25 Best Foods and Snacks to Boost Your Heart Health

Nourish your ticker to help it stay strong and fight off disease.

food for heart health
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Every year, about 659,000 people in the United States die of cardiovascular disease, according to the CDC. Those are very scary numbers — but there are loads of things you can do to lower your risk, and eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the most important.

People who ate mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and consumed less red or processed meat and sugar-sweetened beverages, had up to 20% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, per a 2020 study. In fact, consistent research backs the benefits of a plant-filled diet when it comes to lowering cholesterol and preventing heart attacks and strokes. Combine that with regular exercise, and it's an important change you can make to protect your health.

"Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, preceding cancer and other chronic diseases," says Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CDN, Registered Dietitian for the Good Housekeeping Institute. "A heart-healthy diet emphasizes produce, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes, and lean proteins. It is low in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugar." And great news: There are so many ways to make heart-healthy meals delicious!

Another important move: Almost every American could benefit from lowering their sodium intake. According to the American Heart Association, nine out of 10 Americans consume too much, increasing their risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. That's another reason to limit processed foods; most of the sodium Americans eat comes not from the salt shaker on their tables, but from processed foods.

Make a change by adding more heart-healthy picks to your grocery list. In addition to fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and beans, healthy fats like those in fish and olive oil also deserve a spot on your plate. And there's nothing wrong with including a little dark chocolate in the mix as well. Here, the 25 best foods for your heart and why they're so good for you.

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1 Barley
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This is a super-healthy whole grain, and it comes in a range of forms: pearled barley, barley flour, flakes, grits and more. Among all the whole grains, barley is one of the best sources of fiber, which protects your heart by keeping blood sugar in check, and it has flavonoids and other phytochemicals that research has shown to protect against heart disease.

2 Oranges
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These bright citrus fruits have a couple of nutrients that help with your heart: pectin, a fiber that animal studies indicate could have a modest impact on helping to keep cholesterol levels healthy, and potassium, to help with blood pressure. (In fact, oranges have more potassium than bananas!)

3 Low-Fat Yogurt
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A dairy favorite, yogurt is a nice source of potassium and calcium, both of which help with blood pressure. The best choice for your heart is plain yogurt, since flavored varieties can be packed with sugar, undercutting all that heart-healthy goodness. Sweeten it yourself with fruit or a small splash of maple syrup to control the sugar, and add a dash of cinnamon for flavor.

RELATED: A Definitive Ranking of the Best 8 Greek Yogurts

4 Cherries
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Some research has linked a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins with a reduced risk of stroke—and cherries are one of the fruits that are high in this. One of the benefits of this antioxidant seems to be a reduction in inflammation, which is definitely good for your ticker.

RELATED: How to Freeze, Dry and Can Sweet Cherries So You Can Enjoy Them Year-Round

5 Red Wine
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The research is mixed on this, but some studies show that a little bit of wine can be good for the heart, because it contains resveratrol, an antioxidant. Double-edged sword alert: too much alcohol is bad for the heart, so be sure to keep it to one glass a day for women, and two for men. Also, if you don’t drink, this isn’t a reason to start.

6 Edamame
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These snappy soy beans are fun to eat—and research has shown them to be good for your heart in many ways. They can help keep cholesterol at a healthy level, and have nutrients such as isoflavones and fiber that are excellent for cardiovascular health.

7 Tofu
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Tofu is a vegetarian soy protein with fiber, healthy polyunsaturated fats and minerals that have been found to have heart-healthy powers. Another plus: it's very versatile!

RELATED: 37 Easy Tofu Recipes Even Meat Lovers Can Get Behind

8 Fish
food for heart health
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Putting more salmon, sardines, tuna and other fish on your dinner plate can help reduce your blood pressure and cardiovascular risk. Seafood is full of good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids that lower can triglyceride levels in the blood. Even if you choose canned fish, you'll still get the same benefits.

RELATED: 30+ Easy Salmon Recipes to Make for Dinner Tonight

9 Sardines
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These get a special mention among the fish family because they're among the top sources of omega-3s of any fish, plus they tend to have low levels of mercury. They’re also rich in calcium.

10 Nuts
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Whether type of nut you prefer, the polyphenols in these plant powerhouses have an antioxidant effect. They can improve cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease with their beneficial unsaturated fats, so keep 'em on hand for a smart snack.

11 Walnuts
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These crunchy nuts get a special call-out: A nutty superfood, walnuts are well known for their heart-protective powers. They help protect against inflammation, have a nice amount of omega-3s and are fiber-filled as well.

12 Leafy Greens
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More is more when it comes to vegetables. Kale, spinach and other lettuce contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help balance blood pressure. The nitrates and vitamin K inside the leaves, in the particular, help out your arteries and blood vessels. In a study of nearly 30,000 women, those with the highest intake of leafy greens had a significantly lower risk of coronary disease.

RELATED: 45 Different Ways to Eat Kale When You Can't Get Enough Leafy Greens

13 Swiss Chard
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Among dark leafy greens, Swiss chard stands out as one filled with heart-protective nutrients. It's got a range of vitamins, as well as potassium and fiber. Swiss chard has been reported to help regulate blood sugar and reduce inflammation.

14 Oats
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Don't sleep on the power of oatmeal. The soluble fiber in your breakfast bowl can help reduce LDL or "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream. New research also indicates that a special compound in oats called avenanthramide (AVE) may possess an anti-inflammatory, protective effect on the heart.

RELATED: 30 Best Healthy Whole Grain Cereals to Add to Your Grocery List

15 Olive Oil
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Switching from ranch to vinaigrette definitely has its benefits. The heart-healthy benefits of olives and olive oil haven't gone unnoticed. Out of 7,216 adults enrolled in one study, those who consumed the most olive oil had a 48% lower risk of dying from heart disease.

RELATED: The 9 Best Olive Oils for Any Kitchen

16 Berries
strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and cranberries

Pile more blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries onto your breakfasts, smoothies and desserts. Eating antioxidant-rich berries can lower LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, and certain markers of inflammation, one meta-analysis found.

17 Beans
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Your pantry honestly can't have enough beans. Legumes are good for both you and the planet as a plant-based protein source, not to mention one of the cheapest foods you can buy at the store. Beans are linked with reduced blood pressure and inflammation as well as lower triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels. How's that for a win-win?

18 Avocados
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The hype is well-deserved. Avocados contain hefty amounts of potassium, with about 28% of what you need in a day in just one avo. Getting sufficient amounts of this nutrient is linked with up to a 15% lower risk of stroke.

19 Seeds
bowls of sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, linseed,chia, flax and nigella seeds
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Flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds: take your pick. The polyunsaturated fats inside them help with cholesterol levels. Snack on a handful of sunflower seeds or try sprinkling some flaxseed on top of soup or salad to get more of these small-but-mighty wonders in your diet.

20 Grapes
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Don't skimp on this part of your cheese plate. The compounds within grapes can help regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation from oxidative stress, improve blood flow and protect your vascular system.

21 Quinoa
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Like other ancient grains, quinoa makes for a smart swap for white rice and other refined carbs. It's got protein and fiber, not to mention cholesterol-lowering benefits. Not a fan of the nutty taste? Try out other options like barley, farro, sorghum, amaranth and buckwheat.

RELATED: 32 Quinoa Recipes That'll Help You Eat Healthier All Day Long

22 Apples
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An apple a day might really keep the doctor away. Special compounds within apples called procyanidins possess strong antioxidant activity and may reduce LDL cholesterol. If you're really looking to make an impact, go for the red ones. Red apples contain more anthocyanin, which can improve risk factors for heart disease, but there's nothing wrong with grabbing a Granny Smith instead.

23 Potatoes
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Like avocados, both regular and sweet potatoes contain ample amounts of potassium. One baked potato has 46% of what you need in the day! That's just another reason to skip fried taters and stick to the roasted kind.

RELATED: 50+ Easy Potato Recipes for Weeknight Dinners and More

24 Tomatoes
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The heart-healthy, secret ingredient in your tomato sauce? Lycopene, the natural antioxidant in tomatoes that gives them their red color. This important compound helps control blood pressure, prevent atherosclerosis, and lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

25 Dark Chocolate
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Yes, eating dark chocolate really can help your health. Several studies have linked it with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and less calcified plaque in the arteries. Opt for a bar with at least 75% cocoa and you'll get the most flavonoids, the special antioxidants thought to be at play.

RELATED: The 10 Best Dark Chocolate Bars You Can Buy Right Now

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