There are many risk factors at play when it comes to the development of cardiovascular disease – and our understanding of these risks has changed in recent years.
“In the past 25 years, obesity and diabetes mellitus have overtaken cigarette smoking, dyslipidemia, and hypertension as risk factors for coronary heart disease,” one doctor writes(1).
“Overweight and obesity increase the risk for hospitalization and death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type 2 diabetes at all levels of risk and independently of other risk factors.”
Then there’s genetic risk factors – some people are more prone to developing heart disease than others – and even socio-economic factors – one study found that risk for developing cardiovascular disease was greater among black Americans than among white Americans(2).
Eating heart-healthy foods is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for those with an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Here are some bona-fide heart healthy foods whose benefits have been proven by science.
“Epidemiologic studies show an inverse correlation between garlic consumption and progression of cardiovascular disease,” one review states(3).
“Garlic has been shown to inhibit enzymes involved in lipid synthesis, decrease platelet aggregation, prevent lipid peroxidation of oxidized erythrocytes and LDL, increase antioxidant status, and inhibit angiotension-converting enzyme.”
While some studies have attempted to disprove the efficacy of garlic for preventing heart disease, “The negative results obtained in some clinical trials may also have resulted from usage of different garlic preparations, unknown active constituents and their bioavailability, inadequate randomization, selection of inappropriate subjects, and short duration of trials” – in short, bad science.
2. Pomegranate Juice
Rich in antioxidants, “pomegranate juice has been shown to exert significant antiatherogenic, antioxidant, antihypertensive, and anti-inflammatory effects.”(4)
It can also decrease lipid peroxidation in patients with type 2 diabetes – another risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease – and improve systolic blood pressure.
3. Salmon And Other Fatty Fish
“Increasing fish consumption is recommended for intake of omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids and to confer benefits for the risk reduction of cardiovascular disease (CVD),” one study says(5). Most Americans are not achieving intake levels that comply with current recommendations.
Salmon and other fatty fish pose both risks and benefits when it comes to cardiovascular disease, but the benefits outweigh the risks significantly. Commonly consumed oily or fatty fish include not only salmon but mackerel, sardines, anchovies, trout, and tuna.
4. Olive Oil
“The Mediterranean diet, in which olive oil is the primary source of fat, is associated with a low mortality for cardiovascular disease,” one study writes(6).
There is a wide range of benefits associated with olive oil consumption, all of which could contribute to explaining why people who consume olive oil as part of their diet regularly have lower rates of heart disease than people with other, higher in fat diets.
When consumed in moderation, almonds can be very heart-healthy. One 2010 study gave small amounts of almonds daily to men with mild hyperlipidemia for four weeks, concluding that “almond supplementation, in addition to lowering effects on serum levels of CHD lipid risk factors, may contribute to a dramatic change in the relation of lipid risk factors and susceptibility of serum lipids to oxidative modification.”(7)
6. Broccoli and Asparagus
“Observational and experimental studies suggest that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables and glucosinolates may reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD),” says one study(8).
Diets high in veggies and low in fat are heart-healthy – we all know this – but now there’s evidence that certain veggies can actively prevent heart disease. So get plenty of dark leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like broccoli. Asparagus is another particularly heart-healthy vegetable.