Plus clever ways to incorporate these foods into your diet.
Reviewed by Dietitian Emily Lachtrupp, MS, RD
If you have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or diabetes, you are at a higher risk of heart disease, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, there are preventive measures you can take to lower your risk and support a healthier lifestyle, including physical activity and maintaining a healthy eating pattern.
A July 2023 study published in the European HeartJournal reviews the relationship between diet, cardiovascular disease and mortality in 80 countries. Using the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study model, five independent studies on a total of 245,000 people across the world were evaluated. Each study scored every individual’s eating pattern based on the six types of food that the researchers designated as commonly associated with longevity: fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish and whole-fat dairy products.
The results show that those who consume a higher amount of each of these food groups have a lower risk of heart disease and mortality in all world regions, especially those living in lower income countries. Here’s how many servings of each type of food that the study recommends daily and how you can incorporate them into your regular diet.
Related: The Best Ways to Exercise If You Have Type 2 Diabetes, According to Science
The PURE healthy eating pattern study recommends 2-3 servings of fruit a day for lower heart disease risk. Not only is fruit good for your heart, but the fiber-packed food supports your gut health and its antioxidants may protect against certain cancers.
While all fruits have their own beneficial nutrients, we think berries, papaya and red grapes are some of the fruits you should focus on if you’re looking for improved heart health. For breakfast, try our Overnight Matcha Oats with Berries or our Grape Smoothie to start your day with a full serving of fruit.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, but in this case you need more confirmation: vegetables are entirely beneficial for your heart health because they help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure levels. The study recommends consuming 2-3 servings of vegetables a day, which can also help reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune system.
Veggies are not only healthy, but they’re easy to add to any meal. You can enjoy a 10-minute Spinach Omelet for breakfast, a veggie-packed sandwich for lunch and a side salad with your dinner to easily get the recommended servings of vegetables for your day.
“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart” wasn’t just a catchy tune. Including 3-4 servings of beans and legumes in your weekly eating plan is suggested by the new heart-healthy study. Because of the soluble fiber in beans, having just a ½ cup serving in your day can help lower your cholesterol levels.
There’s a wide variety of beans to choose from to suit any palate. Whether you like pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans or cannellini beans, adding a serving in your diet every other day is a sustainable way to improve your heart health.
Related: Why Do Beans Make You Fart? Here’s What a Dietitian Has to Say
Nuts are a great source of protein and antioxidants. Plus, they’re great for your heart and digestive system, and eating nuts every day can help with weight loss, if that is your goal. The study suggests eating about a handful of nuts a day for a heart-healthy eating pattern.
From high-protein nuts like peanuts and almonds to low-fat nuts like hazelnuts and pecans, consider adding nuts to your daily routine. Recipes like our Cranberry-Almond Broccoli Salad, Pecan Pie Energy Balls and Chicken Stew with Collard Greens & Peanuts are ways to include more nuts in your eating pattern beyond the classic handful.
If you’re looking for a lean protein that can help your heart, fish is the way to go. Not only is omega-3-rich fatty fish great for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, but eating just 2-3 servings a week can help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and improve cognitive function.
For a serving of veggies and fish, these sheet-pan salmon dinner recipes are perfect for a quick and easy weeknight. Even snacks like Sardines on Crackers are simple ways to include more fish in your diet throughout the week.
Related: Buying Seafood From the Counter? "Fresh" Fish May Not Mean What You Think It Does
6. Whole-Fat Dairy
This might be the most surprising of the bunch, but this new study—supported by a companion study released by the European Society of Cardiology—recommends that eating or drinking 14 servings of whole-fat dairy a week can help support heart health and decrease the risk of heart disease. Although low-fat diets have long been touted as the healthiest option, the PURE study emphasizes focusing on protective foods, such as nuts and fish and two servings of whole-fat dairy per day. While whole-fat dairy is still a bit controversial, growing research shows that saturated fat, particularly from dairy sources, isn’t linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Plus, dairy, particularly fermented unsweetened dairy like yogurt and kefir, is a gut-healthy, high-protein food group that can be included in a healthy eating pattern if you don’t have lactose intolerance.
There’s many ways to include more dairy in your diet, from drinking more milk to eating yogurt or cereal in the morning. Whole-milk yogurt topped with fruit and granola or nuts makes a great and filling breakfast or try our Strawberry-Chocolate Greek Yogurt Bark for a nutritious dessert or snack option.
The Bottom Line
All in all, supporting a balanced eating pattern is the most effective way to lower your risk of heart disease and mortality, according to the European HeartJournal study. If you’re looking to follow a heart-healthy eating pattern and are knowing where to start, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are both easy and healthy diets that include the 6 recommended foods into your meals without excessive restrictions.
up next: Fad Diets: The Most Popular Ones and Are They Healthy?