Eating for a Healthy Heart

February 26, 2015 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Whole grains are a key part of a heart-healthy diet.

February is American Heart Month, and today’s blog post from the Nutrition and Wellness Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) highlights the heart-healthy foods you should eat regularly. Aside from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, your diet should include:


The Science:

Scores of studies show that eating nuts reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Packed with nutrients, nuts may help by lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels, improving dilation of blood vessels, and combating elevated blood pressure.

What You Should Do:
  • Snack on ¼ cup or a handful of nuts each day.
  • Add them to salads, stir-fries, cereal, yogurt, and side dishes.
  • Aim for lightly salted or unsalted types to limit added sodium.

Whole Grains

The Science:

Research reveals that eating whole grains is associated with a lower likelihood of cardiovascular disease. The fiber and antioxidants within the whole grains are credited with its health-promoting benefits.

What You Should Do:
  • Check package labels on breads, cereals, and crackers, and look for the word “whole” in the list of grain ingredients. Try to make sure it is the first ingredient as well.
  • Use whole-wheat flour in recipes calling for flour.
  • Explore “ancient” grains, such as amaranth, kamut, millet, quinoa, and teff.


The Science:

Beans, dried peas, and lentils not only improve cholesterol levels, but also blood pressure. One meta-analysis involving 26 clinical trials found one daily serving was associated with a modest but significant reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.

What You Should Do:
  • Aim for at least one meatless meal per week.
  • Puree beans and add to meat as an extender.
  • Rinse canned beans to reduce their sodium content. This also will decrease the gassy side effects of legumes.


The Science:

Many observational studies show that people who consume fish are at lower risk for cardiovascular disease than people who do not consume fish. The decreased risk may be attributed to the nutrients within the fish that may prevent blood clots, clogged arteries, inflammation, elevated blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels.

What You Should Do:
  • Eat 12 ounces- the equivalent of four decks of playing cards – of fish per week.
  • Ensure that at least one to two servings are oily types of fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, and rainbow trout. These are not only packed in omega-3 fatty acids, but also are low in mercury.
  • Make healthy seafood selections, avoiding deep-fried fish fillets or dishes with cream, cheese, or buttery sauces.

Olive Oil

The Science:

While many oils contain monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, which have been linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, olive oil in particular has some additional helpful attributes. It contains many phenolic compounds – phytonutrients associated with anti-inflammation and vasodilation (enlarging of blood vessels).

What You Should Do:
  • Try olive oil on bread, in salad dressings, and with vegetables, including substituting for milk, cream, and butter if making mashed potatoes.
  • Drizzle rather than pour to ensure calories don’t mount.
  • Choose an extra virgin variety when you can.

Try This Heart-Healthy Recipe

This recipe for Chardonnay Poached Salmon is an excellent source of heart-healthy ingredients, including olive oil and the beneficial nutrients found in salmon.

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