You are here

Nutrient-Packed Powerhouses: Try These Heart-Healthy Superfoods


The human heart is a remarkable organ, pumping oxygenated blood throughout your body using your circulatory system every moment of every day. On average, the human heart will beat an astonishing 2.5 billion times in a lifetime.1

What can you do to keep this dutiful organ beating strong? The expert cardiovascular doctors at Crystal Run Healthcare weigh in.

Protecting Your Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S.2 The good news is there are things you can do every day to protect your heart—even if you have a family history of heart disease.

These include exercising regularly, not smoking, minimizing dietary salt, drinking alcohol in moderation (or not at all), maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding highly processed foods.

Incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your diet is a great way to do even more for your heart. 

What Makes a Food “Super”?

healthy foods improve heart health

You’ve probably heard a lot about “superfoods” lately—along with many claims about how these foods can improve heart health (and health in general). Is there really something to the assertion that some foods are exceptional, or is it just marketing hype?

The American Heart Association (AHA) says many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds do, in fact, provide essential vitamins and minerals that may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits on the artery walls that can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.3

Yet, they also caution against having unrealistic expectations, citing that nutrient-dense “superfoods” alone cannot prevent health problems or protect you from chronic disease.

A healthy, balanced diet that includes a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and seeds, and some dairy and eggs is best.

7 Superfoods to Try

Without further delay, let’s look at 7 nutrient-dense foods to incorporate into your heart-healthy diet.

  1. Salmon:

    It may seem counterintuitive that fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel can be good for your heart, but these fish are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which some studies have shown can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and irregular heartbeat.4 Omega-3s can also help reduce triglyceride levels.5 Aim for at least two servings of fish (especially fatty fish) per week. If you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, talk with your doctor about which kinds of fish to eat and which to avoid.

Baked Salmon Garnished Fish

  1. Blueberries:

    Berries are loaded with antioxidants called flavonoids, which may help lower blood pressure and dilate blood vessels (improving blood flow). One study found that women who ate at least three servings of berries (blueberries and strawberries) per week had a lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less.6 Take advantage of fresh berries while they’re in season and opt for frozen berries when they’re not.

  1. Nuts:

Delicious and nutritious, nuts like almonds, pistachios, and walnuts are good sources of protein and healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. A large study found that people who ate one ounce of nuts five times per week or more had a lower risk of coronary heart disease during the study period than those who ate few nuts or none.7 Aim for four servings of nuts per week.

  1. Tomatoes:

    Tomatoes are one of the most versatile fruits (yes, tomatoes are a fruit!) on the planet. Raw or cooked, tomatoes can be incorporated into more recipes than one person could likely make in a lifetime. Tomatoes are full of heart-healthy potassium, and they’re a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower heart attack risk.8 Tomatoes are naturally low in calories and sugar; however, be mindful of added sugars and salt in packaged products like spaghetti sauce and ketchup. It’s best to use fresh tomatoes whenever possible.


  1. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables:

    Spinach, kale, chard, mustard, turnip, dandelion, and collard greens score high on nutrient density, along with cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.9 Load up on these fiber- and antioxidant-packed vegetables to give your heart an extra boost.

  1. Seaweed:

    Sea vegetables are loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, plus a healthy dose of essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc. Incorporating sea veggies into your diet is easier than you might think. Many grocery stores carry sheets of dried seaweed for snacking. Also, try layering cooked brown rice and thinly-sliced veggies on sheets of nori (dried seaweed); roll together to make a quick and easy veggie sushi “wrap.”

  1. Fermented foods:

    From kimchi to kefir, humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years. Naturally fermented foods, such as yogurt, tempeh, pickled vegetables, and miso contain healthy bacteria (probiotics) that can aid digestion and may even help your heart due to the gut-heart connection.10

These are just some of the many heart-healthy foods. Others include avocados, steel cut oats, quinoa, chia seeds, beans, olive oil, citrus fruits, green tea, and even coffee and chocolate (in moderation). Incorporating even just a handful or two of these powerhouse foods into your diet can be beneficial.

The Skinny on Dietary Fat

If you’re scratching your head over the healthfulness of foods like avocado and nuts, you’re not alone. After all, aren’t high-fat foods supposed to be bad for you?

There’s plenty of confusion around dietary fat—whether it’s good or bad, which types we should and shouldn’t be eating. This confusion is understandable considering the mixed messages the public has received over the years.

A good example of this is the low-fat craze of the 1980s and 90s. In response to research that seemed to show a link between dietary fat and increased levels of cholesterol in the blood, fat quickly became public enemy number one.11

Food makers responded by stripping down the fat content in packaged foods to make them “healthier.” To compensate for the loss of flavor from fat, many increased the amount of sugar in their products. Unfortunately, this proved equally harmful.


Today we know that eating too many added sugars can increase a person’s risk for a host of health problems, including insulin resistance (which can progress to type 2 diabetes), dementia, and—ironically—heart disease.12,13 A 15-year study found that participants who took in 25% or more of their daily calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as participants who consumed less than 10% of their daily calories as added sugars.14

Recent research has revealed that, far from being harmful, fats are essential for heart health and optimal brain function—with one caveat: the type of fat.15 Hydrogenated fats (known as trans fats) commonly found in foods like cakes, cookies, and pies are a far cry from the healthy fats found in foods like avocados and nuts. Trans fats should be avoided whenever possible.

What about saturated fats found in foods like full-fat butter and cream, coconut oil, dark chocolate, and red meat? The American Heart Association and other nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat intake to no more than 5-10% of your daily calories.16,17,18

And monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats? The American Heart Association recommends eating foods containing these healthy fats in place of foods containing saturated and/or trans fats as often as possible.19 This means choosing foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts and natural (non-hydrogenated) nut butters, seeds, fish, and tofu.

Get Regular Checkups

There are many actions you can take every day to help keep your heart healthy, including exercising regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet. However, there’s no substitute for regular check-ups with your doctor, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

regular check ups with your doctor

If you notice any unusual symptoms, such as chest pain, tightness, or heart palpitation, don’t wait—see your doctor right away. It’s important to know that heart disease is known as a “silent killer,” because many people don’t experience symptoms until they have a heart attack. Prevention is key.

Whether you’re experiencing troubling symptoms or you want to be proactive and make sure you’re on track to good heart health, the board-certified cardiologists at Crystal Run Healthcare can help. We offer world-class care at our state-of-the-art cardiology clinic. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our expert physicians today.