Updated: Jul 20
February is American Heart Month, a time to bring awareness to heart disease and reflect on habits we have in place that tend to a healthy heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States and it's not just a disease for older adults. About 18.2 million adults age 20 and older have coronary artery disease and approximately 2 in 10 cardiovascular-related deaths happen in adults less than 65 years of age. No matter what your age, it's important to care for your heart.
Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol, obesity, and diabetes. Many of these are lifestyle factors that can be managed. For example, eating more plant-based foods can help to lower cholesterol, decrease blood pressure, manage weight and blood sugar, and reduce inflammation.
What is Cholesterol?
How to Lower LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides
What you eat can have profound effects on your risk of heart disease. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is low in fiber. In fact, less than five percent of Americans get the recommended amount of fiber each day, which is 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men (these are minimums!). Animal products, such as dairy and meat, have no fiber. Fiber can only be found in plant-based foods. Soluble fiber is one type of fiber that can lower cholesterol. It's found in apples, beans, pears, oats, and chia seeds, just to name a few. Fiber can also help to build a healthy gut, leading to less inflammation and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Plant-based foods are naturally low in saturated fat and have more heart-healthy unsaturated fat, which is favorable for a healthy heart.
Plants also have compounds called phytonutrients, or “plant nutrients,” that have been shown to act like antioxidants by scavenging free radicals and lowering LDL cholesterol. Many phytonutrients can also reduce your risk of heart disease by dilating blood vessels, and improving blood flow.
Below are 10 foods or food groups that are packed with fiber and phytonutrients, which can lower unhealthy cholesterol and raise good cholesterol, reducing your overall risk of heart disease.
1. Oats (and other whole grains)