Healthy Foods For The Heart

  • Urja Malhotra Master of Science - MS, Global Health, University of Glasgow
  • Ellen Rogers MSc in Advanced Biological Sciences, University of Exeter


The heart is one of the most vital organs in our bodies and is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen to every cell - vital for ensuring the proper functioning of our entire system. Maintaining a healthy heart is crucial for a long and active life. One of the key ways to achieve this is through a balanced and heart-healthy diet. In this article, we will explore the importance of nutrition for heart health and discuss some of the foods you can incorporate into your diet to promote a strong and healthy heart.

Understanding heart health

Before delving into the specific foods that promote heart health, it's essential to understand why a heart-healthy diet is crucial. Heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide, and its risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, obesity, and diabetes. Poor dietary choices can contribute significantly to the development of these risk factors, making it imperative to make conscious decisions about what we eat.

A heart-healthy diet is characterised by its ability to reduce these risk factors and promote overall cardiovascular well-being. It typically includes foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and cholesterol while being rich in essential nutrients like fibre, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Eating a nutritious diet can significantly decrease your risk of developing coronary heart disease and weight gain, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. Additionally, it can contribute to the reduction of cholesterol levels and lower the chances of certain cancer types.1

Even if you're already dealing with a heart condition, adopting a healthy diet can have a positive impact on your cardiovascular health.

We understand that many individuals may be experiencing a period of anxiety or stress, and it's common for people to seek solace in food during such times. However, it's crucial to recognise that when you're feeling down, it becomes even more essential to nourish both your body and mind with wholesome, mood-enhancing food. While it might not always seem like the easiest or most appealing choice, in the long run, it will significantly improve your overall well-being. 

Now, let's explore some of the top foods that should be a regular part of your heart-healthy diet.

Healthy foods for heart

Striving for dietary balance

A well-balanced diet is something that everyone should aim for. Quick-fix crash diets may not offer the necessary mix of nutrients your body requires. The most effective way to grasp this concept is by categorising foods into various food groups.

Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Prioritise an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
  • Consume a substantial number of starchy foods, including bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta, with a preference for wholegrain varieties.
  • Include some milk and dairy products to meet your calcium needs.
  • Incorporate protein sources like meat, fish, eggs, beans, and other non-dairy options.
  • Limit your intake of high-fat and high-sugar foods and beverages.
  • Opt for alternatives that are lower in fat, salt, and sugar whenever possible. This approach not only aligns with the principles of a balanced diet but also promotes overall better health.1

Understanding fats

Dietary fats come in various types, each of which has distinct effects on heart health.

Trans fats, commonly present in processed foods, are associated with an elevated risk of heart disease. To lower trans fat consumption, it's advisable to reduce your intake of processed and fast foods. Opting to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients is a healthier alternative.

Saturated fat is primarily found in animal-derived products and is linked to elevated levels of detrimental (LDL) cholesterol. To reduce your saturated fat intake, consider decreasing your consumption of processed foods and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and starchy foods. Replacing saturated fat with moderate quantities of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can also help lower harmful cholesterol levels.2

Fatty fish

Fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of triglycerides, reducing blood pressure, and preventing the development of blood clots. These fish also contain protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them an excellent choice for overall health. Aim to consume fatty fish at least two times a week for maximum heart benefits.2


Oats are a fantastic source of soluble fibre and can help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health. Eating oats regularly can reduce the risk of heart disease by stabilising blood sugar levels and promoting a feeling of fullness, which can aid in weight management. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal, or add oats to your smoothies and baked goods for a heart-healthy boost.


Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are packed with antioxidants, including anthocyanins and flavonoids, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. These compounds help protect the heart by reducing inflammation, improving blood vessel function, and lowering blood pressure. Berries are not only delicious but also versatile, making them a perfect addition to your diet in various forms like smoothies, yoghurt, or snacks.


Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are rich in healthy fats, fibre, and various vitamins and minerals. They are also known to reduce bad cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease when consumed in moderation. However, nuts are calorie-dense, so it's important to enjoy them in small portions as part of a balanced diet.

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that promote heart health. They are particularly rich in vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting, and potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure. Incorporate leafy greens into salads, smoothies, or as a side dish to benefit from their heart-protective properties.1


Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are high in fibre, protein, and various nutrients. They have been associated with reduced risk factors for heart disease,3 including lower cholesterol levels and improved blood sugar control. Legumes are also an excellent source of plant-based protein, making them a valuable component of a heart-healthy diet for vegetarians and vegans.

Whole Grains

Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread, are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They provide sustained energy, help regulate blood sugar, and lower the risk of heart disease. Swapping refined grains for whole grains in your diet is a simple yet effective way to support heart health.1


Avocado is a unique fruit that is exceptionally rich in monounsaturated fats -  heart-healthy fats known to reduce bad cholesterol levels. They also provide potassium and fibre, both of which contribute to better heart health. Adding avocado to salads, sandwiches, or as a topping for various dishes can be a delicious way to improve your cardiovascular health.


Tomatoes are a fantastic source of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Antioxidants play a crucial role in neutralising harmful free radicals, which can lead to oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which are contributing factors to the development of heart disease. Indeed, research has shown that individuals with low blood levels of lycopene are at a higher risk of experiencing heart attacks and strokes.41 Moreover, boosting your consumption of tomato products or taking lycopene supplements can have a positive impact on your blood lipid profile, blood pressure, and the function of your endothelial cells, which are vital for maintaining healthy blood vessels.

Lycopene may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce the risk of blood clots. Enjoy tomatoes in salads, sauces, or as a topping for whole-grain pizza to reap their heart-protective benefits.

Dark chocolate

Yes, you read that right – dark chocolate, in moderation, can be a heart-healthy treat. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which have been shown to improve heart health by reducing blood pressure and increasing blood flow. Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content to maximise its heart-protective properties, and enjoy it as an occasional indulgence. Dark chocolate is renowned for its rich antioxidant content, particularly flavonoids, which have been associated with potential heart health benefits.

Enjoying dark chocolate in moderation (typically defined as consuming less than six servings per week) has been linked to a reduced risk of developing coronary heart disease, experiencing strokes, and developing diabetes. However, it's important to note that portion control is key, as excessive consumption can lead to unwanted weight gain and other health concerns.2


Incorporating heart-healthy foods into your diet can go a long way in reducing your risk of heart disease and promoting overall cardiovascular well-being. Remember that a balanced diet is just one aspect of maintaining a healthy heart. Regular physical activity, stress management, and avoiding smoking are also crucial factors in heart health.

As you make changes to your diet, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian, especially if you have specific dietary restrictions or medical conditions. They can help you create a personalised nutrition plan that aligns with your health goals and ensures that you're getting all the essential nutrients your body needs.

In conclusion, prioritise your heart health by incorporating these heart-healthy foods into your diet. By making mindful choices in your eating habits and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and enjoy a longer, healthier life. Your heart will thank you for it!


  1. British Heart Foundation. Healthy eating [Internet]. Cited Sep 14 2023. Available from:
  2. BDA. Heart healthy diet: food fact sheet [Internet]. Cited 14 Sep 2023. Available from:
  3. NIH. Heart-healthy living - choose heart-healthy foods [Internet]. 2022. Cited Sep 14 2023. Available from: 
  4. Mozos I, Stoian D, Caraba A, Malainer C, Horbańczuk JO, Atanasov AG. Lycopene and vascular health. Front. Pharmacol. 2018; 9: 521.
  5. Yuan S, Li X, Jin Y, Lu J. Chocolate consumption and risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Nutrients. 2017; 9: 688.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Urja Malhotra

Master of Science - MS, Global Health, University of Glasgow

Urja is a dedicated Global Health advocate with a passion for Gender and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) projects. With a rich background in designing Health & Social Interventions and conducting Qualitative Research, Urja brings a wealth of expertise to her work. Backed by years of experience, she excels in creating captivating content that spreads awareness and drives action, particularly in promoting the "One Health" approach. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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