‘I’m a Cardiologist—These Are the 7 Foods That Earn a Top Spot on My Grocery List’

Photo: Stocksy/heart-healthy foods
Given that heart disease is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, you’ll be all the wiser to prioritize heart health sooner than later. A number of lifestyle factors will affect how robust your heart health is, including your level of physical activity, genetics, and whether or not you smoke—all of which will influence cholesterol, blood pressure, and energy levels. Yet one of the best things you can do to be kind to your ticker, day in and day out, is to follow a well-rounded diet that offers an abundance of macros and micronutrients alike.

Need inspo on specific foods you should prioritize? We asked Long Cao, MD, a board-certified cardiologist with Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas, to share the heart-healthy foods he always adds to his own grocery cart. Read on to see why you should take his lead.

Experts In This Article
  • Long Cao, MD, board-certified cardiologist with Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas

7 of the best heart-healthy foods, according to a cardiologist

1. Dark leafy greens

As a loud and proud lover of kale, I was glad to see that my favorite dark leafy green made Dr. Cao’s list, alongside spinach. “Both are good sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K along with folate, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids,” he says. Each of these nutrients offers a world of benefits for countless aspects of your health, yet Dr. Cao helpfully explains how certain ones can promote cardiovascular health specifically. For instance, he reminds us that vitamin K is necessary for proper blood clotting, which is important when dealing with clotting in the heart.

Folate, too, is essential for blood health. “If the quality of the blood is good, the heart doesn’t have to work overtime to get oxygen to the body,” says Dr. Cao. B vitamins support a healthy nervous system, “which not only benefits our brain but also how our nervous system speaks to our heart,” he continues.

Finally, Dr. Cao notes that omega-3s can lower the amount of unhealthy fats in the body. Dr. Cao recommends eating one cup (or 100 grams) of raw kale or spinach daily. If you don’t love these greens as much as I do, consider throwing them into a smoothie to mask the taste while still reaping their many perks. You can also cook leafy greens, or use them in salads (with kale, try cutting it up small, and massaging it with olive oil to make it more tender).

Get ideas for cooking with leafy greens:

2. Avocados

Avocados are as famous for their content of healthy fats as they are for their ubiquity as a brunch staple. Yet Dr. Cao says they also pack many micronutrients that are good for your cardiovascular system, including vitamins C, E, K, B6, riboflavin, niacin, folate, magnesium, and potassium. “In short, all of these agents aid better blood flow by dilating the blood vessels, improving cardiac output by improving heart contractions, and to a certain extent, naturally making the blood cells healthier and more slippery to traverse the body,” Dr. Cao says. “Half of an avocado a day does miracles as a supplement to your diet.”

Per a 2022 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, two or more servings of avocados per week were correlated with a 16 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.

Per a 2022 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, two or more servings of avocados per week were correlated with a 16 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. Consider this an official green light to order your avocado toast on repeat or whip up fresh guacamole to use as a dip or spread.

Here are more ways to add avocado to your next meal:

3. Apples

It turns out that an apple a day can very well keep the doctor away—cardiologists included. Dr. Cao says that apples can help to lower blood pressure, which is great for heart health, in part due to their robust fiber content. “Fiber [also] gives you a feeling of being full," says Dr. Cao, and can help relieve gut issues like constipation, bloating, and diarrhea with chest pain or stomach pain. "Plus, apples are also packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, and the minerals copper and potassium,” he adds.

For the most benefits, don’t peel your apple, because that’s the location of most of the apple’s fiber and nutritional benefits

Of course you can eat an apple on its own, but here are ways to cook with them:

4. Berries

Fresh berries round out Dr. Cao’s list of heart-healthy essentials from the produce aisle. They’re rich not only in vitamin C, but also “a large amount of other antioxidants that help fight cancer and minimize inflammation in our vessels that lead to plaque.” Dr. Cao suggests enjoying 3.5 ounces (or 100 grams) of berries daily to keep inflammation at bay and promote healthy aging. Enjoy them solo, as part of a mixed fruit salad, or in a smoothie to get your fix.

Here are more ideas to add berries to your meals:

5. Wild-caught fish

This is the only item on Dr. Cao’s heart-healthy grocery list that isn’t plant-based. Wild-caught fish—which he says “have less potential to cause inflammation and have more benefits than farm-caught fish”—earn a spot in his meal rotation since they’re a “good source of protein, healthy fats, omega-3s, B12, and selenium,” which Dr. Cao says can promote a healthy weight and thus positively influence cardiovascular health. Plus, since they’re a rich source of omega-3s, they help to lower unhealthy fats in the body.

Try these fish recipes:

6. Chickpeas

Chickpeas boast an incredibly impressive nutrient profile that can equate to major wins for your heart and overall health. “As a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, chickpeas may offer a variety of health benefits, such as improving digestion and reducing your risk of heart disease,” Dr. Cao says. Moreover, since they’re high in protein, he says they’re excellent to include in your diet, especially for plant-based eaters who often need to get creative to meet their protein needs. If you eat your chickpeas whole, he recommends opting for a serving size of a half bowl to a full one. Otherwise, load up on hummus as a dip for your favorite veggies or crackers, or spread a heavy dollop of it on your sandwich of choice.

Here are more recipes starring chickpeas:

7. Nuts

Last but not least, nuts are a non-negotiable snack for heart health. “Eating a healthy diet that includes nuts may improve your artery health, lower your risk of high blood pressure, reduce inflammation related to heart disease, and decrease the risk of blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Cao explains.

Simply put, you’ll absolutely want to keep a stash in your pantry to dip into on the daily, or to pack in your bag while on the go. Just follow the doctor’s orders and opt for those that are boiled or roasted with as little salt as possible so as not to detract from their heart-healthy benefits.

—reviewed by Jennifer Logan, MD, MPH 

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...