Foods That May Help Prevent Heart Disease

A healthy diet is recommended to prevent heart disease, and there is a growing consensus on what a heart-healthy diet looks like. Certain foods are being explored for their potential cardiovascular benefits. While much of the research is in the earliest stages, some of these foods may make tasty additions to your regular grocery list. 

Bowl of oatmeal and fruit.

Oyster Mushrooms

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in foods like butter and oils and also made by the liver when you consume excess food. Triglycerides can spell trouble for your heart health when too much builds up in your blood. For example, elevated triglyceride levels are linked to increased risk of coronary artery disease (a common form of heart disease), especially in women.

Oyster mushrooms, a type of mushroom commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, may help lower triglyceride levels. What's more, oyster mushrooms have been found to lower cholesterol and protect against atherosclerosis.

Maintaining a healthy weight and following a plant-based diet that is low in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods are ways to reduce your triglyceride levels. Limiting your alcohol intake, avoiding smoking and exercising regularly can also help. Some research shows natural remedies like omega-3 fatty acids may also keep triglycerides in check.

Tomatoes for Healthier Arteries?

A compound found in tomatoes may help fend off vascular diseases, according to a laboratory study published in the Molecular Nutrition & Food Research journal. Studies indicate other substances in tomatoes might also help protect against atherosclerosis. Lycopene, for example, may reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries. An antioxidant also found in watermelon and pink grapefruit, lycopene has been found in to fight prostate cancer and enhance lung health as well. 

Atherosclerosis prevention also includes avoiding or managing risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, heavy alcohol use and smoking.

Cutting Cholesterol With White Mulberry

It is crucial to watch your cholesterol levels to keep your arteries clear and stay free of heart disease. When too much cholesterol builds up in your blood, plaque may form on artery walls and raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. Since antioxidants are said to help thwart plaque formation, some people use antioxidant-rich natural remedies, like white mulberry to lower their cholesterol and boost their heart health.

Few studies have looked at whether white mulberry can curb cholesterol. Some preliminary research (including an animal-based study published in 2011) indicates that white mulberry use may help improve cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerosis.

A class of antioxidant compounds found in white mulberry, anthocyanins, are also available in substances such as cranberry, elderberry and tart cherries. Try white mulberries in a fruit salad or any recipe that calls for berries (just don't confuse white mulberries with the unripe, white fruit of a regular mulberry tree).

Is Chia a Super-Seed?

Chia seeds are high in fiber and a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid — a type of omega-3 fatty acid shown to fight inflammation. Preliminary research suggests that chia seeds may help keep your cholesterol in check and decrease risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Flaxseed for Lower Cholesterol

According to a research review, taking flaxseed may help cut your cholesterol. Researchers found that flaxseed consumption was linked to significant decreases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. HDL, so-called "good" cholesterol levels, however, were not significantly altered. 

Flaxseed's cholesterol-lowering effects were more apparent in females, especially postmenopausal women, and people with higher cholesterol levels. Rich in fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed has been shown to benefit people with diabetes, menopausal symptoms and high blood pressure in previous studies.

Oats May Cut Cholesterol

A study indicates a substance found in oats may help keep your cholesterol in check. The study included 367 participants with high cholesterol, all of whom ate two servings of a cereal containing either wheat fiber or oat beta-glucan every day for four weeks. Looking at data on the 345 people who completed the study, researchers determined that LDL cholesterol was significantly lower among those assigned to the oat beta-glucan cereal.

Beta-glucan is also found in a number of medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake and maitake. Test-tube research suggests that beta-glucan may stimulate the immune system and therefore combat cancer. However, little is known about beta-glucan's potential to reduce cancer risk in humans.

A number of other natural substances, including psyllium, may also help reduce cholesterol levels, according to past research.

Carob for Healthy Cholesterol Levels

Perhaps best known as a sweetener or chocolate substitute, carob is also touted as a natural remedy for high cholesterol. When used to reduce cholesterol levels, carob is typically consumed in pulp form, often as an ingredient in energy bars and other "functional foods.”

Several small studies, including a report from Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, suggest that including carob pod fiber in your diet may help decrease LDL, so-called "bad" cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels. However, more research needs to be conducted before carob can be recommended as a treatment for high cholesterol.

To increase your intake of fiber, the substance said to be responsible for carob's cholesterol-lowering effects, make sure to include high-fiber foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.

Cocoa for the Heart

Due to its flavonoid content, cocoa extract has been found to boost defense against heart disease and reverse blood vessel damage in people with diabetes. Several studies suggest consuming chocolate may lower cholesterol, but more research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

Upping your cocoa intake may also promote the growth of probiotic bacteria, beneficial bacteria shown to stimulate your immune system and enhance gut health. In a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that certain antioxidants in cocoa may act as prebiotics — non-digestible substances that serve as an energy source for probiotics and help the so-called "friendly bacteria" to thrive.

Can Acai Curb Your Cholesterol?

When it comes to watching your cholesterol and staving off heart disease, a healthy diet is essential. In fact, a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that middle-aged men and women who followed a heart-healthy diet (i.e., fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, oily fish and limited intake of sugar and salt) for about three months experienced a significant decrease in cholesterol levels. 

For more help in lowering your cholesterol levels, a natural remedy known as acai may be beneficial. Although research on acai's potentially cholesterol-cutting effects is limited, some preliminary studies suggest the antioxidant-rich berry may help reduce your levels of LDL cholesterol.

A class of antioxidant compounds found in acai, anthocyanins, are thought to lower blood pressure and fight atherosclerosis in addition to curbing cholesterol. You can also load up on anthocyanins by getting your fill of tart cherries, blackberries, blueberries and grapes.

Plant Sterols for a Healthy Heart

Found naturally in a number of foods, plant sterols are chemicals similar in structure and function to cholesterol. According to past research, consuming foods rich in plant sterols may help reduce your body's absorption of cholesterol, and in turn reduce your risk of heart disease, a leading cause of death in the U.S.

To incorporate plant sterols into your diet, boost your intake of foods like almonds, peanuts, olive oil, wheat bran and wheat germ. In addition, many fortified foods such as cereal and orange juice are enriched with plant sterols. While dietary supplements containing plant sterols are often touted as a natural treatment for high cholesterol, few studies have tested the cholesterol-fighting effects of taking plant sterols in supplement form.

Apples for Heart Attack Prevention?

About 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One key risk factor for heart attack is ischemia, a condition marked by blockage of your coronary arteries and decreased blood flow to your heart. While a number of healthy lifestyle practices, like following a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and managing your stress, are crucial for fending off heart attacks, there's some evidence that natural remedies such as apple pectin may help in combating ischemia as well.

A soluble fiber naturally present in apples, apple pectin, has been tested in few scientific studies. Still, some preliminary research, including a 2014 animal-based study published in the Nutrition Research and Practice journal, suggests that apple pectin may help fight ischemia. There's also some evidence that apple pectin may enhance heart health and aid in the prevention of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels. However, more research is needed before apple pectin can be recommended for protection against any type of heart problem.

Can Walnuts Boost Your Heart Health?

Rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, minerals and essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid), walnuts are often touted as a natural means of enhancing cardiovascular health and fighting off heart disease.

To shield your heart health and lower your risk of heart disease, it's crucial to keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in check, manage your stress and weight, follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

Cranberry for a Healthy Heart?

Research suggests cranberries may boost heart health. In test-tube experiments, scientists compared the cardioprotective effects of cranberry juice to those of apple, cocoa, red wine and green tea. Their findings revealed that cranberry juice contains compounds known to prevent the constriction of blood vessels and, in turn, protect against high blood pressure.

Further research is needed to understand whether cranberries can promote cardiovascular health in humans.

Talk with Your Provider

If you're considering trying any form of alternative medicine, it's crucial you speak with your health care provider before making any changes to your regimen. Self-treating and avoiding conventional care can have serious consequences.

Cathy Wong, ND

The information contained on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained, expressed or implied in this blog, is intended as medical advice nor should it be construed as such. This blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, medical diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician or health care provider. It is not meant to and does not cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects and reliance on the information on this blog is at your own risk. Always talk to your doctor or other qualified health care provider about any concerns or questions you have about your medical care and do not disregard professional medical advice based on the information herein. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.