You’re never too young to start eating for your heart. Science suggests these foods could help prevent clogged arteries.
Keep your heart healthy
The number one killer in the United States is heart disease: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 610,000 people die from it every year—that is about one out of every four deaths. The cause of heart disease is generally clogged arteries. These blood vessels can be blocked by fatty plaque that contains calcium, cholesterol, and other substances that circulate in the blood. “There is no one magic food that acts like Drano and cleans out the accumulated plaque,” says Florian Rader, MD, a cardiologist at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “But good habits can help slow down that process, and maintaining a healthy weight and diet is one factor you can control to a great degree. And,” he says, “It’s never too late to start.”
Here’s a step forward in helping your arteries: It’s been more than 20 years since the FDA approved heart-healthy claims for these whole grains, and research keeps uncovering new benefits. The main one, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, is their rich supply of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower bad LDL cholesterol levels. Why that’s good for your arteries, according to Dr. Rader: “Cholesterol can seep into the inner layer of blood vessels and form plaque over time.” Since most Americans fall chronically short on fiber, the four grams per cup that oats deliver are a welcome addition.
A great source of soluble fiber—black beans have three times as much of it per cup as oats. Another perk: Antioxidants, which are especially abundant in colorful varieties such as black beans and red kidney beans, may fight inflammation that contributes to heart disease.
These protein-packed discs come from the same legume family as beans, which means that they pack many similar benefits. Preliminary research in rats found that lentils appear to reverse the damage to blood vessels caused by high blood pressure. Plus, lentils are at the top of the food spectrum for protein and fiber content, with very little fat, and contain calcium, potassium, and magnesium—all minerals that can help lower blood pressure.