How often do you think about your heart? Probably not that often, yet it’s working hard for us every second of the day. Our heart pumps blood throughout our body, carrying the nutrients and oxygen that our organs rely on. And it also sends the carbon dioxide that we need to get rid of to our lungs. That means without a healthy heart, we’re in deep trouble. Unfortunately, heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States.
The food we eat, the beverages we drink, the air we breathe and the activities we do all have an effect on our ticker. Since we want to keep it in great shape for decades to come, let’s take a look at the nutrients that can help us support heart health and the delicious foods we can find them in.
Key Nutrients for Heart Health
Studies have shown a link between deficiency of this mineral and high blood pressure. Folks who don’t get enough have elevated markers of inflammation, which can increase your risk of heart disease. You can find magnesium in beets, almonds, spinach, bananas and avocados. Women ages 31 and over need 320mg per day. Men 31 and up require 420mg. Here are some tasty ways to get it:
Roasted Beets with Pistachios and Ricotta Salata by Brian Lewis
If you think you don’t like beets, it’s time to give them another try! Roasting brings out their natural sweetness and their earthy flavor balances well with the crunchy pistachios and the salty ricotta salata cheese in this hearty salad.
Beet-Citrus Blast Smoothie by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN
The gorgeous, bright pink hue of this vegan smoothie will help you get energized at any time of day. And the magnesium it contains will help keep your ticker healthy. Plus, the hemp seeds in the recipe have the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for reducing heart disease risk.
Maple-Almond Crunch Bites by Samah Dada
Perfect as a pre-workout snack or afternoon treat, these date-sweetened bites are loaded with almonds in four forms (almonds, almond butter, almond flour and almond milk) and also contain fiber-rich chia seeds.
Fast and Easy Lemon-Crusted Salmon with Garlic Spinach by Alex Guarnaschelli
Magnesium-rich spinach pairs up with another heart healthy food—salmon—in this simple weeknight meal.
This electrolyte is vital for a healthy heart. Potassium helps balance out sodium levels in the body, which keeps your heart healthy and lowers risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s why it’s a cornerstone of the top-rated DASH Diet. Luckily, this mineral is abundant in plant foods, which is why nutrition experts are always telling us to eat more fruits and vegetables. You’ll reap lots of potassium in bananas, potatoes, milk, orange juice, peaches and winter squash. Women ages 19 and over need 2600mg per day, while men need 3400mg. Here’s how to get it:
Green Banana Smoothie Bowl by Sweet Potato Chronicles
Bananas, Greek yogurt, kale and coconut milk (or any plant milk you like) combine to make this pretty yogurt bowl. The muesli, flax seed and apple toppings contribute fiber, making this a very heart smart way to start your day.
Greek Potato Salad by The Blue Zones Solution
Flavorful and loaded with greens, this potato salad also includes protein from hard-boiled eggs, making it perfect as a main dish salad. It’s one of the longevity recipes from “Blue Zones” author Dan Buettner.
Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Yogurt Parfait by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN
This unique spin on a yogurt parfait combines two potassium rich foods—butternut squash and yogurt. Plus, you’ll get another heart healthy nutrient—niacin—from the pumpkin seeds.
Joy Bauer's Peach Melba by Joy Bauer
This sweet dessert is the perfect ending to any meal. When you can’t find fresh peaches, use frozen. Serve it over vanilla yogurt instead of ice cream to make it even healthier.
Double Orange Smoothie by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN
Made with a navel orange (nearly always in season from California), plus orange juice, this sipper is loaded with over 500 mg potassium and is a sunny way to start your day.
This B vitamin is essential for heart health, as well as a healthy pregnancy. Folic acid regulates levels of homocysteine--a marker for heart disease—in the blood. Homocysteine damages blood vessel walls and can lead to blood clots. Women and men age 19 and up both need 400 micrograms per day (more is required during pregnancy). You can find folic acid in enriched cereal, pasta, rice and bread, lentils, spinach, edamame and wheat germ. Get your fill of folic acid in these recipes:
Orecchiette with Peas, Ricotta and Black Pepper by Stefano Secchi
So springy and easy to make, you’ll want to add this to your pasta rotation! Many people are surprised to learn that a serving of enriched semolina pasta has 50% of the daily value for folic acid.
Spice-Roasted Carrots with Lentils by Kristin Donnelly
If you’re looking for a hearty vegan main dish, check out this gorgeous dish. Spiced with coriander, cinnamon and cumin, these lentils (part of the pulse family) are delicious and filling and make a perfect dish to meal-prep for the week.
Edamame Guacamole by Sweet Potato Chronicles
The avocados in this creamy green dip are already good for your heart, but you can bump it up a notch with the addition of edamame. The soybeans add folic acid, as well as fiber to this tangy favorite.
Joy Bauer's Crispy Oven-Baked Chicken Tenders by Joy Bauer
Wheat germ blends with whole grain breadcrumbs to create a flavorful and healthy coating for these tasty tenders, which make a great weeknight meal for the whole family.
Another B vitamin, niacin is great for your ticker because it helps to increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Women ages 19 and up need 14mg per day, while men require 16 mg. You can get niacin in avocado, peanut butter, green peas, baked potatoes, and pumpkin seeds. Load up on niacin with these dishes:
Al's Garlic Avocado Toast by Al Roker
Avocado toast lovers rejoice! The creamy fruit is a great source of niacin, and also serves up 4.5g of heart-healthy fiber in half of an avocado.
Non-Dairy Chocolate-Peanut Butter Milkshake by Joy Bauer
A childhood fave, creamy peanut butter makes a healthful addition to smoothies and shakes, like this chocolatey version. Pair with an apple, pear or banana for a heart smart afternoon snack.
16. Baked Potato
This steakhouse classic is a great pick for your heart—just skip the butter and keep the skin on. A medium baked potato (265 calories) offers 4mg of niacin to help you meet your daily needs.
Roasted Pumpkin Seed Salad Dressing by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN
Don’t just enjoy these tasty seeds in the fall! Pumpkin seeds offer plenty of niacin and can be used in so many ways, like in this flavorful and easy to make dressing.
We usually think about calcium for keeping our bones strong, but it also plays a role in heart health. Calcium, along with potassium and magnesium, helps to regulate blood pressure. And the nutrient also plays a role in weight management, which is smart for your heart. Calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy products, almonds, fortified orange juice and kale. Enjoy these calcium-rich recipes:
Healthy Banana and Cottage Cheese Pancakes by Joy Bauer
Cottage cheese is delicious topped with fresh fruit, but it’s also a wonderful addition to these tasty pancakes, adding calcium, as well as protein.
The Dr. Is In by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN
Start your day with this heart smart, plant-based smoothie that balances the earthy notes of kale and watercress with naturally sweet banana and grapes.
Coconut, Cherry and Almond Granola by Vallery Lomas
Granola has gotten a bad rap because store-bought version are often too high in added sugar and oils. But when you make it yourself, you can control what’s in it. This one is easy to make and is delicious over yogurt or mixed into high fiber cereal.
While it’s not a nutrient, fiber is an essential part of the diet, and one that most of us aren’t getting enough of. We should be getting 25-34 grams daily, but hectic schedules and processed foods leave us falling short. But fiber’s impact on heart health—and overall health--should make us all want to start adding more of it to our diets. Fiber helps us to feel full, improves digestion, boosts gut health and also helps to lower cholesterol. You’ll get fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, and nuts and seeds. Here are some recipes that will help you meet your daily goal:
Oatmeal with Pear and Almonds by Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN
Start your day with this fiber-packed breakfast. Oats contain a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which helps to lower LDL (bad cholesterol). The pear and almonds also contribute fiber.
Whole grain barley also contains beta-glucan and makes a hearty and satisfying risotto.
Three high-fiber fruits combine in this delicious and healthy crisp.
Rainbow Quinoa Bowls by Marco Borges
This bowl has it all! The ancient grain quinoa, plus colorful veggies, and chickpeas—all fiber stars!