You are what you eat! The famous saying holds some truth because diet affects your health in many ways. A balanced diet positively affects almost all the functions of your body. For example, a balanced heart-healthy diet can prevent you from several heart ailments. The heart is an essential organ of your body. Hence, maintaining your heart health is like investing in a healthy future. A healthy heart protects you from many degenerative diseases and prevents the risk of sudden heart attacks and strokes. So, in short, it grants you a long and healthy life. This article talks about foods, diets and much more for a healthy heart.
Foods and Heart Health
There is a direct connection between diet and health. Over time, many new types of diets have evolved and gained publicity. Although these modern-day diets might have some benefits, a balanced diet never gets old. A balanced diet includes all the nutrients and food groups in a balanced way. It does not have any harmful effects like some fad diets.
A balanced diet is the optimum and the most reliable diet you can follow for good heart health. 65% of energy should come from complex carbohydrate sources. At the same time, 10-13% should come from good protein sources and the rest from good fat. Here is how you can plan it:
- Make a combined flour from complex carbohydrate sources like whole grains and millets. Use the flour instead of refined flour for regular bread, roti etc.
- Get high biological value protein from eggs, chicken, fish etc., and other lean meat sources.
- Consume fats from good sources like nuts, oilseeds, fatty fish etc. Some examples are tuna, salmon, mackerel etc.
- You should get adequate vitamins and minerals from colourful fruits and vegetables. You will also get a fair amount of fibre. In addition, these foods will help keep your heart healthy.
Food Groups for a Healthy Heart
Complex carbohydrates include whole grains and millets like wheat, oats, Jowar, Bajra, ragi etc. They are high in fibre that helps reach early satiety. However, you should consume complex carbohydrates with the grain’s bran for getting enough fibre. It is beneficial as they are rich in antioxidants, including vitamins, minerals, phenolic acids, phytoestrogens, etc. These help to reduce inflammation in the heart and also help to reduce plaque formation. As a result, it helps improve your heart health.
1. Lean Meat, Eggs and Pulses
These foods are rich protein sources that provide the body with essential amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks of the body. They help keep the heart muscles healthy, which maintains heart health. Examples are chicken, fish, egg and various beans and pulses.
Fruits are a crucial part of a balanced meal. Besides their multiple benefits, several fruits are rich in antioxidants. These antioxidants reduce inflammation, which ultimately reduces plaque formation in the arteries. As a result, fruits help improve your heart health. Some of the best fruits to consider are berries, citrus fruits, bananas, apples, papaya, melons etc.
Vegetables are also rich in antioxidants. However, besides being antioxidant-rich, some vegetables are also rich in vitamins and minerals. In addition, they have a reasonable amount of soluble fibre, which aids digestion. Fibre helps to keep the heart healthy by ensuring normal blood pressure. These properties of vegetables help improve your heart health. Some examples are tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, gourds, onion, roots and tubers etc.
4. Low-Fat Dairy
Dairy gives you the required dose of calcium and protein. Calcium plays a significant role in maintaining the body’s physiological functions. For example, it facilitates reactions that help support your body and heart’s health.
5. Nuts and Oilseeds
Nuts and oilseeds are excellent sources of good fats like omega 3 and 6. Omega 3 and 6 are polyunsaturated fats that protect the heart from inflammation. In addition, these healthy fats protect the body’s vital organs like the heart. These also act as antioxidants and protect from inflammation. Some examples are cashews, almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds etc.
Heart Healthy Diet Plan: Foods to Eat
Quinoa (Complex Carbohydrate)
Quinoa is also known as the pseudo-cereal because it is a plant seed used as a cereal grain. It is gluten-free, fibre-rich, and is rich in vitamins and minerals. In addition, it is protein-rich and contains a reasonable amount of iron.
Studies demonstrate the positive impact of quinoa in preventing heart diseases. The antioxidants in quinoa help reduce inflammation and prevent plaque formation in the arteries. As a result, it helps protect the heart. Furthermore, quinoa also contains magnesium, which dilates the arteries, prevents blockage, and helps maintain a healthy heart.
One hundred grams of quinoa contains:
- Energy: 368 kcal
- Protein: 14.1g
- Fat: 6.07g
- Carbohydrate: 64.2 g
- Calcium: 47 mg
- Magnesium: 197 mg
- Fibre: 7 g
- Phosphorous: 457 mg
- Potassium: 563 mg
- Iron: 4.7 mg
Best ways to Consume Quinoa
- You can consume it as a breakfast cereal by adding boiled quinoa to milk.
- Eat it as a savoury snack. You can add chicken and light spices to make it delicious and more beneficial.
- You can mash it and make a pancake out of it with your favourite fruits.
Ragi (Complex Carbohydrate)
Ragi, the pink millet, has many health benefits. For example, ragi flour has no cholesterol and sodium, making it heart-healthy. In addition, ragi is rich in fibre and vitamin B3, also known as niacin. The fibre content helps increase good cholesterol levels or HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) and reduces bad cholesterol or LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein). It also prevents heart blockage and plaque formation.
One hundred grams of Ragi contains:
- Energy: 378 kcal
- Protein: 11g
- Fat: 4.22g
- Carbohydrate: 72.8 g
- Calcium: 8 mg
- Magnesium: 114 mg
- Fibre: 8.5 g
- Phosphorous: 285 mg
- Potassium: 195 mg
- Iron: 3.01 mg
Best ways to Consume Ragi
- You can use it to make delicious pancakes.
- Add it into the batter of your chocolate cupcake instead of refined flour and make your chocolate cupcakes healthy.
- You can also use ragi to make a millet dosa, uttapam, bread, roti etc.
Kidney Beans: Heart Healthy Legumes
Due to the hypocholesterolemic properties of kidney beans, their regular intake helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, research suggests that kidney beans are beneficial when used as a meat substitute.
As per studies, regular intake of kidney beans leads to decreased LDL cholesterol, which improves overall heart health. In addition, kidney beans contain less saturated fat and high amounts of protein, contributing to a healthy heart. The potassium in kidney beans also contributes to better heart health by promoting better heart muscle functioning.
One hundred grams of kidney beans contain:
- Energy: 127 kcals
- Protein: 7.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 20.2 g
- Starch: 2.0 g
- Sugars: 0.26 g
- Fats: 0.45 g
- Fibre: 5.7 g
Best ways to Consume Kidney Beans
- You can consume them as a side dish with brown rice or multigrain roti.
- You can also add it to your salads with tomato, cucumber, lemon etc.
- Make a dip and consume it with baked ragi chips.
Chickpeas: The Heart-Shaped Legumes
Chickpeas are the beige coloured legume, having a heart shape if seen after immersion. It has no cholesterol, and it is rich in fibre, which helps lower cholesterol and enhances heart health. In addition, it is rich in potassium, B vitamins, magnesium and selenium. All these nutrients prevent cardiovascular diseases and help in maintaining heart health.
One hundred grams of chickpeas contain:
- Energy: 164kCal
- Protein: 8.86 g
- Fat: 7.6 g
- Carbohydrate: 27.4 g
- Calcium: 49 mg
- Magnesium: 48 mg
- Fibre: 7.6 g
- Phosphorous: 168 mg
- Potassium: 291 mg
- Iron: 2.89 mg
Best ways to Consume Chickpeas
- Use chickpeas in curry form or dry side dish with brown rice or multigrain roti
- You can prepare a salad with tomato, cucumber, lemon etc.
- As a hummus (dip)
Sweet Potato: A Heart-Healthy Tuber
The antioxidants in sweet potatoes help reduce chronic inflammation. Inflammation leads to various conditions like diabetes and heart diseases. Since sweet potatoes are one of the best anti-inflammatory foods, they help prevent cardiovascular diseases.
Several studies show that sweet potatoes help reduce inflammation. As a result, they improve cardiovascular diseases, irritable bowel syndrome etc. In addition, sweet potatoes lessen the secretion of inflammatory components of the immune system. Therefore, they are beneficial for heart health.
One hundred grams of sweet potatoes contain:
- Calories: 116kCals
- Protein: 1.49g
- Fats: 0.14g
- Carbohydrates: 27.5g
- Fibre: 3.9g
- Calcium: 14mg
- Iron: 0.52mg
- Magnesium: 18mg
Best ways to Consume Sweet Potatoes
- You can consume it as a side with your steak
- Make a salad with veggies and sprouts
- You can use it as a soup
Carrot: The Fibre-Rich Veggie
Carrot, the orange coloured fibre, contains an active ingredient called carotenoids. It is a well-known fact that it is suitable for the eye because of its vitamin A content. In addition, carrots are antioxidant-rich, making them beneficial for heart health. That is because the antioxidants help reduce inflammation and help maintain a healthy heart.
One hundred grams of carrots contain:
- Energy: 41 kcal
- Protein: 0.93g
- Fat: 0.24 g
- Carbohydrate: 9.58 g
- Calcium: 33 mg
- Magnesium: 12 mg
- Fibre: 2.8 g
- Phosphorus: 35 mg
- Potassium: 320 mg
Best ways to Consume Carrots
- You can eat raw carrots as a salad
- Add it as an ingredient to your soup
- You can add it to dips for a healthy and tasty twist.
Strawberry: The Delicious Fruit
It is the most loved fruit and the only fruit with seeds on its outer layer. It tastes delicious to your taste buds and is also healthy and nutritious. In addition, it is rich in vitamin C and fibre. These two components are a solid combination for fighting inflammation. Furthermore, they help reduce the risk of plaque formation, high blood pressure, and chances of cardiovascular diseases.
One hundred grams of strawberries contain:
- Energy: 32 kcal
- Protein: 0.7g
- Fat: 0.3 g
- Carbohydrate: 7.68 g
- Calcium: 16 mg
- Magnesium: 13 mg
- Fibre: 2 g
- Phosphorous: 24 mg
- Potassium: 153 mg
- Vitamin C: 58.8 mg
Best ways to Consume Strawberries
- Add it to your smoothie.
- You can add it to your ice cream or make ice cream with it
- You can consume them raw
Orange: The Hydrating Heart-Healthy Fruit
Since orange is a citrus fruit, it contains antioxidants and is a rich source of fibre and potassium. These three primary nutrients help in maintaining heart health. In addition, orange consumption significantly lowers inflammation protecting the heart and body from many diseases.
One hundred grams of oranges contain:
- Energy: 52 kcal
- Protein: 0.91 g
- Fat: 0.15g
- Carbohydrate: 11.8g
- Calcium: 43mg
- Magnesium: 10.7mg
- Fibre: 2g
- Phosphorous: 23mg
- Potassium: 166mg
- Vitamin C: 59.1mg
Best ways to Consume Oranges
- Eat it raw into your fruit salads.
- You can prepare a delicious and hydrating orange juice
- As an addition to fruit kheer (a dish with milk and semolina cooked together, orange can be added instead of sugar)
Pumpkin: The Potassium-Rich Veggie
Pumpkin is a popular vegetable. It is rich in potassium, which prevents plaque formation in the arteries. Studies also demonstrate the potentially novel causative role of dietary potassium intake in regulating vascular calcification and stiffness and the uncovered mechanism that plays a therapeutic role in controlling the vascular disease. In addition, pumpkin is also rich in antioxidants which reduce inflammation, helping with heart health improvement.
One hundred grams of pumpkin contains:
- Energy: 26 kcal
- Protein: 1 g
- Fat: 0.1 g
- Carbohydrate: 6.5 g
- Calcium: 21 mg
- Magnesium: 12 mg
- Fibre: 0.5 g
- Phosphorous: 44 mg
- Potassium: 340 mg
- Vitamin C: 9 mg
Best ways to Consume Pumpkin
- As a sabzi with Jowar Roti or grilled or roast meat
- Cook up a soup
- As a salad with other veggies and seasonings
Approximately 95% of a tomato is water. The remaining 5% comes from carbohydrates and fibre. Tomatoes are rich in potassium, making them healthy for your blood pressure levels. High potassium intake facilitates the removal of excess sodium through kidneys and lowers its amount in the body. In addition, potassium is beneficial due to its effects on the arteries. It widens the arteries and relieves the accumulated and increased stress from the blood vessel walls, further reducing blood pressure.
As per a study, high potassium and low sodium intake reduce death risk from cardiac issues by 20%. Furthermore, tomatoes are high in fibre, potassium, vitamin C, and choline, beneficial to heart health. Moreover, tomatoes are famous for their antioxidant properties as they contain antioxidants like Lycopene, Beta Carotene, Lutein, Flavonoids etc.
One hundred grams of tomatoes contain:
- Calories: 18 kCal
- Water: 95%
- Protein: 0.9 grams
- Carbs: 3.9 grams
- Sugar: 2.6 grams
- Fibre: 1.2 grams
- Fat: 0.2 grams
Best ways to Consume Tomatoes
- You can eat them raw as a salad.
- Tomato sabzis, chutneys or even soups are ways to consume is another healthy way to consume tomatoes
- Use them as a dip to add flavour to other dishes
Walnuts contain protein and polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fat contains omega3 acids, healthy for the heart. In addition, walnuts contain Alpha-Linoleic acid, which helps burn fat faster and promotes heart health. As a result, walnuts are super nutritious for heart health, controlling blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the chances of heart diseases.
One serving (30 gm) of walnuts contain:
- Calories: 185kCal
- Fat: 18.5g
- Protein: 4g
- Carbs: 4g
- Fibre: 2g
- Copper: 50% of the DV
Best ways to Consume Walnuts
- Add to your breakfast cereal for crunch
- Consume it as a snack.
- It is a delicious treat to nut lovers as a tasty addition to smoothies.
Flax seeds are the seeds of the hemp plant. The health world is abuzz with the craze of flaxseeds these days. It contains potassium, which widens the arteries and protects heart health. Furthermore, it is rich in good fats like omega 3. In addition, flaxseeds are antioxidants, making them beneficial for the heart. They also lower bad cholesterol in the body and increase good cholesterol. All these properties of flaxseeds make them helpful for your heart health.
One hundred grams of flax seeds contains:
- Energy: 534 kcal
- Protein: 18.3g
- Fat: 42.2 g
- Carbohydrate: 28.9 g
- Calcium: 255 mg
- Magnesium: 392 mg
- Fibre: 27.3 g
- Phosphorous: 642 mg
- Potassium: 813 mg
- Iron: 5.73 mg
Best ways to Consume Flaxseeds
- It can be a healthy addition to your breakfast cereal for crunch
- You can add it to your buttermilks or smoothies or salad bowls
- Add it to your dips for a healthy twist,
Foods to Avoid
Although adding little salt during cooking is ok, you should avoid using table salt altogether. Also, refrain from consuming salted nuts, biscuits and snacks as they have high amounts of salt sprinkled on top. Excess salt leads to increased sodium in the body, alleviates blood pressure, and affects heart health.
Caffeine induces adrenaline secretion in your body, which increases blood pressure by reducing the width of blood vessels. In addition, adrenaline blocks the antidiuretic hormone. As a result, the width of the blood vessels reduces, resulting in high blood pressure and damaging heart health.
Alcohol consumption binds calcium to blood vessels. When calcium binds with the blood vessels, blood cannot pass easily through the vessels. Hence, it increases blood pressure and causes adverse effects on the heart.
Junk and Fast Foods
These foods are high in saturated fat, which increases cholesterol levels. It, in turn, affects the heart in the wrong way. Hence, you should avoid these foods. In addition, foods like pizza, burgers etc., also have high sodium content, making them even more harmful for your heart.
Some More Tips to Keep Your Heart Healthy
- Aim to sleep for 6-8 hours uninterrupted deep and sound.
- Stay physically active for five days a week. Work out 30 minutes each day or a total of 150 minutes every week.
- Reduce the amount of junk food you consume.
- Eat your meals at stipulated meal timing, following a proper dietary routine.
- Make sure that you include all the food groups in the diet.
- Follow a balanced diet and active lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
The heart’s primary function is to supply oxygen to the entire body. It also removes the deoxygenated blood from the organs and gives it to the lungs. Next, it goes to the heart from the lungs, and the heart again supplies oxygenated blood. An unhealthy lifestyle and dietary habits can hamper the normal functioning of your heart, leading to various issues. Hence, a healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial for the excellent functioning of the heart and body. However, following a heart-healthy diet is not difficult. You can make simple changes. For example, have complex carbohydrates instead of refined ones, go for a 30-45 minute brisk walk, sleep regularly and follow a balanced diet. However, you should always consult your doctor and nutritonist before making significant changes to your diet and lifestyle. But if your doctor allows you, these changes are worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What foods prevent heart attacks?
A. A balanced meal is the key to preventing heart attacks. Hence, you should eat foods that have complex carbohydrates (oats, whole wheat, ragi, quinoa), high biological value proteins (egg, chicken, fish etc.), good fats (plant oils, nuts, and seeds). Apart from these, foods rich in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables), essential vitamins, and minerals reduce inflammation and help maintain a healthy heart.
Q. How can I improve my heart health fast?
A. There is no shortcut to long term improvements. However, small and constant dietary changes can help. For example, eating a balanced meal including antioxidants, fibre, good fats, lean protein is helpful. In addition, following a regular sleeping pattern and a healthy lifestyle with 30–40 minutes of physical activity every day helps improve heart health. As soon as you incorporate and follow these things into your daily life, you can quickly improve your heart health.
Q. What’s the best vitamin for your heart?
A. All vitamins are suitable and beneficial for the heart. However, vitamin C is one of the most beneficial vitamins. It is a potent antioxidant. As a result, it helps reduce inflammation, which reduces plaque formation in the arteries and helps improve heart health. You can get your daily dose of vitamin c from lemon, oranges and other citrus fruits.
Q. How do you know if your heart is weak?
A. Some signs of an unhealthy heart are uneasiness, nausea, indigestion, reduced ability to think clearly, confusion, pain in the chest, Aryhythmia or facing irregular beating of the heart, uncomfortable breathing or difficulty in breathing easily. Notice these signs. If you’re facing any, consult a physician immediately.
Q. Is walking 30 minutes a day enough?
A. Yes, walking helps improve heart health and is enough for the initial days. Walking for 30-45 minutes a day will significantly improve heart health compared to a sedentary lifestyle. You can increase the duration and distance of the walk slowly and gradually. The speed of walking should also increase day by day. Brisk walking is considered better than slow or normal walking.
Q. Can keto be heart healthy?
A. There is contradictory evidence regarding keto’s role in maintaining a healthy heart. While keto’s short term weight loss is successful and helps improve your overall health, many cardiologists believe differently. As per them, the truth is, while the little-to-no carb, high-fat diet can dramatically help shed pounds, there haven’t been any long-term, randomised clinical studies to help determine the long-term effects on the body. Hence, it is always best to consult your doctor before starting a keto diet, especially for those with a pre-existing heart condition.
Q. Can a healthy heart have a cardiac arrest?
A. Healthy heart may have a cardiac arrest because cardiac arrest is generally due to severe stress. However, if a healthy heart is under extreme pressure, the intensity of the attack would be minor. While on the other hand, if an unhealthy heart has little stress, it may lead to a severe cardiac arrest. Furthermore, a healthier heart can recover from cardiac arrest faster and smoother than an unhealthy heart.