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Eat healthy foods for better heart health

  • Published
  • By Christine Cooley
  • 375th Health Promotion Office

Heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S., and it doesn’t discriminate. While it tends to strike men earlier, it affects both men and women.

The good news is, many cases of stroke and heart attacks are preventable through lifestyle changes. For example, a healthy diet can help prevent heart disease, and some foods are lauded by dietitians as playing an especially important role in keeping your ticker humming.

Oatmeal is a fantastic source of fiber. This hearty breakfast staple is a good source of beta glucan, a form of soluble fiber that’s been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and carry excess cholesterol out of the body.

To get this benefit, you need three grams of soluble fiber per day, which is about 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. In addition to enjoying oatmeal for breakfast topped with fruit and nuts, you can bake up a batch of oatmeal bars or muffins, or add it as a binder to turkey meatloaf.

Soy has been shown to reduce LDL, or bad, cholesterol, although the effect may vary based on individual cholesterol levels. Soy protein can also replace some of the saturated fats from meats and dairy in your diet; saturated fat should be limited to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories, because it boosts the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy and moderate portions of lean meats.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a health claim for food labels stating that eating 25 grams of soy protein per day may reduce the risk of heart disease. To meet this goal, snack on edamame, create smoothies using silken tofu, or add a splash of soymilk to your cereal and coffee.

Popeye had it right—spinach, fruits and vegetables naturally boast plant stanols and sterols, which help lower LDL cholesterol by blocking absorption of cholesterol from foods, causing it to pass out of the body through waste. Spinach has the added benefit of being rich in potassium, which can help lower blood pressure levels.

Veggies and greens like spinach are also low in calories and a good source of fiber, which provides bulk that fills you up faster; this makes it an important ally in the war against excess weight that ups your chances of heart disease. Spinach is delicious in salads, as a sauté, in eggs, and in soups.

Do not however, rely on it exclusively—plant foods work synergistically to keep us healthy, so be sure to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and greens.

Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been shown to help lower triglyceride levels, reduce the risk of blood clots, reduce the overall risk for heart attacks, and lower blood pressure levels. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation, which plays a major role in diseases, including heart disease.

Try to eat eight ounces of salmon per week. Salmon isn’t the only way to get these benefits; mackerel, fresh albacore tuna, Atlantic herring, sardines, and lake trout are also really healthy to eat.

Walnuts are a good source of polyunsaturated fat—the kind that’s been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower the production of LDL cholesterol in the body.

They’re also a vegetarian source of omega-3s, making them a boon for people who don’t eat fish. Be careful, though; nuts are high in calories, which can cause you to pack on pounds if you eat too many.

A serving of walnuts is 14 halves. Try them in oatmeal, as a topping for chicken or fish, on salads, in muffins, and sautéed. Please contact Health Promotion at 256-7139 for more information, and to sign up for our monthly Heart Healthy classes.