Illustration: Human Heart

by Manjari Fergusson

Along with eating a plant-based diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, plant-proteins (like legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds) instead of meat-proteins, and along with consuming healthy fats, here is a list of foods that studies have specifically shown may help protect against heart disease.

  1. Kale - This green leafy vegetable is full of flavonoids, omega-3s and vitamin K, which are anti-inflammatory.1 Chronic inflammation is one of the leading causes of heart disease.2 Kale is also abundant in the carotenoid lutein. Add kale to your salad or stir fry, or try steaming it and adding it on top of whole wheat toast.
  2. Omega-3 - Dietary omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.3 It is considered important to have a healthy balance of omega-3s with another fatty acid, omega-6. Omega-6 is found in many nuts, seeds, and oils. Increasing your intake of omega-3 has the potential to protect against heart disease and other chronic diseases. Sources of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean oil. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include sea life such algae, which can be taken as supplements.
  3. Pomegranates - Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory effects. They can also help reduce blood pressure. Studies have shown that the fruit may help to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries. In both laboratory and clinical studies, pomegranate shows great potential in preventing numerous effects associated with cardiovascular disease.4 The easiest way to consume pomegranates is through juice, of which Down to Earth has many options.
  4. Nuts - Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts and pistachios are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and almonds and macadamia nuts are also full of mono- and polyunsaturated fat. Nuts have shown in studies to lower cholesterol and are also good sources of fiber.5 A handful of nuts as a snack or thrown in a salad are tasty ways to get these benefits.
  5. Garlic - There is some evidence that shows garlic may help prevent heart disease. It may slow down atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries, and also help lower blood pressure.6 Garlic can be added to many dishes for flavor, including pasta sauce and stir fry, and you can also buy garlic supplements at Down to Earth.
  6. Lentils - Studies have shown that eating high fiber foods, such as lentils, can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Lentils are also rich in folate and magnesium, which are beneficial to your heart. Folate helps lower homocysteine levels, which can be a significant cause for heart disease.7 Magnesium is good for increasing blood flow, oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. Adding or increasing lentils in your diet is a tasty way to keep your heart happy. There are different kinds of lentils, with different flavors, but most take less than an hour to cook.
  7. Berries - Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries are all rich in antioxidants, and studies have shown that berries are essential in a heart-healthy diet.8 Berries are also full of beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber, all of which are beneficial for your heart. Berries are great to have for breakfast with yogurt or in muffins. Berry smoothies are also yummy options or even just a handful of berries by themselves.
  8. Whole grains - Whole grains, which are high in fiber, are very beneficial for heart health.9 Try and eat whole grains daily (brown rice, oats, stone ground whole wheat or sprouted wheat, quinoa, barley, etc). Whole grains have been proven essential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems and are always a better choice than refined, processed foods.
Footnotes: 
  1. WH Foods. Worlds Healthiest Foods: Kale. Retrieved on January 7, 2013 from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38
  2. Leo Galland, MD. "Diet and Inflammation." Nutrition in Clinical Practice. December 2010: Volume: 25 Issue: 6 Pages: 634-640.
  3. Psota TL, Gebauer SK, Kris-Etherton P. Department of Nutritional Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA. The American Journal of Cardiology. 2006, 98 (4A):3i-18i.
  4. Basu, A. and Penugonda, K. “Pomegranate juice: a heart-healthy fruit juice.” Nutrition Reviews. 2009. 67: 49–56. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00133.x
  5. Kris-Etherton, P. M., Zhao, G., Binkoski, A. E., Coval, S. M. and Etherton, T. D. (2001). “The Effects of Nuts on Coronary Heart Disease Risk.” Nutrition Reviews, 59: 103–111. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2001.tb06996.x
  6. University of Maryland Medical Center. Garlic. Retrieved on January 7, 2013.
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Homocysteine, Folic Acid and Cardiovascular Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1661741/
  8. Basu, A., Rhone, M. and Lyons, T. J. Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010. 68: 168–177. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00273.x
  9. Satya S. Jonnalagadda, Lisa Harnack, Rui Hai Liu, Nicola McKeown, Chris Seal, Simin Liu, and George C. Fahey. “Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. ” The Journal of Nutrition. Epub March 30, 2011. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2011/04/06/jn.110.132944.full.pdf