Heart-Healthy Foods

By Charlyn Fargo

February 8, 2019 5 min read

Throughout the month of February, American Heart Month, Americans are urged to join the battle against heart disease, the No. 1 health risk in both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A healthy diet and lifestyle can be modified to help decrease the risk of disease and increase quality of life.

A heart-healthy diet includes whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meat, poultry and fish, nuts, legumes and nontropical vegetable oils.

Whole grains — in particular, oats — have been repeatedly shown to help promote heart health. There is a solid body of evidence for oats' role in lowering blood cholesterol (a risk factor for heart disease) thanks to the power of the soluble fiber beta-glucan, according to the American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. This soluble fiber is largely unique to oats and may help lower blood cholesterol. Beta-glucan forms a gel in the gut, binding bile acids — containing cholesterol — and then excreting them before they reach the bloodstream. As a result, the liver pulls LDL (bad) cholesterol from the blood to replace the excreted bile acids, resulting in reduced blood cholesterol.

Oatmeal was the subject of the first food-specific health claim approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which states: "Soluble fiber from oatmeal as a daily part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. Three grams daily are needed for this benefit."

A half-cup serving of old-fashioned Quaker oatmeal provides 2 grams of soluble fiber. Oats can be mixed into smoothies or incorporated into other recipes to increase their amount of soluble fiber (to get at least 3 grams).

Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that may help protect you from chronic illness, such as heart disease. Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts as part of a healthful diet are more likely to have reduced risk of heart disease.

Here are some tips for making heart-healthy choices. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables over canned or frozen ones. If you choose canned, look for no-salt-added and lower-sugar options. For whole grains, choose oats, 100 percent whole-wheat bread, brown rice and quinoa. For plant-based proteins, try beans, nuts, seeds and legumes. Include fish, lean red meats and poultry, as well as low-fat dairy. Choose healthy oils such as olive, canola and peanut.

Q and A

Q: Is psyllium a good way to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol?

A: A recent analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms psyllium can lower LDL cholesterol. This seed grain is sold as a fiber supplement and laxative. (Metamucil is one brand). The analysis pooled data from 28 clinical trials, involving 1,924 people, most with elevated blood cholesterol, and lasting an average of about 12 weeks. It found that a medium dose of psyllium (10 grams, about 2 teaspoons, which supplies 7 grams of soluble fiber) lowered LDL by an average of about 13 mg/dL, or about 10 percent. Psyllium also lowered blood levels of apolipoprotein-B and non-HDL cholesterol, two other markers of coronary risk. Higher doses of psyllium did not produce additional benefits.

Information courtesy of University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter.


Oatmeal is perfect for a winter warm-up. Here's a heart-healthy recipe from American Pecans.

Banana Pecan Cherry Oatmeal

1 cup old-fashioned oats

2 cups water

1/2 cup low-fat milk

1 banana, sliced

1/4 cup pecan halves

1/4 cup dried tart cherries

1/4 cup honey

Place oats and water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes or until oats are cooked through. Watch carefully to avoid boiling over. Remove from microwave, stir and divide between two bowls. Pour half of the milk over each bowl. Divide sliced banana, pecan halves and dried tart cherries between the two bowls. Drizzle each bowl with 2 tablespoons honey and serve immediately. Serves 2.

Per serving: 490 calories, 9 grams protein; 92 grams carbohydrate; 13 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated); 5 milligrams sodium; 7 grams fiber; 40 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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