9 foods for better heart health

Exercise alone doesn't protect you from heart disease. Get these foods in your diet to boost your heart health.

by Liz Applegate, Ph.D.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the UK – and your runner’s healthy lifestyle doesn’t make you immune. In fact, 25 per cent of heart attacks happen in people who don’t smoke and who have healthy cholesterol levels. The good news: exercise decreases your risk, as can eating a diet rich in heart-healthy foods. These foods supply nutrients and antioxidants that work together, creating a synergy that protects your heart. Incorporate all these foods into your diet to get the most benefit.

Dark chocolate

If you’re overweight, exercise can raise blood pressure – but cocoa flavanols may help. In one study, overweight subjects drank a high- or low-flavanol cocoa drink, then cycled. The high-flavanol group had lower blood pressure mid- and post-exercise than the other group.

Heart smart: Two chunks of dark chocolate a day may offer heart benefits.

Yoghurt and cheese

A study found eating full-fat cultured yoghurt or cheese for three weeks lowered markers linked to heart disease, compared with low-fat, non-cultured dairy. The calcium and probiotic combination may mitigate heart disease risk factors.

Heart smart: Eat a serving of yoghurt (180g) or cheese (40g) daily.

Greens, onions and beetroot

Greens contain folate; onions supply quercetin – both compounds protect blood vessels. Beetroot offers nitrates, which help control blood pressure.

Heart smart: Eat at least three servings per day from a variety of colourful vegetables.


Fruit-eaters have a lower risk of developing heart disease; load up on a variety for nutrients such as anthocyanins (in berries), carotenes (in mangoes) and vitamin C (in citrus fruits).

Heart smart: Aim for three different types of fruits daily.


In one study, eating kamut – a grain – for eight weeks led to a drop in subjects’ total cholesterol, compared with a semi-wholegrain diet. Wholegrains are rich in antioxidants.

Heart smart: Use wholegrains. Or try kamut pasta (Lensi Spaghetti Kamut Pasta, £2.99 for 500g).


Oily fish like salmon and mackerel supply omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats help lower circulating levels of dangerous fats called triglycerides. They also fight inflammation, which damages blood vessels.

Heart smart: Eat two servings of salmon or other oily fish weekly.


New research shows that walnuts contain protective antioxidant phenols that can markedly improve blood vessel function just hours after eating a handful. Other nuts, such as almonds, are also heart-healthy.

Heart smart: Have 14 walnut halves or other nuts each day.


Studies show alcohol (wine, beer or spirits) boosts HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels. Red wine contains resveratrol, which may keep platelets from clumping, reducing heart disease risk.

Heart smart: Stick to a small (125ml) glass a day (or less) for women and two (or less) for men.

Extra virgin olive oil

Its antioxidants battle inflammation and prevent LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol from damaging arteries.

Heart smart: Use as a salad dressing; avoid frying with it – olive oil has a low smoke point and high temperatures damage its health-boosting compounds.

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heart health, heart disease, dark chocolate, yoghurt, cheese, green vegetables, onions, beetroot, fruit, kamut, salmon, walnuts, wine, olive oil

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