The 5 Best Vegetables to Help Improve Your Heart Health
A nutrition and cardiac expert recommends eating these heart-healthy vegetables.
Reviewed by Dietitian Maria Laura Haddad-Garcia
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You know vegetables are good for you, but did you know that adding more to your diet may also benefit your heart and add more years to your life? Several studies, such as a 2017 article published in Nutrients, have shown that vegetables benefit heart health. This research is fundamental since heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, per the World Health Organization (WHO). And according to the American Heart Association, nearly half of U.S. adults have some form of cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, eating more of the following vegetables can boost your heart health and help you live a longer, healthier life.
Beets are a nutrient-dense root vegetable high in vitamins, minerals and nitrates that your body naturally converts into nitric oxide, per a 2020 article published in Antioxidants. Nitric oxide promotes blood vessel dilation to help lower blood pressure and improve heart function by pumping blood containing oxygen and nutrients throughout your body more efficiently.
One cup of beets provides over one-third of your daily value (DV) for folate (vitamin B9), an essential micronutrient that plays a critical role in heart health, per the USDA. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), folate can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk by lowering homocysteine levels. When homocysteine levels are too high, the risk of heart disease and stroke increases.
Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD, a senior cardiac dietitian at the UCLA Medical Center and author of Recipe for Survival, tells EatingWell, “Beets are known for being high in naturally occurring nitrates which open up blood vessels. In addition, several studies point to their health benefits regarding exercise performance and blood pressure.”
2. Winter Squash
Winter squash is a large, thick-skinned vegetable with various textures, shapes, sizes and colors ranging from yellow and orange to dark green or multi-toned. Several types of winter squash include acorn squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash.
Compared to summer squash varieties, winter squashes have a denser texture and firm flesh, making them great additions to soups, stews and casseroles.
The flesh of winter squash is loaded with nutrients, with 1 cup of cubed winter squash containing about 16% of your DV for vitamin C and over 8% for potassium, per the USDA. Since winter squash is a rich source of potassium, it can help support heart health by dilating your blood vessels and allowing your blood to circulate easily throughout your body, per a 2020 study published in Food Science & Nutrition.
“Winter squash is high in fiber which can help lower cholesterol; high in water, which can help healthy weight management; and high in anti-inflammatory vitamins and electrolytes to help lower blood pressure and preserve heart health,” explains Ellis Hunnes.
3. Leafy Greens
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, bok choy, spinach and collard greens are among the most heart-healthy and nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Specifically, they’re high in vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin vital for
cardiovascular health since it helps protect arteries and promotes healthy blood clotting, per a 2021 review published in Open Heart. Take collard greens, for example; per USDA, one cup of this raw leafy green contains over 130% of your DV for vitamin K.
A comprehensive 2018 review published in Nutrients looked at several studies and concluded that increasing your leafy greens intake provides substantial heart health benefits. “Leafy greens are fantastic for your heart health,” states Ellis Hunnes. “They’re low in calories, high in fiber and great for your digestive tract and heart due to their high fiber and water content.”
Related: The 4 Best Leafy Greens from the African Heritage Diet, According to a Dietitian
4. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are packed with heart-healthy nutrition. That’s because they’re rich sources of glucosinolates and isothiocyanate.
These two cardioprotective compounds can help shield the heart and brain by reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disorders, per a 2022 review published in Nutrients.
“Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables are extremely high in fiber and low in calories, making them beneficial for healthy weight management,” says Ellis Hunnes. “Also, they’re high in the compound sulforaphane, which is healthy for your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and heart. A healthy GI tract helps keep the heart healthy, as well.”
These large, orange-fleshed vegetables are a potassium reservoir, with 1 cup of cubed yams packing more than 25% of your DV of potassium and nearly 30% of vitamin C, per the USDA.
Foods high in potassium play a critical role in heart health by counteracting sodium’s deleterious effects on blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). “High in fiber, vitamins, and potassium, yams are good for blood pressure and blood sugars, all of which are important for heart health,” states Ellis Hunnes.
In addition to including more of these heart-healthy vegetables in your diet, Ellis Hunnes recommends adopting the following healthy lifestyle habits to help support your heart health:
Increase your overall intake of plant-based foods.
As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends, engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity weekly.
Develop a sleep routine to prioritize a good night’s sleep.
Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
Keep sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams daily, per the National Institutes of Health.
The Bottom Line
To reap the most significant cardiovascular benefits, combine a nutritious diet centered around heart-healthy foods with other healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, getting enough sleep, avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol. Eating more of these nutrient-dense vegetables can boost your heart health and improve your quality of life.
CREDIT: GREG DUPREE