'A Hearty Meal: What To Eat To Protect Your Heart'


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Heart disease is the biggest killer. There are many things you can do to keep your heart healthy, but arguably the most important thing you can do is to consider your diet. Studies suggest that almost 90% of all heart disease cases can be linked to a poor diet. But just what foods should you be eating? And which food should you be limiting? This guide explains more.

Why your diet matters…

Much of the stuff we eat ends up in our bloodstream. It is then transported around the body to where our body thinks it is needed. Too much of certain substances can affect the quality of our blood and how well it flows. This has a knock-on effect on the heart.

Salt, sugar and saturated fats are the three biggest villains in our diet. A diet high in salt can lead to high blood pressure, which damages our arteries and veins. A diet high in sugar or saturated fats can lead to high blood cholesterol (fat in our blood), which can build up and cause blockages. This in turn can lead to a stroke or a heart attack.

Many people survive strokes and heart attacks - providing they get medical attention fast enough. When the heart gets too weak it can go into cardiac arrest, which is much more life-threatening if someone doesn’t provide CPR. You can obtain CPR first aid certification online.

It’s worth noting that just as there are foods that can damage the heart, there are foods that can also protect and strengthen the heart. Certain substances in our food can actively lower our blood pressure if it is too high or reduce cholesterol levels if we have too much bad cholesterol. Others can fight inflammation and help the heart repair itself. You can read more about these foods below.

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What are some of the best foods for your heart?

Many naturally-occurring foods are good for our heart. They do not contain too much salt or sugar, and contain healthy fats. Some of the best foods for heart health include: 


The ‘Mediterranean diet’ is believed to be very good for the heart, partly because it is so tomato heavy. Tomatoes are rich in potassium and lycopene - two ingredients that can help lower bad cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. Lycopene is also very good at fighting inflammation, further protecting the heart.

Olive oil

Another common ingredient in the Mediterranean diet with proven heart health benefits is olive oil. The healthy fats found in olive oil combined with its abundant antioxidant compounds like vitamin E make it very effective at fighting inflammation in the heart and reducing bad cholesterol. 


There’s truth in the nursery rhyme ‘beans, beans, good for your heart’. Navy beans, kidney beans and pinto beans are full of fiber and potassium to help regular cholesterol and blood pressure. Unfortunately, the farting part is also true.  Unfortunately, the farting part is also true.

The good news is that dishes with beans in them can be scrumptious as well as great for your health. Check out the many recipes you will find foodbackwards.com, if you are looking for the tastiest bean-filled meals. Oh and be sure to give Pancho's Southwestern Bean And Barley Salad a try, it's delicious!


Bananas are renowned for being full of potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure. They also pack lots of fiber to soak up cholesterol. This makes them one of the healthiest fruits for the heart (although it's worth noting that pretty much all fruits have heart health benefits).


An apple per day could indeed keep the doctor away. On top of being rich in fiber to lower bad cholesterol, apples contain lots of polyphenols - compounds which are believed to be important for the inner lining of the heart. 


Most nuts and legumes are good for the heart. However, almonds may have some of the greatest benefits. Their unique mix of fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats makes them great for lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol. 


Salmon may be a ‘fatty fish’, but it’s not the type of fat that’s bad for your heart. In fact, its abundance of omega-3 fatty acids actively helps to reduce cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, fight inflammation and slow down the build-up of plaque in the arteries. 


While a diet high in meat proteins has been linked to heart disease, high levels of plant proteins seem to have the opposite effect on the heart. These proteins along with compounds called isoflavones have been found to lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.


It was once believed that eggs were bad for the heart. But unless you’re eating a huge amount of them, they’re in fact more likely to protect your heart. A high content of HDL (high density lipoprotein) has been found to help clear buildups of cholesterol in the blood - reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

Red wine

Red wine may contain alcohol - which can damage the heart by increasing blood pressure - but it also contains an antioxidant called resveratrol that can protect the lining of your blood vessels and heart. When drank in moderation, this can actually make red wine a good ingredient to include in a heart-friendly diet. 

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What are some of the worst foods for your heart?

The above foods and drinks will only benefit your heart if you are making sure not to consume certain ‘unfriendly’ foods and drinks. Below are just some of the biggest food culprits to cut down on in your diet.


If you regularly eat bacon for breakfast, you may want to cut back. Bacon is full of saturated fat and salt, which can increase your levels of bad cholesterol and cause high blood pressure. 

Hot dogs

Like bacon, hot dogs have lots of salt added to them which makes them big offenders when it comes to encouraging high blood pressure. They’re also often high in saturated fat. It’s a good idea to not eat too many processed meats because of this (which includes bacon and hot dogs, and also salami, lunch meats and sausages). 

Canned soup

Canned soup is a less obvious unhealthy food. It’s part of the ‘salty six’ - six foods that are high in salt and which experts recommend you restrict if you want to avoid high blood pressure. Homemade soups are typically a healthier option as you can control exactly how much salt goes into them. 

White bread

Another surprising member of the ‘salty six’ is white bread. Although you cannot taste it, white bread is packed with, which can raise your blood pressure if you’re eating it every day. It’s also a refined grain - which means it has had most of  its nutrients and fiber stripped away. Brown bread is much healthier because it uses whole grains, preserving natural fiber and nutrients that can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. 


A single slice of pizza can contain almost a third of your recommended daily salt allowance. A pizza’s topping can also be high in fat and nitrates, that are also bad for the heart. It’s worth noting that you can make a pizza healthy, however frozen pizza and takeout pizza is not the way to go.

Fried chicken

Fried foods are full of saturated fat and trans fats. These are the types of fats that turn into bad cholesterol and block arteries. Fried meats like chicken can be particularly high in these fats.


Ketchup may be made from tomatoes, but it’s also packed full of salt and sugar. Those that eat ketchup with every meal are more likely to end up with high blood pressure because of this.

Candy bars

Most candy is bad for the heart because it is high in sugar and has little to no nutrients. Candy bars are particularly unhealthy though because they are often full of full fat milk, which is high in saturated fat. Low-sugar dark chocolate is not unhealthy though - in fact it contains powerful antioxidants that are good for the heart. 


Soda is one of the most sugary things we consume. In fact, a can of Coke has more sugar than the recommended daily allowance. This sugar raises blood pressure and increases bad blood cholesterol. Sadly, soda drinks with artificial sugars are believed to be just as bad for the heart - it may not raise your blood pressure as much, but it contains ingredients that can also clog your arteries. 

Energy drinks

Regular consumption of energy drinks have been linked to an increased risk of developing atrial defibrillation. This is due to their high caffeine and sugar content, which can put our blood pressure sky high. Energy drinks combined with alcohol are a particularly dangerous combo, and people who drink them regularly can quickly put themselves at risk of a heart attack. Instead of energy drinks, consider opting for coffee with no sugar and a small amount of milk. Due to the nutrients found in coffee, it is actually very good for your heart, providing that you are not drinking too many cups per day. 


Foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats do not have to be given up, but they should be limited to protect your heart. Meanwhile, foods that are rich in fiber, omega-3, potassium or other antioxidants should be consumed regularly to keep your cardiovascular system healthy. For a truly happy heart, it is of course important that you are also exercising frequently and limiting stress in your life.

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