitschen PJ, Rolfhus KR, Winfrey MR, Allen BK, Manzy M, Maher MA. Cardiovascular effects of consumption of black versus English walnuts. J Med Food. 2011 Sep;14(9):890-8. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2010.0169. Epub 2011 Apr 13.

Kim, Y.-I., Hirai, S., Takahashi, H., Goto, T., Ohyane, C., Tsugane, T., Konishi, C., Fujii, T., Inai, S., Iijima, Y., Aoki, K., Shibata, D., Takahashi, N. and Kawada, T. (2011), 9-oxo-10(E),12(E)-octadecadienoic acid derived from tomato is a potent PPAR α agonist to decrease triglyceride accumulation in mouse primary hepatocytes. Mol. Nutr. Food Res., 55: 585–593. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201000264

Hossain S, Hashimoto M, Choudhury EK, Alam N, Hussain S, Hasan M, Choudhury SK, Mahmud I. Dietary mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) ameliorates atherogenic lipid in hypercholesterolaemic rats. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2003 Jul;30(7):470-5.

Lee YJ1, Choi DH, Kim EJ, Kim HY, Kwon TO, Kang DG, Lee HS. Hypotensive, hypolipidemic, and vascular protective effects of Morus alba L. in rats fed an atherogenic diet. Am J Chin Med. 2011;39(1):39-52.

Lim SH, Kim MY, Lee J. Apple pectin, a dietary fiber, ameliorates myocardial injury by inhibiting apoptosis in a rat model of ischemia/reperfusion. Nutr Res Pract. 2014 Aug;8(4):391-7. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2014.8.4.391. Epub 2014 May 15.

Pan A, Yu D, Demark-Wahnefried W, Franco OH, Lin X. Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;90(2):288-97. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27469. Epub 2009 Jun 10.

Reidlinger DP, Darzi J, Hall WL, Seed PT, Chowienczyk PJ, Sanders TA; Cardiovascular disease risk REduction Study (CRESSIDA) investigators. How effective are current dietary guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in healthy middle-aged and older men and women? A randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 May;101(5):922-30. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.097352. Epub 2015 Mar 18.

Ruiz-Roso B, Quintela JC, de la Fuente E, Haya J, Pérez-Olleros L. Insoluble carob fiber rich in polyphenols lowers total and LDL cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic sujects. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Mar;65(1):50-6. doi: 10.1007/s11130-009-0153-9.

Sialvera TE, Pounis GD, Koutelidakis AE, Richter DJ, Yfanti G, Kapsokefalou M, Goumas G, Chiotinis N, Diamantopoulos E, Zampelas A. Phytosterols supplementation decreases plasma small and dense LDL levels in metabolic syndrome patients on a westernized type diet. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Oct;22(10):843-8. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2010.12.004. Epub 2011 Feb 12.

Tzounis X, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Vulevic J, Gibson GR, Kwik-Uribe C, Spencer JP. Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jan;93(1):62-72. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.000075. Epub 2010 Nov 10.

Wolever TM, Tosh SM, Gibbs AL, Brand-Miller J, Duncan AM, Hart V, Lamarche B, Thomson BA, Duss R, Wood PJ. Physicochemical properties of oat β-glucan influence its ability to reduce serum LDL cholesterol in humans: a randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct;92(4):723-32. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2010.29174. Epub 2010 Jul 21.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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