Legumes, also known as pulses, are a group of plant foods that includes beans, peas and lentils.
A review of 26 randomized controlled studies found that eating half a cup (118 ml) of legumes per day is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol by an average of 6.6 mg/dl, compared to not eating legumes (study).
Other studies have linked pulses with weight loss, even in diets that are not calorie-restricted (study).
An avocado a day can help keep bad cholesterol at bay.
They’re a rich source of monounsaturated fats and fiber — two nutrients that help lower LDL and raise healthy HDL cholesterol (study).
One study has shown that one avocado per day has beneficial effects beyond their fatty acid profile on decreasing LDL cholesterol and other emerging cardiovascular disease risk factors (study)
In another study, overweight and obese adults with high LDL cholesterol who ate one avocado daily lowered their LDL levels more than those who didn’t eat avocados (study).
3. Nuts, Especially Almonds and Walnuts
Nuts are another exceptionally nutrient-dense food.
Eating a daily serving of nuts is linked to a 28% lower risk of both fatal and nonfatal heart disease (study).
Walnuts are good because they have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which is linked to heart health (study).
These fatty acids lower levels of triglycerides, a type of harmful fat in the bloodstream.
Nuts also contain protein. They’re particularly rich in L-arginine, an amino acid that helps make nitric oxide. This, in turn, helps regulate blood pressure (study).
4. Fruits and Berries
Fruit is an excellent addition to a heart-healthy diet for several reasons.
Many types of fruit are rich in soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels (study).
One kind of soluble fiber called pectin has been shown to lower cholesterol by up to 10%. It’s found in fruits including apples, grapes, citrus fruits and strawberries (study).
Eating berries and grapes, which are particularly rich sources of these plant compounds, can help increase HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol (study).
5. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are excellent sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are linked to improved heart health via increasing HDL cholesterol and lowering inflammation and stroke risk.
A large study of elderly adults found that those who ate tuna or other baked or broiled fish at least once a week had a 27% lower risk of stroke (study).
Note that the healthiest ways to eat fish are baked, broiled, grilled or raw. Fried fish may actually increase the risk of heart disease and stroke (study).
Some of the heart-protective benefits of fish may also come from certain peptides found in fish protein (study).
Vegetables are an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
They’re rich in fiber and antioxidants and low in calories, which is helpful for maintaining a healthy weight.
Some vegetables are particularly high in pectin, the same cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber found in apples and oranges (study).
Pectin-rich vegetables also include okra, eggplants, carrots and potatoes.
Vegetables also deliver a range of plant compounds. These plant compounds are linked to health benefits including protection against heart disease.
7. Whole Grains, Especially Oats and Barley
Extensive research links whole grains to a lower risk of heart disease (study).
In fact, a review of 45 studies linked eating three servings of whole grains daily to a 20% lower risk of heart disease and stroke. The benefits were even greater with more servings of whole grains, up to seven servings a day (study).
Whole grains have all parts of the grain intact, which provides them with more vitamins, minerals, plant compounds and fiber than refined grains.While all whole grains may promote heart health, two grains are particularly worth noting:
- Oats: They contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Eating oats is linked to a 5% reduction in total cholesterol and a 7% reduction in LDL cholesterol (study).
- Barley: Is also rich in beta-glucans and can help lower LDL cholesterol (study).
8. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
One of the most important foods in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is extra virgin olive oil.
One study gave participants 4 tablespoons a day, in addition to a Mediterranean diet.
The olive oil group had a 30% lower risk of major heart events, such as stroke and heart attack, compared to people who followed a low-fat diet (study).
Those were the results of a five-year intervention study in older adults at risk of heart disease.
Olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, the kind that may help raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower LDL cholesterol.
It is also a source of polyphenols, some of which have been shown to reduce the inflammation that can drive heart disease (study).
What You Should Do Next
1. If you’d like to try the Mediterranean diet plan, get a free 7 day Mediterranean Diet plan (including 20 recipes, a corresponding meal plan and shopping list.
2. If you are serious about starting a Mediterranean diet, check out ‘Med in 28’ plan, which helps build healthy Mediterranean eating habits in 28 days.
3. If you’re looking to start cooking Mediterranean recipes—or need some inspiration—then like our Facebook page.