Need inspo on specific foods you should prioritize? We asked Long Cao, MD, a board-certified cardiologist with Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas, to share the heart-healthy foods he always adds to his own grocery cart. Read on to see why you should take his lead.
7 of the best heart-healthy foods, according to a cardiologist
1. Dark leafy greens
As a loud and proud lover of kale, I was glad to see that my favorite dark leafy green made by Dr. Cao’s list, alongside spinach. “Both are good sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K along with folate, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids,” he says. Each of these nutrients offers a world of benefits for countless aspects of your health, yet Dr. Cao helpfully explains how certain ones can promote cardiovascular health specifically. For example, he reminds us that vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting, which is important when dealing with clotting in the heart.
Folate, too, is essential for blood health. “If the quality of the blood is good, the heart doesn’t have to work overtime to get oxygen to the body,” says Dr. Cao. B vitamins support a healthy nervous system, “which not only benefits our brain but also how our nervous system speaks to our heart,” he continues.
Finally,Dr. Cao notes that omega-3s can lower the amount of unhealthy fats in the body. Dr. Cao recommends eating one cup (or 100 grams) of raw kale or spinach daily. If you don’t like these greens as much as I do, consider throwing them into a smoothie to mask the taste while still reaping their many perks.
Avocados are as famous for their content of healthy fats as they are for their ubiquity as a brunch staple. Yet Dr. Cao says they also pack many micronutrients that are good for your cardiovascular system, including vitamins C, E, K, B6, riboflavin, niacin, folate, magnesium, and potassium. “In short, all of these agents aid better blood flow by dilating the blood vessels, improving cardiac output by improving heart contractions, and to a certain extent, naturally making the blood cells healthier and more slippery to traverse the body,” Dr. Cao says. “Half of an avocado a day does miracles as a supplement to your diet.”
Per a 2022 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Associationtwo or more servings of avocados per week were correlated with a 16 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.
Per a 2022 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, two or more servings of avocados per week were correlated with a 16 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. Consider this an official light green to order your avocado toast on repeat or whip up fresh guacamole to use as a dip or spread.
It turned out that an apple a day can very well keep the doctor away—cardiologists included. Dr. Cao says that apples can help lower blood pressure, which is great for heart health, in part due to their robust fiber content. “Fiber [also] gives you a feeling of being full. Plus, apples are also packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, and the minerals copper and potassium,” said Dr. Cao.
Fresh berries round out Dr. Cao’s list of heart-healthy essentials from the produce aisle. They’re rich not only in vitamin C, but also “a large amount of other antioxidants that help fight cancer and minimize inflammation in our vessels that lead to plaque.” Dr. Cao suggests enjoying 3.5 ounces (or 100 grams) of berries daily to keep inflammation at bay and promote healthy aging. Enjoy them solo, as part of a mixed fruit salad, or in a smoothie to get your fix.
5. Wild-caught fish
This is the only item on dr. Cao’s heart-healthy grocery list that isn’t plant-based. Wild-caught fish—which he says “have less potential to cause inflammation and have more benefits than farm-caught fish”—earn a spot in his meal rotation since they’re a “good source of protein, healthy fats, omega-3s , B12, and selenium,” whichDr. Cao says it can promote a healthy weight and thus positively influence cardiovascular health. Plus, since they’re a rich source of omega-3s, they help to lower unhealthy fats in the body.
Chickpeas boast an incredibly impressive nutrient profile that can equate to major wins for your heart and overall health. “As a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, chickpeas may offer a variety of health benefits, such as improving digestion and reducing your risk of heart disease,” Dr. Cao says. Moreover, since they’re high in protein, he says they’re excellent to include in your diet, especially for plant-based eaters who often need to get creative to meet their protein needs. If you eat your chickpeas whole, he recommends opting for a serving size from a half bowl to a full one. Otherwise, load up on hummus as a dip for your favorite vegetables or crackers, or spread a heavy dollop of it on your sandwich of choice.
Last but not least, nuts are a non-negotiable snack for heart health. “Eating a healthy diet that includes nuts can improve your artery health, lower your risk of high blood pressure, reduce inflammation related to heart disease, and reduce the risk of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Cao explains.
Simply put, you’ll absolutely want to keep a stash in your pantry to dip into on the daily, or to pack in your bag while on the go. Just follow the doctor’s orders and opt for those that are boiled or roasted with as little salt as possible so as not to detract from their heart-healthy benefits.