Less than 5 percent of American adults meet all of the dietary recommendations for optimal heart health. Consuming foods low in saturated fat and sodium, yet rich in dietary fiber, can help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and overall risk of heart disease. The most nutritious foods also provide numerous vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
Berries are rich in fiber, vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants -- potent disease-fighting compounds. A study published in the June 2010 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition" found that consuming a beverage that provided the equivalent of 2 cups of blueberries daily for eight weeks significantly decreased blood pressure and improved other markers of cardiovascular health. If you don’t enjoy blueberries, try raspberries, strawberries or blackberries -- all are rich in phytonutrients.
The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish -- preferably fatty fish -- each week. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease risk of arrhythmias, lower triglycerides and increase levels of high-density lipoprotein -- the good cholesterol -- in your blood.
Leafy greens, such as spinach and collard greens, are packed with numerous vitamins and minerals while being low in calories. One cup of cooked spinach meets the daily requirements for vitamins A and K and 50 percent of the daily requirements for magnesium and vitamin C yet provides only 40 calories.
Nuts are nutrient-dense foods rich in unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, minerals, vitamin E and plant stanols and sterols. Eating 1.5 ounces of nuts -- in particular pistachios, walnuts or almonds -- can significantly improve your cholesterol and decrease your risk for heart disease. Nuts are heart-healthy snacks that are easy to carry with you when you're on the go.
Legumes include beans, peas and lentils -- all of which are low in fat, high in fiber and provide high-quality vegetable protein. A study published in the November 2012 issue of the "Archives of Internal Medicine" indicates that 1 cup of legumes a day improves blood sugar and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. You can easily mix legumes into soups, casseroles and pasta dishes, or toss them into salads.
Oats provide more soluble fiber -- the type that lowers your cholesterol -- per serving than almost every other grain. Not only will oatmeal improve your heart health, it may help you lose weight. Because oatmeal is so rich in fiber, it can help you feel fuller for a longer period of time, which helps decrease caloric intake throughout the day. For a triple threat of super foods, top your oatmeal with a handful of berries and tablespoon of chopped nuts.
Even a sweet treat, like dark chocolate, can improve heart health. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, compounds that may help prevent blood clots and hardening of the arteries. Since chocolate is high in calories, limit yourself to a 1-ounce piece with 70 percent cocoa or more.