Heart-healthy diet: what to eat
We've created the ultimate recipe to keep your heart healthy. Discover which foods registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens suggests you should be eating, and cook our exclusively created dish
View this recipe: Zesty salmon with roasted beets & spinach
Heart healthy foods
1. Oily fish
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout contain beneficial fats, which help manage blood clotting, improve blood triglyceride levels (a type of fat in your blood) and boost circulation. Guidelines recommend eating two portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily variety. If you have heart health concerns you may wish to aim for 2-4 portions per week and use gentle methods of cooking such as poaching and baking to protect the heart-healthy oils; where budget permits buy wild rather than farmed fish as it has a superior fat composition.
2. Healthy fats
Avocado, nuts (like walnuts), seeds (like chia and flaxseed) and oils (like rapeseed and olive oil) are all examples of heart-friendly fats. Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in protective compounds called polyphenols that are linked to disease prevention, but it doesn’t take heat well that’s why we’ve used cold-pressed rapeseed for cooking our heart-friendly recipe. Loaded with heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats and with half the saturated fat of olive oil, rapeseed can withstand high temperatures making it the ideal cooking oil. It’s also a great source of protective vitamin E, making it a useful contribution towards your daily requirements.
3. Fruit and vegetables
For every extra 200g of fruit and veg you eat a day you can reduce your risk of ischaemic stroke by a third, so aim high! Fruit and vegetables are packed with potassium to help manage blood pressure, as well as protective antioxidants, which help minimise damage to your arteries. Keep it varied and enjoy a wide mix of fruit and veg including red cabbage, aubergine, tomatoes, berries and watermelon as well as green leafy veg such as kale and watercress. We’ve included beetroot in our zesty salmon recipe because it is rich in heart-healthy nutrients such as magnesium and potassium to help manage blood pressure, plus natural nitrates to dilate blood vessels and keep blood flowing. We’ve also included the wonder food – garlic, ideally eaten raw, garlic has impressive health credentials. Chop, grate or crush to activate the compound, allicin, and prepare 10 minutes before you need it. If you’re adding to a cooked dish, do so close to the end of cooking to retain the health benefits.
4. Warming herbs and spices
Spices such as ginger, chilli, cinnamon, oregano and allspice can help reduce inflammation and protect the cardiovascular system.
5. Calcium-rich foods
Consuming calcium rich foods such as dairy, tofu, leafy greens and tahini can all support heart health as calcium helps to lower blood pressure and regulate the heart muscle.
Pulses and whole-grains are a good source of magnesium, which helps to relax blood vessels while the fibre they supply manages cholesterol levels. Enjoy porridge, unsweetened muesli, pulses and beans regularly. When you increase fibre you also need to drink more fluids to help the fibre work more effectively. Aim for about three portions of whole grains daily.
Foods that can harm your heart
- Cut back on processed meats: such as sausages and burgers.
- Minimise your sugar intake: from items such as cakes, biscuits, sweets and pastries.
- Keep your alcohol consumption within government guidelines - try to have at least two consecutive days a week alcohol-free. Discover more in our guide from Drinkaware – how to drink responsibly.
- Watch your intake of salt and trans fats: that means cutting back on processed foods and take-aways.
What else can I do to protect my heart?
- Know your numbers: including weight, blood pressure, blood fats (not just cholesterol) and blood sugar levels. If you’re overweight take steps now and check with your GP how else you can manage your risk.
- Get physical: aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days, the type that raises your heart rate.
- Don't smoke
- Stay hydrated: this will help maintain blood flow.
- Reduce stress: managing stress is a very personal thing so take time to figure out what works for you.
For more information on heart health visit bhf.org.uk or find more recipes and tips for a healthy heart in our guides:
Spotlight on heart disease
Top 10 tips for a healthy heart
How to serve heart healthy portions
How to lose weight and keep it off
This page was last updated on 3 November 2021.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.