One of the most impactful things you can do to care for your heart is to prioritize the nutritional quality of your diet. As a cardiovascular dietitian, I’ve dedicated my career to helping people support their heart (and overall health) through evidence-based nutrition. Looking for one simple tip to start with? Eat more fruits and veggies.
If you’re wondering what fruit is good for the heart or what vegetables are good for heart health, this article is for you. Let’s explore what nature’s bounty has to offer and how you can start incorporating more fruits and veggies right away.
Heart Disease and Its Risk Factors
Heart health has been one of the top public health concerns for years, and for good reason. Heart disease and stroke continue to be the leading causes of death around the globe, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Some of the most common risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High levels of blood fats, like non-HDL cholesterol and triglycerides
- Having a body mass index (BMI) that falls within the obesity range
- Having existing diabetes, particularly if it’s not well-controlled
- Excessive alcohol use
- Tobacco use
- Sedentary lifestyle
- A diet high in saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol and low in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
Let’s focus on that last one today. After all, the association between your diet and your heart health is clear. Changing your diet is the quickest and most impactful change you can make to improve your risk factors.
Nutritional Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are good for you. And it’s true: fruits and veggies are among the healthiest foods on the planet. They’re packed with nutrients and compounds that have been scientifically proven to support your health and lower your risk for chronic conditions, including heart disease when regularly consumed.
Fruits and veggies are especially rich in the following:
- Vitamins, like A, K, C, and folate
- Minerals, like magnesium, selenium, potassium, and manganese
- Fiber, which surveys show most of us don’t get enough of in our everyday diet patterns
- Antioxidants, which help protect your cellular health from oxidative stress and inflammation that otherwise promotes disease
These nutrients and compounds are good for your heart for several reasons. For example, they can help support:
- Healthy blood pressure regulation
- Healthy cholesterol levels
- Healthy weight management
- Your immune function and anti-inflammatory response
Specific Fruits for Heart Health
What fruit is good for the heart? There are so many to choose from! If you’re ready to write down your next week’s heart-healthy grocery list, include plenty of colorful fruits. Think about aiming to “eat the rainbow” in terms of getting a wide variety. Here are some ideas:
- Berries: Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are high in antioxidant-rich pigments called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins may help reduce inflammatory markers and offer cardioprotective benefits.
- Citrus fruits: Add oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruit to your routine. They contain bioactive compounds like naringenin, which may be protective against cardiovascular disease. However, certain citrus fruits like grapefruit (and grapefruit juice) should be avoided if you are currently on statins as they may interact. Speak with your healthcare provider or heart health dietitian if this is the case for you.
- Apples and pears: These fruits have specifically been studied for their cardiovascular benefits, with a 2016 paper finding that their intake can help significantly reduce body mass index (BMI) and the risk for adverse heart health outcomes. This is likely attributed to the flavonoids (like quercetin), dietary fiber, and antioxidants they contain.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a type of antioxidant that gives them their beautiful red coloring. Lycopene supports blood vessel health through its antioxidant and vasodilating activity. Research has even shown that lycopene becomes even more bioavailable when tomatoes are cooked.
Heart Healthy Vegetables
A good next step is to think about which types of vegetables you currently eat and which new ones you could try. If you’re not used to eating many veggies, choose one or two new ones that you could put on your grocery list. Some great choices for heart health include:
- Leafy greens: This might include a mix of lettuces, arugula, Swiss chard, and spinach. They’re rich in phytochemicals and nitrates, which can help support blood vessel health and circulation.
- Cruciferous vegetables: The cruciferous veggies contain a special compound called sulforaphane, which may help protect against heart and muscle dysfunction. This group of veggies includes things like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
- Bell peppers: Raw uncooked bell peppers are a good source of vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. Note that vitamin C is destroyed with heat. While green peppers have a more bitter flavor, red, orange, and yellow peppers tend to be sweeter.
- Garlic and onions: This mighty pair works well for many different recipes. What’s even better is that research shows they can both help protect your heart health. Onions contain phenolic and sulfur-containing compounds that benefit cardiovascular health. Garlic also offers bioactive compounds that have been shown to support healthy blood pressure and blood fats as well as inflammatory markers.
Incorporating More Color into Your Heart-Healthy Diet
Adding more fruits and veggies is a surefire way to increase the color of your diet, as well as the amount of heart-healthy nutrients you’re eating. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends aiming for 1.5–2 cup-equivalents of fruits and 2–3 cup-equivalents of vegetables each day. So how can you achieve that?
First, here are some examples of what one cup-equivalent serving of fruits and vegetables might look like:
- 1 small or 1/2 of a large apple
- 1 large banana
- 1 cup diced melon
- 2-3 kiwi fruits
- 1/3 cup of dried mango slices
- 1 large orange
- 1 cup pineapple cubes
- 1 small wedge of watermelon
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2 cups fresh leafy greens
- 1 cup chopped broccoli florets
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 large sweet potato
- 1 large bell pepper
- 1 large tomato
- 1 cup cooked lentils
- 1 avocado
- 1 cup cooked mushrooms
- 1 cup sliced cucumbers
- 1 cup chopped onions
Now that you have your fruit and veggie goals for the day, you might still be wondering how to incorporate them into your meals and snacks. Here are some easy ways to do that:
- Add sliced bananas and berries to your oatmeal
- Roast a pan of broccoli and cauliflower as a side to any dinner
- Prepare a big mixed greens salad to pull from all week
- Add chopped potatoes to your soup
- Layer your sandwiches with tomatoes, spinach, grated carrots, and cucumber
- Make veggie burger patties for the freezer
- Enjoy sliced apples with nut butter for a snack
- Make a smoothie with dates, berries, greens, and bananas
- Saute spinach or collards with garlic and onion to top a grain bowl
It can also be helpful to work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in heart disease to give you a tailored meal plan to help you incorporate more fruits and veggies slowly and in a way that is tasty, convenient and realistic for you and heart health goals.
Other Aspects of a Heart-Healthy Diet
In addition to boosting your overall fruit and vegetable intake, there are other important components that make up a heart-healthy diet. It is important to pair your fruits and vegetables with adequate protein and heart heart healthy fat for good blood sugar control and satiety.
A heart healthy diet also incorporates legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), whole grains (barley, oats, quinoa, amaranth, 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice), nuts, and seeds, along with plenty of omega-3 fats from foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, and eggs, in the right amounts and quantities personalized to you.
Need help increasing your fruits and veggies? Curious about other ways you can support your heart health? Book a discovery call to see if we’re a good fit for 1:1 coaching or consider my 6 week heart optimization group coaching program.
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