About half of the deaths in the United States from cardiovascular disease have one contributing factor in common: a poor diet. We've known for a long time that what we eat affects our heart health, but two new studies look more closely at how food affects cardiovascular health, Dallas News reports.
Researchers determined that food is the biggest contributor to heart health. It's more of a factor in how healthy a heart is than genetics, exercise and smoking. Eating the wrong foods contributes to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes — all risk factors for heart disease.
Foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar and white flour should be eaten in moderation, but it's not just what you don't eat that can contribute to heart health. There are some foods that can be a regular part of your diet that make the heart happy, and here are just a few.
The high fiber in oatmeal helps to control cholesterol, according to Mayo Clinic. The fiber reduces low density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as "bad" cholesterol. Stay away from the sugar bowl and instead sweeten oatmeal with antioxidant powerhouses like blueberries or raspberries for added heart benefits. Oatmeal is also a filling food, and a bowl for breakfast might stave off the mid-morning munchies and the temptation to reach for a doughnut.
More good news about oatmeal: It doesn't matter what type of oats you choose. Whole oat groats have basically the same nutrition that quick cooking oats have. The difference in the oats will be the cooking time and the texture, not the amount of fiber.
The American Heart Association sings the praises of beans as a protein source that's good for your heart. Beans are low in fat, and the fat they contain is not saturated like the fat found in a lot of animal protein. And, like oatmeal, beans are high in fiber and are good for cholesterol. The AHA recommends rinsing canned beans well to get rid of some of the salt since it can contribute to high blood pressure.
More good news about beans: Eating beans instead of beef for protein helps put a dent in greenhouse gas emissions. And you don't have to go eliminate beef completely for these benefits. If everyone switched out a few beef dinners a month with a few bean dinners, there would still be environmental benefits.
Beyond cutting back on salt, there's more you can do to keep your blood pressure in a healthy place. You may be able to improve your systolic and diastolic blood pressure by eating blueberries every day. It could take as little as eight weeks of enjoying the sweet berries to do it. A study found that participants who ate blueberries daily lowered their systolic blood pressure by an average 5.1 percent and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 6.3 percent.
More good news about blueberries: They're good for the health of your hair, too. They have a ton of vitamin C, which feeds the hair follicles in your scalp making them strong and less susceptible to breakage.
The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, as well as other oily fish like sardines, mackerel and tuna, lower the risk of heart problems like arrhythmia and atherosclerosis, according to Health. A 5-ounce portion also has 40 grams of protein.
More good news about salmon: Like blueberries, it's also good for healthy hair.
Perhaps an unexpected food on this list, popcorn is high in polyphenols, antioxidants that improve heart health. Of course, how the popcorn is prepared makes a big difference. Movie theater popcorn and the majority of microwave popcorns contain fat, salt and even sugar that aren't heart healthy. Popcorn should be air popped or popped in olive oil to reap all the benefits.
More good news about popcorn: This snack that's also high in fiber and whole grains can be made in the Instant Pot so you don't have to stand over the stove shaking a heavy pan for 10 minutes.
All teas — green, white, black and herbal — have heart-healthy properties, says Huffington Post. They have a positive effect on blood vessel function, which can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies show that it could take as little as one cup of tea a day to get these benefits, too.
More good news about tea: The beverage may also help control high blood sugar, which can lead to diabetes. So, tea helps combat heat disease on more than one front.
The healthy fats in pumpkin seeds help reduce cholesterol. They're also packed with magnesium, which helps to control blood pressure, according to Active Kids. When they're roasted in heart-healthy olive oil, they're even more beneficial. Watch the salt; sprinkle it very lightly on your roasted pumpkin seeds.
More good news about pumpkin seeds: They're plant-based protein bombs and bolster your immune system.