Love Your Heart: Heart Healthy Foods

Home / Cancer Lifeline / Love Your Heart: Heart Healthy Foods
Love Your Heart: Heart Healthy Foods

Heart disease is the #1 disease in the United States, killing more women than every type of cancer combined! As well, cardiotoxicity is a side effect of many chemotherapies. While genetics play a large role in health, it isn’t the complete picture. Diet and lifestyle help determine whether or not genes will be expressed in the first place. The American Heart Association states that as many as 80% of heart attacks could have been prevented through healthier lifestyle alone.

Foods that are important to include for cardiovascular health include:

  • Beans/Legumes (in place of animal proteins or alongside)
  • Cocoa (dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa)
  • Grape Juice/Red Wine (4-6 ounces per day only, more than this increases disease)
  • Nuts/Seeds (look for raw nuts and stores in the refrigerator or freezer ideally)
  • Oats/Oatmeal (but not the sugary instant kind)
  • Berries (look for organic and mostly only in season – spring/summer ideally)
  • Dark leafy greens (includes broccoli for essential minerals)

Our bodies need cholesterol, which is I a type of lipid, to make cell membranes, hormones, Vitamin D, and bile acids needed to digest and absorb fats. What is “bad” about cholesterol isn’t the substance itself but whether or not it will harden into plaques.

Our bodies need some fat, but you need the right kind. You should eliminate or reduce saturated fat found in animal products like beef, pork, and dairy foods while increasing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in avocados, chia seeds, hempseed oils, natural peanut butter, nuts and seeds, and other unrefined plant oils.

To keep your heart healthy you should also try to do these daily:

1 – Move your body. Research shows that daily activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, and cycling, can reduce blood pressure. Start slowly and aim for 15 minutes increasing to 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week.

2 – Stay calm. Stress can raise blood pressure, while relaxation techniques appear to lower it. Learn and practice a mind-body approach such as breath work, yoga or medication and take advantages of its benefits regularly. So BREATHE!

3 – Eat a healthy diet. Adequate intake of nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamins, is essential to maintain blood vessels and healthy circulation.

Avoid Trans-fats. Found in most margarine, candies, snack foods, processed foods, and some cooking oils, (often listed on food labels as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil), reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and raise :D: (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Also,  avoid overheated fats, such as oil used for deep-frying. These fats are oxidized or damaged, therefore regular consumption is likely to have a variety of negative health effects.

Reduce Animal protein. Excessive animal foods have been shown to raise levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that may contribute to heart disease. Substitute some animal protein with any legume – aim for 1-2 servings such as lentils,  split peas, pinto beans, tofu, edamame, or black beans per day.

Reduce refined carbohydrates. Sugar (cookie, cakes, crackers, soft breads, chips, and sodas) can increase triglyceride levels, harden plaques, and lower HDL.

Reduce Sodium. Excessive sodium has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. The main sources are store-bought bread, boxed and canned foods, and restaurant food. Adding a dash of sea salt to homemade meals is not seen to be a problem, it is negligible in comparison to the amounts in pre-made foods.


Presented by Ami Karnosh, MS, Nutritionist. Ami regularly presents classes for Cancer Lifeline as part of PCC Cooks at the Green Lake PCC.  To learn more about upcoming classes, check out our class listings.