Top Ten Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Coconut oil’s in, butter’s out. Olive oil is good but canola oil is bad. Running is good, but marathon running is bad... With all the conflicting information out there, caring for your heart can sometimes seem impossible.

But it needn’t be so complicated. We’ve selected the top ten healthiest food for the heart – research-proven, so you know you’re doing the right thing. And the great news? You’ll find many of them in your kitchen cupboard.

1. Salmon

Top of the list for heart-healthy foods has to be salmon. Salmon and other dark, oily fish like mackerel and sardines are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which help thin the blood, reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise beneficial HDL cholesterol, while improving blood pressure. Omega-3 fish oil may also help keep hearts healthy by managing inflammation, which is increasingly implicated in the development of coronary heart disease[1].

These benefits may explain why people who eat fish a couple of times a week are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who avoid fish[2].

Low in saturated fat and a great source of protein, salmon is a versatile and convenient option for lunch or dinner. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice per week[3].

Not a fan of fish or struggle to meet the recommended weekly intake?  Consider an Omega-3 supplement. Xtendlife’s Omega 3 DHA Fish Oil contains high levels of DHA to support healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure and manage inflammation. Made from Hoki oil in its natural form of triglycerides and tuna oil as concentrated esters, Xtendlife Omega 3 DHA Fish Oil is highly bioavailable, so you can be certain your body is receiving the full benefit. Plus it’s sustainably sourced, so you know you’re doing the right thing for the environment.

2. Oats

Fan of oatmeal for breakfast? You’re on to a great thing. Oats’ high fiber content makes them fantastic for the heart. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at the relationship between dietary fiber intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. The study found that those consuming the most fiber (20.7 grams a day) experienced 11 percent less cardiovascular disease compared to those consuming the least amount (five grams per day).

It’s oats’ high soluble fiber content that makes them so good for the heart. Soluble fiber is a special type of fiber that combines with water to form a gel or mucilage. This gel binds with excess cholesterol, toxins and spent hormones in the digestive tract and helps remove them from the body.  Without sufficient soluble fiber these nasties are reabsorbed[4]. Oats are particularly high in soluble fibre beta-glucan which actually limits the absorption of LDL cholesterol[5].

Filling up on oats may also help keep your blood pressure healthy. A recent study showed that adding whole oats to the standard American diet can help reduce blood pressure in people with mild or borderline hypertension. The participants who added oats to their diets experienced a 7.5 unit drop in systolic blood pressure and a 5.5 unit reduction in diastolic blood pressure[6].

3. Olive Oil

A cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet (widely acclaimed for its heart-protective benefits), olive oil is packed with anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids, which help lower harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides[7].

The secret to olive oil’s health-boosting properties is oleic acid, a potent anti-oxidant which helps manage inflammation and fight free radical damage. Diets high in extra virgin olive oil are associated with a lower risk of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.

The protective effects of a Mediterranean diet high in olive-oil have been extensively studied, with one study showing the diet may decrease the risk of cardiac death by 30 percent and sudden cardiac death by 45 percent![8]

So how much olive oil do you need to obtain the heart-healthy benefits? One to four tablespoons seems to be the optimum amount. Extra virgin olive oil is easily damaged by heat and light, so it’s important that you store it carefully and avoid cooking with it. Purchase only cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil in dark glass bottles and store it away from heat and light. Avoid heating olive oil above 200⁰c – it’s best kept for drizzling on salads or used as a dip for bread.

4. Garlic

Another staple of the Mediterranean diet, garlic delivers a range of heart-healthy benefits. Regular consumption of garlic has been linked to decreased risk of atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and stroke along with a range of other health conditions[9]. Garlic may even help reverse early heart disease by removing plaque build-up in the arteries and preventing the accumulation of new plaque[10].

Garlic’s anti-coagulant properties help to thin the blood, preventing harmful clots, while its high level of antioxidants protect cholesterol from harmful oxidation and keep arteries healthy.

Garlic also helps control blood pressure, with one study showing that aged garlic extract reduced blood pressure as much as prescription medications. It seems that garlic polysufides promote the widening or opening of blood vessels and therefore help reduce blood pressure[11].

5. Avocado

Guacamole-lovers, this one’s for you.

Often referred to as the most nutritious fruit in the world, Avocado is great news for the heart. This super-fruit is loaded with Vitamin E, which helps strengthen blood vessels, reduce blood viscosity (stickiness), regulate the heartbeat and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. A potent antioxidant, Vitamin E helps protect LDL cholesterol from harmful oxidation.

It’s also one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fat, known to help raise beneficial HDL cholesterol, reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and manage inflammation.

The cholesterol-lowering benefits of avocado may even be equivalent to prescription medications. Researchers in Mexico prescribed an avocado-rich diet to both healthy people and those with elevated cholesterol. After just one week, the healthy people with normal lipid levels experienced a 16 percent drop in total cholesterol levels. The group with high cholesterol experienced even more impressive results: their total cholesterol fell by 17 percent, and their harmful LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels fell by 22 percent![12]

Avocado is also a rich source of Vitamin c and potassium to help balance blood pressure.

6. Red wine

If you enjoy a tipple, make it red. Red wine is a rich source of resveratrol, a polyphonic bioflavonoid antioxidant that helps manage inflammation and fight free radical damage. Resveratrol may help prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), lower LDL cholesterol and improve circulation[13]. By boosting the body’s ability to fight oxidative stress, resveratrol may even be able to help the body repair damaged blood vessels[14].

Don’t be tempted to double up the red wine to maximise the benefits though, as more is not necessarily better. A glass (100ml) of red wine a day is plenty to obtain the health-giving properties, beyond that the risks outweigh the benefits. Stick to no more than two drinks per day with at least two alcohol free days per week.

7. Dark chocolate

Chocolate might not be what you typically associate with healthy hearts but the sweet stuff is packed with antioxidants that deliver a range of heart-protective benefits. Dark chocolate is high in two types of antioxidants – flavonoids and polyphenols – which can help enhance circulation, manage inflammation and fight free radical damage. In fact, dark chocolate may contain higher levels of antioxidants than even blueberries or acai berries.

The main flavonoids in dark chocolate, flavanols, increase nitric oxide levels in the blood, enhancing blood flow, relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood pressure. Dark chocolate’s flavanols can also help make blood platelets less sticky and less likely to clot, reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke[15].

But if you’re looking for chocolate’s heart-healthy benefits, make sure you go for chocolate with 70% cocoa content or higher – commercial milk and white chocolates contain almost no antioxidant benefits[16]. And keep portion sizes small (2-4 squares) – although dark chocolate is very high in antioxidants, it’s also rather high in calories, fat and sugar!

8. Legumes

If you’re looking to keep your heart healthy, going vego more often is definitely a good idea. With saturated fat from red meat and full-fat dairy linked to increased harmful LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, switching to plant-based proteins a couple of times a week is an easy way to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Legumes like lentils and chickpeas are a great meat alternative, offering plenty of protein, fibre and minerals with almost no saturated fat. Versatile and easy to cook, they can be used in place of mince in lasagne, spaghetti bolognaise and cottage pie or form the basis of a delicious vegetarian curry.

Lentils are packed with potassium and magnesium to help control blood pressure[17], and are loaded with soluble fibre to help promote the excretion of excess cholesterol.

But perhaps legumes most important benefit in promoting good heart health is their high levels of B9 (folate). Folate helps control levels of Homocysteine, a natural substance created in the body during metabolism of protein that has been strongly linked to cardiovascular disease. In healthy people, homocysteine is converted into a benign substance, but when homocysteine isn’t properly metabolised it builds up in the body, causing inflammation. Elevated homocysteine levels damage the arteries and are strongly linked with cardiovascular disease [18]. In fact, homocysteine levels may be equally if not more important in the development of heart disease than cholesterol[19].

Folate, along with B12 (found in animal products like beef, lamb and chicken) helps metabolise homocysteine and keep levels in check.

9. Berries

Sprinkle some berries on top of your morning porridge for super heart-healthy benefits.

The Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD) showed that people who consumed the largest amount of berries were significantly less likely to die from heart disease than those who consumed the least[20].

The heart-healthy benefits are likely due to berries’ high antioxidant activity, from polyphenols, Vitamins C and E. Antioxidants strengthen and protect arterial walls, helping prevent atherosclerosis and varicose veins. Vitamin C plays an important role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels by lowering harmful LDL cholesterol and increasing beneficial HDL cholesterol.  It can also maintain blood pressure by widening blood vessels[21].

Berries’ high potassium content also helps support healthy blood pressure. Potassium works in tandem with sodium to control fluid balance in the body - and with it, blood pressure[22]. Thanks to a diet high in processed foods, most of us consume too much sodium, increasing the risk of high blood pressure. Increasing your intake of potassium can help lower blood pressure.   

10. Turmeric

The golden-spice that gives curry its characteristic yellow colour, Turmeric has been long renowned in Indian and Asian cultures as a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory[23]. In the West, we are now waking up to the powerful health-boosting properties of this rhizome.

The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, an antioxidant that helps prevent free radical damage to arteries and harmful oxidation of cholesterol. Curcumin also promotes healthy cholesterol levels by reducing harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and increasing beneficial HDL cholesterol[24].

Turmeric’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties are also important in protecting the health of the heart. Heart disease is now increasingly recognised as an inflammatory condition. Turmeric – recognised as one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories in the world[25] - may help manage inflammation, potentially preventing the development or progression of coronary heart disease.


[1] Koenig, W., Sund, M. et al. C-Reactive Protein, a Sensitive Marker of Inflammation, Predicts Future Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Initially Healthy Middle-Aged Men Results From the MONICA (Monitoring Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease) Augsburg Cohort Study, 1984 to 1992
[2] Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Eating fish linked to fewer heart attacks.
[3] American Heart Association. Fish and Omega 3 Fatty Acids.*
[4] Schlenker, E. and Long, S. Williams’ Essentials of Nutrition and Diet Therapy. Missouri, 2007.
[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration: Food labelling: health claims; soluble fiber from certain foods and coronary heart disease – final rule. Fed Reg 28234, 1997.
[6] Keenan, JM. Pins, JJ., Frazel, C. Moran, A., Turnquist, L. Oat ingestion reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild or borderline hypertension: a pilot trial. J Fam Pract. 2002, Apr; 51(4): 369
[7] Mensink, RP., Katan, MB: Effects of dietary fatty acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins, Arterioscler Thromb 12:911, 1992.
[8] de Lorgeril, M., Salen, P. The Mediterranean diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Clin Invest Med. 2006 Jun; (3):154-8.
[9] Dr Axe. 7 Raw Garlic Benefits for Fighting Disease.
[10] Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioaMed). New study shows aged garlic extract can reduce dangerous plaque build-up in arteries. Jan 21, 2016. 
[11] Reid,K. and Fakler, P. Potential of garlic (Allium sativum) in lowering blood pressure: mechanisms of action and clinical relevance. Integrated Blood Pressure Control, 2014; 7: 7-82.
[12] Lopez, L et al. Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for hypercholesterolemia. Arch Med Res. 1996 Winter, 27(4):519-23.
[13] Dr Axe. Resveratrol: The anti-aging powerhouse that’s good for the heart, brain and waistline.
[14] Dr Axe. Resveratrol: The anti-aging powerhouse that’s good for the heart, brain and waistline.
[15] Cleveland Clinic. Benefits of Chocolate for Heart Health.
[16] Dr Axe – The Benefits of Dark Chocolate.
[17] Readers Digest. The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs. Sydney, 200
[18] Homocysteine Studies Collaboration: Homocysteine and the risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke: a meta-analysis. JAMA 288:2015, 2002
[19] Edgson, V. and Marber, D. The Food Doctor: Healing Foods for the Mind and Body. Collins and Brown, 1999, London.
[20] Rissanenn, TH. Voutilainen, S. , Virtanen JK et al. Low intake of fruits, berries and vegetables is associated with excess mortality in men: the Kuopo Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) study. J Nutr. 2003;133:199-204.
[21] Readers Digest. The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs. Sydney, 2000.
[22] Sacks FM et al. Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. N Engl J Med 344:3, 2001.
[23] Prasad, S. and Aggarwal, B. Turmeric, the Golden Spice. NCBI Bookshelf
[24] Readers Digest. The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs. Sydney, 2000.
[25] Takada, Y., Bhardwaj, A., Potdar, P. and Aggarwal BB. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-kappaB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene 2004 Dec 9; 23 (57):9247-58.