5 top foods for optimal heart health

5 foods
Public Domain Pexels

A new report written by 12 cardiovascular researchers for the nonprofit Physicians Committee recommends – wait for it – whole food, plant-based eating patterns for optimal heart health. Surprise!

Heart disease is the number one cause of death across the globe. Around 800,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year, and almost half of Americans have at least one controllable risk factor, including blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s actually an issue that concerns us all in terms of economics: By 2030, annual direct medical costs associated with cardiovascular diseases are projected to rise to more than $818 billion, while lost productivity costs could exceed $275 billion, according to the CDC Foundation.

With this in mind, the team analyzed the latest research behind popular food trends to create “an evidence-based prescription to provide clinicians with a quick guide to relay to patients in a clinical setting.”

Here is what they recommend

1. Olive oil
2. Blueberries and strawberries
3. 30 grams of nuts daily
4. Leafy green vegetables
5. Plant-based protein (like lentils and beans)

The researchers praise these items for supporting cardiovascular function, noting that, when consumed whole (as opposed to in juices or supplements) they, “combine into a plant-based dietary pattern that lowers blood pressure, stabilizes blood sugar, and breaks down arterial plaque, the early formation of atherosclerosis.”

The only caveats of the five above are that nuts should be limited to 30 grams per day because of their high caloric value. 30 grams of nuts looks like this:

Almonds: 20 - 24
Brazil nuts: 6 - 8
Pecans: 18 - 20 (halves)
Cashews: 16 - 18

Likewise, healthy oils offer great sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, but should also be used in moderation with their high calories in mind.

On the no-no list

1. Coconut and palm oil
2. Eggs
3. Juice without pulp
4. Southern diets

While I continue to hear mixed message on eggs, these researchers gives them a no. (For the record, I happen to be on Team Yes-To-Eggs, as long at the hens are kept 100 percent humanely...) Juice without pulp gets the ax for its concentration of calories and lack of fiber compared to whole fruit. And the Southern diet speaks for itself … it says added fats, fried foods, organ and processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

And then there’s the middle-of-the-road inconclusive list, which is interesting for its inclusion of four items touted by their enthusiasts for their purported health benefits.

The murky maybe-ok-maybe-not list

1. Virgin coconut oil
2. High dose antioxidant supplements
3. Juice with pulp
4. Gluten-containing foods (for people without gluten-related disease)

And the cheat sheet

goods fro heart health© Freeman, A.M. et al. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017

"In addition to eating colorful, plant-based foods, it's important to make time for sleep, exercise, and stress management, which could come in the form of social support or even listening to music," says nutrition researcher Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., president and founder of the nonprofit Physicians Committee and one of study's authors. "Diet comes first, but what we eat should fuel a healthy lifestyle."

OK, no surprises here at all. More fruits and vegetables, more sleep and exercise, less fried foods and organ meats. But with cardiovascular disease skyrocketing, maybe we can't be reminded enough.

The study has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

5 top foods for optimal heart health
A new report lists foods that should be eaten frequently and those that should be avoided. (Hint: Plant-based foods for the win.)

Related Content on Treehugger.com