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Eating for a healthy heart

Keeping your ticker in top condition is all about exercising regularly, cutting down on smoking, if you're a smoker, and, of course, eating the healthiest foods for your heart.

However, it can get a little confusing when you’re trying to find the perfect heart-healthy diet. Are there any particular fruits that are good for the heart? Can you find heart-healthy snacks to tide you over ‘til tea time?

Find out the best heart-healthy foods to eat, why they’re good for your heart, and how to create delicious heart-healthy meals, below.

What are heart-healthy foods?

To start creating those heart-healthy meals, we first need to look at the foods that offer the biggest benefits.

A heart-healthy diet is all about including more high-fibre foods and good fats in your eating habits. We’re talking about fruits and veg, whole-grain carbs, sunflower oils, and oily fish, which all contain the nutrients you need to keep your heart in great shape.

To discover more foods that are good for your heart, read our top 10 heart-healthy foods, below:

  • Whole-grain alternatives: No one wants to wave goodbye to bread, rice, or pasta from their weekly diet. Thankfully, you can opt for whole-grain alternatives, such as brown bread and brown rice, which are much healthier and good sources of fibre. Perfect for that heart-healthy meal plan!

  • Oily fish: Fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are full of omega-3 fatty acids that help boost circulation and manage blood clotting. Plus, they serve as tasty alternatives to red meat. 

  • Fruits: From juicy watermelons to sweet berries, so many fruits are bursting with valuable vitamins and minerals. By eating your five-a-day, you can help to keep your blood pressure low and your heart happy. Some fruits that are good for the heart include blueberries, bananas, and oranges.

  • Vegetables: Just like fruits, vegetables are nutrient-rich, coming pre-packed with essential vitamins and minerals which increase blood flow and lower blood pressure. Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and lettuce, are your best bet here. 

  • Fibre-rich breakfast foods: In addition to fruit and veg, you can get your fibre fix from breakfast staples like porridge and bran. Eating plenty of fibre is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, keeping your heart healthy and strong, so don’t be shy with your whole-grain cereal or cereal biscuits!

  • Seeds and nuts: If you’re looking for a heart-healthy snack, you can’t go wrong with seeds and nuts. Pumpkin seeds, in particular, are great for maintaining healthy blood vessels, as are almonds. Just be careful of salted nuts, as they can often have the opposite effect and can cause you to over-eat. 

  • Unsaturated fats: While saturated and trans fats found in fried foods, cakes, and pastries, are bad for the heart, unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats like those from the humble avocado, come jam-packed with good cholesterol. 

  • Calcium-rich foods: Calcium is a staple of any heart-healthy diet, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of milk and eating sugar-free yoghurts. If you’d prefer to avoid dairy entirely, you can also get calcium from the likes of tofu and leafy greens, such as kale and spinach.

  • Herbs and spices: There are many herbs and spices, like cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric, that boast protective properties for the heart, reducing inflammation. Also, while not technically a herb or spice, garlic is a fantastic inclusion to heart-healthy meals, thanks to its antioxidant and protective properties.

  • Olive, sunflower, rapeseed, and vegetable oils: When cooking, you should avoid the likes of butter, palm oil, and coconut oil, which are all high in saturated fats. Instead, opt for olive, sunflower, rapeseed, or vegetable oil, as they are brimming with the good fats you need for a heart-healthy diet. 

How to create a heart-healthy diet

Now you know the healthiest foods for your heart, it’s time to create delicious heart-healthy meals that will always have you searching for seconds. To help you rustle up mouth-watering recipes that focus on heart-healthy foods, considering the follow cooking tips:

  • Explore and experiment with healthy recipes: Whoever said that eating healthily needs to be dull and tasteless? There are so many heart-healthy meals that are just as delicious as the non-healthy recipes – it’s just a case of finding your favourites. If you need any inspiration, take a look at our tasty heart-healthy mango chicken wraps and Cajun honey salmon in our nutrition articles.

  • Include unsaturated fats, wherever possible: Unsaturated fats are essential for a heart-healthy diet. That’s why you need to include as much as possible in your meal prep. Add avocado to your toast in the morning, pop some olives in your lunchtime salad, or serve up salmon in the evening.

  • Season with berries, nuts, and seeds: Nuts and seeds, like walnuts and chia seeds, go well with many heart-healthy recipes. They work especially well as toppings for porridge or unsweetened muesli. Sweeter toppings, like strawberries and blueberries, are also fantastic for making sure you can have heart-healthy desserts, too. Anyone for rice pudding with a dollop of jam?

  • Make every meal heart-healthy: When balancing a heart-healthy diet, it’s important to go all in. For example, you don’t want your efforts in the morning to be spoiled by a high calorie dinner. That’s why you’ll want to take a heart-healthy approach to every meal possible, allowing you to truly reap the benefits of all the extra fibre and good fats. To start your day on the right track, read our delicious healthy breakfast ideas

  • Try making heart-healthy snacks: While snacking is often associated with an unhealthy diet, there are plenty of heart-healthy snacks to keep your ticker in top condition. Go for something quick and easy, such as yoghurt and fruit.

  • Don’t cut out everything: At the end of the day, a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be healthy 24/7. You should still allow yourself small indulgences and, most importantly, enjoy your food!

What foods should I avoid for heart health?

As well as knowing the best foods for the heart, you should also know what to avoid eating to maintain a healthy heart.

Bear in mind, we aren’t advising you to cut out these foods entirely. You can still treat yourself to your favourite snacks and meals, just as long as it’s within moderation. Some of the foods to avoid if you want a healthy heart include: 

  • Salt: Too much salt increases the risk of high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Foods high in salt include bacon, pizza, ready meals, tinned soups, crisps, and condiments, such as mayo and tomato ketchup.

  • Saturated fats and trans fats: Both types of fats can raise the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood, which can cause heart-related problems. Foods with high saturated fat include cheese, cakes, and biscuits, while trans fats can be found in fried foods, stick margarine, and frozen pizza.

  • Alcohol: Drinking alcohol temporarily increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Persistently drinking makes these effects more long-term, overall weakening your heart muscle and causing an irregular heartbeat. If you enjoy drinking alcohol, it’s always important to follow the recommended guidelines.

Get heart healthy with Benenden Health

Whether it’s creating a better diet for your heart or keeping up the motivation to exercise, it can be difficult to do it alone. With a Benenden Health membership, you can find help and support from a network of medical specialists, including assistance with any efforts to eat for a healthy heart.  

Just a handful of the services and expertise you can enjoy with Benenden Health include: 

  • 24/7 GP and mental health helplines
  • Access to well-being and fitness classes
  • Private medical diagnostics

Some of the services you can enjoy with Benenden Health are included from day one of your membership, though some more specialised services require an active membership for at least six months. 

You can see what’s included with our Benenden Health memberships on our healthcare page, or you can read plenty of helpful tips and advice in our Be Healthy hub.