Diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption, are the main factors that contribute to heart health (or ill health, as the case may be). They also happen to be the most easily controlled.
Unlike genetics, what you eat and how much you exercise are entirely within your control.
Compared to finding extra time in your already busy week for exercise, you’re already eating three meals a day, so adjusting what it is you’re eating can be a pretty easy change.
Below is a list of foods that support healthy blood pressure levels based on the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the “Americanized” version of the Mediterranean diet.
So which foods made the cut?
Everyone knows that foods low in sodium and rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium may help you maintain healthy blood pressure, but let’s take a look at specific foods you should be including on your weekly grocery shopping list.
Eating flaxseed was linked to maintaining healthy blood pressure already in normal levels, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Hypertension. Flaxseed delivers alpha linolenic acid, lignans, peptides and fiber, all of which may contribute to heart health benefits.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the semi-bitter taste of dark chocolate, your taste buds can adapt to your reduced sugar intake if you model your diet after the DASH diet recommendations. Dark chocolate and natural cocoa deliver polyphenols (specifically flavanols), which studies show help meet your heart's abundant energy needs.
The fact that olive oil made the list shouldn’t be surprising, considering this healthy fat plays a prominent role in the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is also rich in polyphenols, which support heart health, especially for women.
It may not be a very common staple in American kitchens, but beet juice packs a heart-healthy punch, according to a study from 2013. Australian researchers studied the effects of beet juice on blood pressure among healthy men and women and observed positive results, especially among the men.
White beans are versatile, nutritious and full of protein, making them a great pantry staple. One cup provides 30% of the magnesium and 24% of the potassium you need each day, making these little guys perhaps the most heart-friendly and beneficial item on this list. Look for no-salt-added beans, rinse low-sodium canned beans or cook dried beans overnight in a slow cooker.
Just when you thought this heart-healthy grocery list was just a vegetarian menu in disguise, voila… meat! Three ounces of savory pork tenderloin deliver 15% of the potassium your body needs in one day. Note: this is not permission to eat pork every day.
7Tree Nuts (Not Peanuts)
Nuts like almonds, cashews and pistachios are loaded with magnesium, making them an ideal addition to any heart-healthy diet plan. Nearly 70% of Americans may be magnesium deficient.
Just one serving of blueberries alone each week can help maintain heart health. Berries, nature’s candy, feature antioxidants, fiber, flavonoids and more to support overall wellness.
Leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach are packed with magnesium, calcium and potassium, the three key minerals when you’re talking about blood pressure. Kale has especially high levels of calcium and potassium without many calories. Aim for fresh or frozen greens because canned vegetables often have added sodium.
Any fatty fish like salmon is loaded with omega-3 fats, healthy fats that have been shown to help support heart health. Like the pork, don’t go overboard; limit your intake to about three times a week.
11Fat Free Plain Yogurt
Yogurt is mainly known for delivering healthy bacteria that promotes digestive system health, but it also has many other health benefits. One cup of fat free plain yogurt delivers 49% of the calcium and 18% of the potassium you need every day.
This high-protein whole grain features a mild, nutty flavor, and it takes less than half the time to cook as brown rice. It’s gluten free with a variety of phytonutrients. A half-cup of cooked quinoa delivers 15% of the magnesium you need every day.
Garlic is often known as an immune-supporting herb, but it also promotes heart health. It’s enriched with protein, B vitamins, folate, vitamin, calcium, iron and more. It also delivers high levels of allicin, a sulfur compound similar to that found in onions that also have health benefits.
Oatmeal is high in fiber and low in fat and sodium, making it a great breakfast option to kick-start your day. It delivers beta-glucan, a form of soluble fiber that breaks down in the digestive tract. Add berries, bananas or honey for a sweeter flavor.
There are many more healthy options out there, but this list is a great place to start. You’ll be able to find nearly everything in your local supermarket or natural grocery store.
How many of these foods already make it into your grocery bag?