You’re never too young to start eating for your arteries—blockages can start early. Science shows that these foods could be your ticker’s best friend.
Keep your heart healthy
The number one killer in the United States is heart disease: According to the CDC, 610,000 people die from it every year—that is about one out of every four deaths. The cause is clogged arteries, and things like calcium, plaque, and fatty acids can do the damage. “There is no one magic food that acts like Drano and cleans out the accumulated plaque,” says Florian Rader, MD, a cardiologist at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “But good habits can help slow down that process, and maintaining a healthy weight and diet is one factor you can control to a great degree. And,” he says, “It’s never too late to start.”
It’s been more than 20 years since the FDA approved heart-healthy claims for these whole grains, and research keeps uncovering new benefits. The main one, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, is their rich supply of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol levels. Why that’s good for your arteries, according to Dr. Rader: “Cholesterol can seep into the inner layer of blood vessels and form plaque over time.” Since most Americans fall chronically short on fiber, the four grams per cup that oats deliver are a welcome addition.
In addition to being a great source of soluble fiber—black beans have three times as much of it per cup as oats—studies have found that bean-rich diets may help make arteries more elastic, contributing to lower blood pressure. Another perk: Antioxidants, which are especially abundant in colorful varieties such as black beans and red kidney beans, may fight the inflammation that contributes to heart disease. Check out these 10 heart-healthy meals cardiologists make for themselves.
These protein-packed discs come from the same legume family as beans, which means that they pack many similar benefits. Preliminary research in rats found that lentils appear to reverse the damage to blood vessels caused by high blood pressure. Plus, lentils are at the top of the food spectrum for protein and fiber content, with very little fat, and contain calcium, potassium, and magnesium—all minerals that can help lower blood pressure. Find out the best and worst diets for heart health.