Every week it seems like there’s a new study either praising or demonizing a particular food — and it makes it hard to know whether that glass of “heart-healthy” red wine is actually good for your health.
That’s why researchers from the American College of Cardiology aimed to sort out exactly which foods we should all be eating for healthier hearts. They published their recommendations in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this month after reviewing more than 60 studies.
Unsurprisingly, researchers touted the benefits of fruits and vegetables and advised against sugary, processed foods.
Some foods were found to offer health benefits — but not enough to outweigh their potential risks. Dairy, for example, has been linked to low blood pressure, but is high in saturated fat, meaning it’s best eaten in moderation. And while numerous studies have linked alcohol to reduced risk of heart disease, drinking can also lead to liver disease and certain cancers.
“There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all dietary pattern for preventing heart disease,” study co-author Andrew Freeman, MD, FACC, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health, said in a statement. “But, most of the evidence continues to reinforce that a predominantly plant-based diet lower in fat, added sugars, added salt, processed foods, and with limited if any animal products seem to be where the data is pointing us.”
So, what should you be eating? Here’s what Freeman and his team deemed the heart-healthiest foods — plus some other research-backed foods you should add to your diet.
The new study lists nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet — and we say almonds are some of the best you can eat. These nuts are full of monounsaturated fat, which helps lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol. Plus, monounsaturated fats are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, which keeps our immune systems healthy.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises keeping fat consumption to 30 percent of your daily calories, with most coming from monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.
Fruit is your friend! In 2005, Cornell University researchers found that eating one Red Delicious apple a day can stop LDL oxidation, which occurs when cholesterol mixes with free radicals, or unstable molecules in your body; as a result, cholesterol becomes damaged, causing inflammation and plaque build-up in your arteries. Cornell scientists found that an apple a day can help lower levels of bad cholesterol by 8 percent.
Bonus: Apples (and their skins) contain soluble fiber, the kind that scrubs artery walls clean.
Another awesome fruit: blueberries. Similar to the resveratrol in grapes, an antioxidant found in blueberries called pterostilbene can stimulate liver cells to better break down fat and cholesterol, according to USDA scientists. Blueberries are also loaded with flavonoids called anthocyanin, which can lower blood pressure and make blood vessels more elastic, which lowers your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
According to the new review, legumes like beans, lentils, and soybeans can reduce coronary heart disease risk and improve blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and even help you lose weight.
“Legumes are affordable and a rich source of protein,” Freeman said. “We should be incorporating more beans and bean-dishes like hummus into our diets to promote heart health.”
Eat more legumes by substituting a vegetable patty for your typical fat-filled beef burger or top your salad with edamame instead of chicken.
The new study found evidence that omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Tufts University scientists found that in high enough quantities, the omega-3 fatty acids from fish chewed through cholesterol molecules in the bloodstream and shrank the size of remaining LDL particles by 12 percent.
You can finally rest easy about all that coffee you down each morning, because Freeman’s team found that drinking coffee may help you live longer. In fact, researchers determined that coffee consumption was linked to lower risk of mortality without any risk of heart problems, like hypertension or arrhythmias.
One thing to keep in mind: Loading your java with sugar and cream could diminish coffee’s benefits.
Yup, all those studies about tea being good for your healthy are legitimate, according to Freeman. His team concluded that both black and green tea could reduce risk of heart damage as long as they’re enjoyed without milk, sugar or cream. To reap the most antioxidant benefits, aim to drink 48 ounces of plain green or black tea a day.