Heart Health: A Diet And Supplement Guide


Here’s a sobering statistic: Every 34 seconds, someone in the United States will experience a heart attack or other serious heart-related event. And approximately one person will die from one of these events every minute, making it the No. 1 killer in America. (1) That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to avoid becoming one of these statistics. Compelling scientific evidence suggests that giving your cardiovascular system the nutrients it needs can improve your heart health, starting today.

Your heart is the hardest working organ in your body and it’s the centerpiece of your cardiovascular system. Thanks to its pumping action, a healthy heart constantly circulates blood throughout the body, carrying oxygen and nutrients to your organs and tissues via a series of arteries. When everything’s working correctly, the heart is like a high-performance machine. Unfortunately, there are a number of things that can undermine heart health. Some, like advancing age or a family history of heart disease, are beyond your control. But there are other factors you can do something about! Some modifiable risk factors include high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, being overweight or obese, or being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. (2) But it’s often your daily habits that influence your heart health the most. While some habits—smoking, being physically inactive, overindulging in alcohol, or experiencing chronic stress—are well-known enemies of a healthy heart, the most common threat to cardiovascular health is the all-American diet filled with processed foods. (3)(4)

Build a heart-healthy diet

Keeping close tabs over what you eat is one of the most powerful ways to support a healthy heart. Research confirms that people with a history of heart disease who eat a healthy diet filled with whole foods significantly lowered their risk of a heart attack compared to those eating a diet filled with nutritionally-bankrupt processed foods. (5) Those processed foods— so prevalent in Western diets — are high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Research in the journal Nutrients shows that these foods can boost your odds developing heart disease by up to 20 percent. (6) Feasting on whole, unprocessed food, however, can strengthen your heart health.

piece of salmon, an avocado, beans, fruit, tomatoes, oil put together to shape a heart

Scientific evidence suggests that giving your cardiovascular system the nutrients it needs can improve your heart health.

So what are the best foods for heart health? Here’s your go-to shopping list:

The produce aisle

Adding plenty of colorful, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to your meals has been shown to reduce both oxidative stress and inflammation— two enemies of healthy arteries. (7) Want the most antioxidant bang for your buck? Buy organic whenever possible. While it costs a bit more, a study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organically grown fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of heart-healthy antioxidants than conventional produce. (8)

The dairy case

Bypass the low-fat and the fat-free items and go for full-fat dairy. New research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that people who ate full-fat dairy had a 42 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death — including death from stroke — than those who ate the least. (9)

Add some eggs

It turns out all those experts warning you away from eating egg yolks were wrong! New findings in the journal Heart show that eating an egg every day actually slashed the risk of stroke by 26 percent and the odds of dying from any type of heart-related event by 18 percent. (10) Get even more from your daily scramble by opting for omega-3 fortified eggs and by adding a couple of handfuls of veggies to the pan.

The meat section

Contrary to popular belief, a diet that includes lean red meat can actually be good for your heart. While poultry is a good source of protein, recent research suggests that eating lean red meat on a regular basis can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels while also reducing blood pressure. (11) Bonus: Lean cuts of beef are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, zinc, and iron. (12)

Go fish

Cold-water fish is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. According to the American Heart Association, eating fatty fish once or twice weekly can lower the overall risk of cardiovascular disease. (13) Look for low mercury varieties like rainbow trout, wild Alaskan or Pacific salmon, and sardines.

Pick healthy fats

Not all fats are bad for heart health. In fact, some are essential! While extra virgin olive oil (rightly) gets all the buzz for its cardiovascular benefits, avocado oil’s cholesterol balancing and anti-inflammatory properties make it another heart-healthy fat. (14) And, even though it’s high in saturated fat, new evidence shows that coconut oil can be a beneficial addition to your diet thanks to its ability to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. (15)

Grains, beans, and nuts

According to the American Heart Association, whole grains and beans are heart healthy sources of fiber that can improve cholesterol levels and reduce the overall risk of cardiovascular disease. (16) (17) And snacking on a handful of nuts at least five times a week can lower the overall risk of heart disease by 14 percent and the risk of coronary heart disease by 20 percent. (18)

Supplements for heart health

As hard as we try, it’s not always possible to eat a diet that supports heart health. You can fill in the gaps with the following five supplements, which have been shown to support a healthy cardiovascular system.

Aged garlic extract

This multi-tasking supplement has been clinically shown to reduce inflammation, improve your antioxidant status, keep arteries flexible, decrease cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure. (19) (20) Research also shows that aged garlic extract can also reduce the buildup of both unstable plaque and calcium deposits that can reduce blood flow in your arteries and increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. (21) (22)

Coenzyme Q10

Boasting anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, Coenzyme Q10 provides energy to heart cells and protects them from free radical damage. (23) (24) Yet as we age, our body’s ability to make CoQ10 declines, making supplementation essential. But not all CoQ10 supplements are equally effective. Here’s why: CoQ10 comes in two different forms—ubiquinol and ubiquinone. Ubiquinol is the reduced, active, and more usable form of CoQ10 and accounts for 90 percent of the CoQ10 that’s in the blood. (25) Always opt for the ubiquinol form instead of ubiquinone when choosing a CoQ10 supplement.

fish oil softgel supplements in clear jar and in wooden spoon

Fish oil supplements might help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of dying from any type of cardiovascular event.

Fish oil

The best way to get the benefits of fish oil is by eating omega-3 rich fish twice a week. But if you’re at high risk of coronary heart disease, adding a fish oil supplement might help lower your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of dying from any type of cardiovascular event. That was the conclusion of researchers after analyzing 34 studies pinpointing the heart health benefits of supplementation. (26) But because fish oil at high doses can increase the risk of bleeding, talk to your doctor before taking an omega-3 supplement, especially if you already take blood-thinning medication.

Magnesium

This mineral is essential for a healthy heart, yet many people don’t get enough. Clinical studies have shown that low levels can cause arrhythmias, spasms in the blood vessels, high blood pressure, angina, and blood clots. There is also a strong link between low magnesium levels and the formation of calcium deposits in the arteries that can contribute to atherosclerosis. (27) Research at State University of New York shows that magnesium also acts as a natural calcium channel blocker by relaxing blood vessels and increasing the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart while also reducing the heart’s workload. (28)

Probiotics

If you thought beneficial bacteria were just good for the gut, think again. A growing number of studies show that probiotics are also good for your heart! One review of 26 clinical trials and two meta-analyses featured in the journal Nutrition Review found that L. reuteri significantly lowered LDL and total cholesterol while improving other risk factors like inflammation. (29) Another study review found that taking a probiotic containing multiple species of beneficial bacteria lowered systolic blood pressure by 3.56 mm/Hg and diastolic pressure by 2.38 mm/Hg. (30) For the most benefit, check labels to make sure your probiotic contains “live” bacteria at the time of consumption.

Now that you have all the tools you need to bolster nutrition for heart health, get smart and bless your heart, the healthy way! We recommend you always speak to a health practitioner when it comes to your health and wellness.

  1. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.cir.0000441139.02102.80
  2. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/lower-risk/risk-factors.htm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/behavior.htm
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633295/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21575619
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793267/pdf/nutrients-10-00039.pdf
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2606994/
  8. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/higher-antioxidant-and-lower-cadmium-concentrations-and-lower-incidence-of-pesticide-residues-in-organically-grown-crops-a-systematic-literature-review-and-metaanalyses/33F09637EAE6C4ED119E0C4BFFE2D5B1
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30007304
  10. https://heart.bmj.com/content/104/21/1756
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27881394
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=15927927
  13. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000574
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955619/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=29511019
  16. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/the-benefits-of-beans-and-legumes
  17. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber
  18. http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/70/20/2519
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30619868
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22234974
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16484554
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=26764322
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25126052
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=21996047
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27128225
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28062061
  27. https://openheart.bmj.com/content/5/2/e000775
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10712282
  29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=24330093
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=25047574