Most of us know that we can reduce our risk of developing heart disease with lifestyle changes – like incorporating exercise into our daily routine.

But did you know that heart disease can be reversed through those same lifestyle changes, especially proper nutrition? It may be hard to believe, but according to published studies, it’s true.

Your diet impacts your health directly. And the foods that you eat – or in some cases, the foods that you don’t eat – can make all the difference to your heart’s health.

Unfortunately, it seems like every day there’s a new diet craze that hits the newsstands, resulting in a lot of misinformation about what we should be eating.

And this is despite the fact that the science is voluminous and consistent: a whole food, plant-based diet is best. This means, eating foods that grow from the ground. And the less processed the better.

If your goal is to avoid heart disease or help reverse it, here are 4 heart-healthy food groups that should dominate your diet.

Grains

Whole food fiber is essential to overall health. It ensures better digestion, supports a healthy microbiome, keeps us feeling fuller longer and helps to blunt blood sugar spikes. The recommended intake of fiber for women is at least 25 grams per day.

Most of us get less than 15. Fiber is a component of all plant-based foods, but is especially abundant in whole grains. Think steel cut oats, amaranth, farro, bulgur, pearled barley and brown rice. Where the fiber comes from matters.

The studies that have shown health benefits related to increased fiber intake have been predominantly based on fiber that comes from whole foods, rather than items fortified with added fiber, like many processed foods.

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Nuts

There aren’t enough words to express just how important nuts are to your heart health. For starters, nuts contain healthy fats and fiber, which help lower cholesterol and reduce type 2 diabetes risk.

In addition, nuts are a good source of L-arginine, a substance that dilates arteries, improves blood flow, and helps lower blood pressure. And all those health benefits add up to significant improvements in health outcomes.

A recent study from Harvard, that included over 200,000 people, found that those who regularly ate nuts, including walnuts, tree nuts and peanuts, experienced less heart disease as compared to people who never or almost never ate them.

Fruits

Fruits are full of antioxidants which fight inflammation. Given that heart disease is at least in part caused by inflammation, taking in lots of antioxidants is highly beneficial.

Additionally, diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium have been shown to significantly lower blood pressure. Different fruits have their own unique benefits so eating a mixture is a good strategy.

For example, apples contain flavonoids which help reduce tension on your arteries. Bananas and grapefruit both contain magnesium and calcium, which help lower blood pressure. Kiwi is a good source of vitamin E, and helps keep LDL – the bad cholesterol – levels low.

You should aim to eat at least 3 servings of fruit per day. And always go for fresh or fresh frozen fruit instead of canned, as canned fruit is more likely to contain added sugars.

Seeds

Seeds contain all the nutrients needed to support life – as in a new plant – and they’re good for us, too.

For example, flaxseed is a super food containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, lignans and fiber. And, together, these three nutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and diabetes.

In addition to helping reduce inflammation throughout our bodies via their omega-3 content, flaxseeds also contain amino acids which help normalize the heartbeat and lower blood pressure.

Flaxseeds can be found in hundreds of products like cereal and crackers, and even in some more indulgent items like Step One Foods Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cluster Bars.

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Listing all the foods that can help improve your heart health could go on for pages and pages. And that’s a good thing, because it means you have lots of options to help support your heart health efforts.

So long as your diet is rich in antioxidants, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids you’ll be way ahead of the game. But remember, those three nutrients can only come from plants – so make sure your diet is full of nuts, seeds, fruits and whole grains.

That will make sure you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs to promote healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, reduce inflammation and give you the greatest chances of preventing – or even reversing – heart disease.

Do you have a favorite heart-healthy food or snack? Share them in the comments section below to help others in the community find some new heart-healthy goodies that they can incorporate into their diets.

Elizabeth KlodasElizabeth Klodas MD, FACC trained at Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins and is a practicing cardiologist in Minneapolis, MN. She specializes in heart disease prevention. She is also founder of Step One Foods, a company dedicated to helping patients minimize their dependence on medications through strategic dietary change.

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