Then there’s the fact that naturally fiber-rich foods, like whole grains, are packed with additional helpful nutrients. Most whole grains contain B vitamins and minerals such as selenium and magnesium, says Dr. Feresin, which can help your body regulate blood pressure, ward off damage to the cells, and more.
If you’re looking for ways to add fiber, Dr. Feresin recommends choosing whole wheat pasta or brown rice pasta instead of regular pasta, brown rice rather than white rice, whole wheat bread instead of white bread, whole wheat cereal, and whole oats. Try the pseudo whole grains amaranth, chia seeds, and quinoa. Add quinoa to your salad or chia seeds to your yogurt or overnight oats, she recommends. High-fiber fruits and vegetables include raspberries, pears, apples (with the skin), bananas, green peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Watch your sodium intake.
Sodium is an essential mineral that helps control your body’s fluid balance. It honestly helps a lot of food taste really great, too. However, most of us consistently take in more sodium than we need—and it’s that chronic overconsumption that can become an issue for your heart. That can mean more fluid in your blood vessels, potentially leading to an increase in blood pressure that can make your heart have to work harder to pump blood throughout your body, says Dr. Feresin.
To reduce blood pressure, the AHA recommends eating no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Canned foods, preserved foods, and restaurant meals can be particularly high in sodium, Dr. Hong says. So can processed meats like hot dogs, salami, sausage, and ham. While delicious, the combo of sodium and saturated fat in these meats, especially if eaten frequently over time, makes them pretty unsavory for heart health, says Dr. Hong. In fact, the top source of sodium and saturated fat in the American diet is sandwiches. Which doesn’t necessarily mean you need to swear off sandwiches forever—but it’s good to know if you’re specifically trying to eat in a way that supports optimum heart health.
Just as important as reducing sodium intake is upping your potassium intake, a mineral that counterbalances sodium in regulating your fluid balance, says Dr. Feresin. The average American consumes far less than the recommended amount of 4,700 mg per day.
Find potassium in apricots, prunes, oranges, squash, spinach, tomato, asparagus, beans, lentils, milk, yogurt, chicken, turkey, beef, salmon, and more, Dr. Feresin says. And to add flavor to dishes without sprinkling on extra salt, try adding seasonings, like herbs, hot spices, garlic, or saffron.
5. Fill your plate with color.
Fruits and vegetables are filled with fiber, and they are delivery vessels for lots of powerful micronutrients, including compounds called polyphenols. “These bioactive compounds not only contribute to taste, color, and flavor of plant foods, but they also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hypertensive properties,” says Dr. Feresin. They help keep cholesterol from forming plaques, prevent blood cells from sticking together, improve artery dilation, decrease arterial stiffness, decrease blood pressure, and more, she says.
No one polyphenol can be considered the best, and there’s no one particular piece of produce you should pick up every single day. Variety is the key.
“One of the things that we believe is that those polyphenols are acting additively and synergistically, so it’s not just one; it’s actually more than one that is exerting the effect in the body,” says Dr. Feresin. “That’s one of the reasons why we advocate the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, because you’re not only going to be getting a single polyphenol. You’re going to be getting hundreds of polyphenols, and getting all the other nutrients as well.”