Heart-Healthy Diet: Foods to Embrace and Avoid

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7 min read Updated on October 30, 2023

Cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke, remain the leading causes of mortality worldwide. Maintaining a healthy heart is crucial for overall well-being, and one of the most impactful ways to achieve this is through a balanced and heart-healthy diet.

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Essential Foods for a Stronger Heart

Elevate your cardiovascular well-being by incorporating these vital foods into your diet for a stronger and healthier heart.

Whole grains

Replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains is a simple yet powerful step in pursuing a heart-healthy lifestyle. The significance of this shift lies in the numerous benefits that whole grains offer for cardiovascular well-being. Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grains preserve essential nutrients and fiber that contribute to a stronger heart. Incorporating options like whole wheat and whole-grain pasta can be both – delicious and nourishing.

  • Elevate sandwiches with whole-grain bread
  • Choose brown rice, quinoa, or farro for added nutrition
  • Enjoy whole-grain pasta with colorful veggies
  • Enhance baked goods with whole-wheat flour
  • Shop for “whole grain” labeled products

Omega-3 rich foods

Understanding the role of dietary fats in promoting cardiovascular health is crucial. Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining cardiovascular health. These foods bestow many benefits on heart health, including reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and enhancing overall cardiac function.

  • Incorporate salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout into your weekly meals
  • Boost your morning yogurt or smoothie with a tablespoon of flaxseeds or chia seeds
  • Snack on a handful of walnuts or add them to oatmeal and baked goods
  • Search for recipes that feature omega-3-rich ingredients to explore new culinary horizons

Opt for healthy fats

Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, support heart health. Unlike their saturated and trans fat counterparts, these fats offer various benefits contributing to a strong cardiovascular system. They help lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL), reduce inflammation, and maintain blood vessel flexibility.

  • Make olive oil a key part of your meals, drawing inspiration from the Mediterranean diet
  • Enhance your dishes with avocados
  • Elevate your nutrition by enjoying almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds

Lean protein

Lean protein refers to protein-rich foods containing minimal fat. These proteins offer an excellent nutritional profile, providing essential amino acids necessary for bodily functions without the excess unhealthy fats that can negatively impact heart health. It can help with cholesterol management and blood sugar regulation.

  • Opt for lean meats: skinless poultry, lean ground chicken, lean ground beef
  • When consuming red meat, go for cuts like loin, sirloin, and tenderloin
  • Enhance your diet with lentils, beans, chickpeas, and tofu

Fruits and vegetables

Heart-Healthy Dieting

Fruits and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses, offering a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are vital for cardiovascular health. They combat inflammation, regulate blood pressure, manage cholesterol, and support weight control – crucial factors in promoting cardiovascular well-being.

Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet by:

  • Boosting salads, wraps, and smoothies with nutrient-packed leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • Opting for fresh fruit or enjoying it as a naturally sweet dessert
  • Adding fresh vegetables to omelets, stir-fries, and pasta dishes for added nutrition


Legumes, including beans, lentils, and chickpeas, contribute significantly to a healthy heart by offering multiple benefits. These nutrient-rich foods aid in reducing bad cholesterol levels, promote healthy blood vessels, and provide sustained energy. Incorporating dietary fiber found in legumes into your diet strongly reduces cardiovascular disease risk.

  • Replace meat with beans or lentils in recipes like chili or pasta dishes
  • Add chickpeas or black beans to smoothies for a protein and fiber boost
  • Try hummus, dals, or falafel to enjoy legumes in diverse and flavorful ways

Dairy alternatives

Heart-healthy dairy options involve choosing low-fat or fat-free products and exploring plant-based milk alternatives like almond, soy, and oat milk. Low-fat and fat-free dairy offerings provide essential nutrients without the saturated fat found in whole-fat options.

Whole-fat dairy products, on the other hand, can contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels. By selecting low-fat dairy products, you can support your cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues.

Consider the following:

  • Fat-free or low-fat yogurt
  • Light cream cheese or fat-free cream cheese
  • Fat-free cheese

Nuts and seeds

Discover the heart-boosting potential of nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and seeds like chia and flaxseed. These nutrient-rich wonders offer heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids and a host of essential nutrients.

Nuts and seeds also provide polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are crucial for cardiovascular well-being.

  • Consume nuts and seeds in appropriate portions to avoid excessive calorie intake
  • Opt for unsalted varieties to manage sodium intake and promote cardiovascular health

Foods to Minimize or Avoid

Foods to Minimize or Avoid

Now that we know all about heart-healthy foods, let’s discuss some that you should try to minimize or avoid.

Trans and saturated fat

Trans fats and saturated fats can harm your cardiovascular well-being. In most cases, trans fat is produced by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil in an industrial process. Partially hydrogenated oils can be found in various food products, such as microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, and fried foods.

Saturated fat is found in foods like butter, palm and coconut oils, cheese, and red meat.

These fats can:

  • Lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • Raise levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol
  • Increase the risk of getting high blood pressure

Foods high in sodium

It’s important to limit sodium and opt for low-sodium foods to improve cardiovascular health. Excessive sodium consumption can lead to an increased heart disease risk and stroke.

Sodium-rich foods to be mindful of:

  • Canned soups
  • Fast food
  • Condiments
  • Frozen vegetables

Consider the following salt substitutes – herbs and spices, citrus zest, vinegar, garlic, onion, lemon or lime juice.

Beware of processed foods

Processed foods play a significant role in developing cardiovascular diseases due to their high levels of unhealthy fats, sodium, and additives. These foods contribute to weight gain and high cholesterol.

Try to avoid:

  • Processed meats – hot dogs, sausages, bacon, and deli meats
  • Snack foods – chips, pretzels, and other packaged snacks
  • Packaged baked goods – pastries, cookies, and cakes

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Sugary drinks and alcohol

Excessive intake of sugary beverages can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. Similarly, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to heart rhythm issues and other cardiovascular problems.

Opt for healthier alternatives:

  • Sugary drinks – choose water, herbal teas, drinks with less added sugar, or unsweetened sparkling water
  • Alcohol – if you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Red wine, in particular, contains antioxidants that may have heart benefits. Non-alcoholic beer and mocktails are also options
  • Other Useful Heart-Healthy Dieting Tips

Consistency and gradual changes are key when adopting a healthy diet.

  • Food labels provide all the information you need to know about the product. Reading food labels empowers you to make informed choices, guiding you away from hidden unhealthy ingredients.
  • Portion control prevents overeating, improves your eating habits, and supports your cardiovascular goals.
  • Opt for baking, steaming, and grilling instead of frying to retain nutrients and minimize unhealthy fats.
  • Meal planning and prepping help you avoid impulsive, less nutritious choices.
  • Regular checkups and discussions with healthcare professionals about your diet are essential for a comprehensive approach to cardiovascular health.

To help you start your health journey, consider tools like Cardi Health, an application that offers personalized heart care and guidance.

Cardi Health provides access to general health information and a personalized eating plan. It can help you reach your cardiovascular goals, healthy weight, and improved well-being.

FAQs on Heart-Healthy Diet

Heart-Healthy Eating

What is considered a heart-healthy diet?

A heart-healthy diet is centered around consuming foods that promote cardiovascular well-being and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

What is the best food to strengthen your heart?

Heart-healthy foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), nuts, and seeds, are excellent for cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation and supporting cardiovascular function.

Are eggs good for the heart?

Yes, when consumed in moderation, eggs can be part of a heart-healthy diet. They offer protein, vitamins, and minerals. However, limiting saturated fat intake from other sources is important to avoid coronary artery disease.


Prioritizing a heart-healthy diet is important to avoiding cardiovascular disease and improving overall well-being. Remember, it’s not only about what you eat but also how you live. Combining a nourishing healthy diet with regular exercise and positive lifestyle choices forms a comprehensive approach to heart health.

Your heart’s journey to wellness starts today. Make the choice for a healthier tomorrow. Your heart deserves it.

Start managing your heart health now!

Find out what works for you with this 60sec quiz.
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Robertas Pranevicius is a medical advisor at Cardi Health who earned his Master’s degree and cardiology residency from the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences. He specializes in interventional cardiology and performs both diagnostic and therapeutic invasive procedures. In recent years, he has focused on structural heart disease treatment, such as transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).

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Manage your heart health now

Find out what works best for you with this 60sec quiz and get your personalized heart health plan.

Take the quiz

Take part in our 60sec quiz and get a heart health plan tailored just for you.

Take the quiz