Heart Health

published : 2023-10-27

Want to Avoid a Heart Attack? Discover the Best and Worst Foods, According to Cardiologists

'Good Lifestyle Choices' Critical for Reducing Heart Disease Risk, Experts Say

A photo of a colorful plate of heart-healthy Mediterranean diet food, taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

The secret of avoiding heart disease could come down to which foods are on — or off — your plate.

While you can’t control factors such as age or family history, the choice to adopt a heart-healthy diet can help reduce your risk.

Dr. Bradley Serwer, a cardiologist and chief medical officer at VitalSolution, advises against going on temporary diets for rapid weight loss, instead emphasizing the importance of making good lifestyle choices permanently.

Serwer and other cardiologists shared their nutrition advice for reducing the risk of coronary disease and heart attacks.

They highlight the impact of certain foods on cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health.

According to Serwer, one of the worst offenders is trans fats, which are found in many fried foods.

Trans fats elevate bad cholesterol (LDL) levels while lowering good cholesterol (HDL).

This imbalance promotes coronary atherosclerosis, also known as clogged arteries.

Simple carbohydrates, such as bread and potatoes, are another primary enemy, warned Dr. Alexander Postalian, a cardiologist at the Texas Heart Institute.

These carbohydrates are quickly absorbed and can get converted into 'bad' cholesterol, raising blood sugar levels.

Other examples of simple carbohydrates to be cautious of include sugary drinks, sweets, rice, and tortillas.

Foods rich in saturated fats, like red meat, also raise LDL levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

Processed meats like bacon and sausage contain nitrates that may increase inflammation and sodium, ultimately raising blood pressure.

A close-up shot of a stack of fried foods, representing foods high in trans fats, taken with a Nikon D850.

Limiting or avoiding dairy products, which are high in saturated fats, can contribute to optimal heart health.

However, reduced-fat yogurt, cheese, and milk are considered safer options for those with high cholesterol or a history of heart disease.

Sugary foods, especially those with high-fructose corn syrup, can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, which are independent risk factors for heart disease.

Similarly, processed carbohydrates like white bread, soda, and candy can raise blood glucose levels and further increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Consuming excessive sodium can cause blood pressure to spike, thereby raising the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Common culprits of high sodium intake include deli meats, canned soups and veggies, frozen meals, and prepared sauces.

Ultra-processed foods that combine trans fats, saturated fats, high sodium, and sugar are particularly detrimental to heart health and should be avoided as much as possible.

While moderate consumption of red wine has some data to support its benefits, excess alcohol can have a direct toxic effect on the heart.

Alcoholic drinks are also high in calories and sodium, contributing to obesity and high blood pressure.

To prioritize heart health, cardiologists recommend incorporating a range of nutritious foods into your diet.

Plant-based diets high in fiber have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.

Green, leafy vegetables provide valuable vitamins, minerals, and nitrates that support healthy blood vessel function.

Citrus fruits, high in potassium, can help lower blood pressure.

A photo of a person exercising outdoors to promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of heart disease, taken with a Sony Alpha A7 III.

While fruits contain simple carbohydrates, their fiber content aids digestion and slows sugar absorption.

Complex carbohydrates and fiber found in whole grains like wheat, oats, and brown rice help lower bad cholesterol levels.

To provide sufficient protein without excessive saturated fat, cardiologists suggest skinless chicken, fish, legumes, and nuts as excellent choices.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in healthy sources like olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, walnuts, and almonds, help improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation.

Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies, herring, mackerel, and sardines, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, have been associated with lower blood pressure, a better lipid profile, and a reduced risk of arrhythmia.

The Mediterranean diet, which includes these heart-healthy foods, has a long-standing reputation for improving heart health.

Lastly, staying properly hydrated helps maintain healthy sodium levels and supports overall health, including kidney function.

A heart-healthy treat is dark chocolate, which contains flavonoids with antioxidant and blood pressure-lowering effects.

In addition to choosing the right foods, portion control is paramount for avoiding obesity and coronary artery disease.

Being mindful of the energy balance, including calories from food and exercise, is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight.

Prioritize your heart health by incorporating these expert nutrition tips into your daily life.