Top 5 fruits to help improve your heart health
It’s no secret that fruit is healthy and nutritious. But did you know that eating fruit can also improve your heart health and increase your lifespan? Lots of research, including a 2019 study published in the journal Current medicinal chemistry, revealed that a diet rich in fruits, among other foods, has strong cardiovascular protective effects. Translation? Eating fruit is good for the heart and helps prevent heart disease, the #1 killer 1 globally, according to the World Health Organization.
To find out which heart-healthy fruits you should include the most in your diet, we chatted with Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., MPH, RD, a senior cardiac dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of recipe for survival, who shares five of her top picks. Read on to find out how these fruits can improve your heart health and help you live longer.
Related: The top 5 vegetables to help improve your heart health
Blackberries are a delicious fruit packed with nutrients vital to heart health. One such nutrient is anthocyanins, a group of deep red, blue, and purple plant pigments. Anthocyanins are rich in powerful antioxidants that support cardiovascular health. Additionally, a 2021 study published in Biomolecules found anthocyanins to be an “affordable, accessible and effective approach” to help prevent atherosclerosis (arterial plaque buildup) and reduce the risk of aging and cardiovascular disease.
One cup of blackberries provides more than one-third of the daily value for vitamin C and 5 percent of the daily intake of potassium, according to the USDA, two essential nutrients for cardiovascular health.
“Blackberries are high in fiber, antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonols, and water, making them incredibly healthy for the heart and gastrointestinal tract due to their antioxidant and fiber content,” says Ellis Hunnes. “Plus, they’re low-calorie, filling, and anti-inflammatory.”
These small but mighty berries are packed with nutrients, including heart-healthy properties. Daily blueberry consumption has been associated with improved blood vessel cellular function to help control blood pressure and prevent blood clotting, according to a 2019 review published in The journals of gerontology.
Blueberries are high in soluble fiber, which improves cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol and helping the intestines eliminate bile, according to another study published in Nutrients in 2021. According to the USDA, 1 cup of blueberries provides 4 grams (11% to 14% of your DV) of dietary fiber.
“Like blackberries, blueberries are high in polyphenols, flavanols and phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that are anti-inflammatory and beneficial to heart and gastrointestinal tract health,” says Ellis Hunnes.
These beloved berries are fun to eat (you might as well consider them nature’s candy) and fantastic for cardiovascular well-being. For example, consuming berries (such as raspberries) has been associated with several cardiometabolic benefits, including lower LDL cholesterol, improved blood pressure, healthy weight management, and less inflammation.
One cup of raspberries provides 8 grams of fiber, according to the USDA. As explained above, fiber is a vital nutrient for cardiovascular health and function.
“Another berry similar to blackberries, raspberries have slightly different levels and types of phytonutrients, as evidenced by their different colors,” explains Ellis Hunnes. “Raspberries are great for heart and gastrointestinal health as they are anti-inflammatory and high in fiber. Plus, they are low in calories and contain lots of water.”
Papaya (affectionately called papaya) contains many heart-friendly nutrients like potassium and the antioxidant vitamins A and C. According to the USDA, 1 cup of papaya chunks provides nearly 100 percent of your DV for vitamin C and 8% of your DV for vitamin UN.
Deficiencies of vitamins A and C have been associated with cardiovascular abnormalities in which supplementation with these vitamins has been claimed to reduce cardiovascular risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, stroke, and heart failure, according to a review published in Frontiers in physiology in 2021.
Additionally, potassium-rich foods may improve heart health by dilating blood vessels, allowing for more efficient blood circulation, according to a 2020 study published in Food science and nutrition.
“Papaya is high in potassium, which can be good for blood pressure,” says Ellis Hunnes. “Also, papaya contains digestive enzymes that can aid digestion and keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy, which reduces inflammation and keeps you healthy.”
5. Red grapes
The high polyphenol content of red grapes makes them another fantastic fruit for protecting heart health. Polyphenols found in grapes have been shown to benefit human health in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by reducing oxidative stress, lowering blood pressure and decreasing inflammation, according to a comprehensive review published in Molecules in 2021.
“Rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, flavanols, fiber, and resveratrol, red grapes can help reduce inflammation. They’re also full of water, which helps with satiety,” says Ellis Hunnes.
More tips to support your heart health
If you’re looking for other ways to improve your heart health, consider following the Life’s Essential 8 checklist developed by the American Heart Association. These are vital measures to support cardiovascular health and help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular health problems.
Eat better: Include plenty of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds.
Be more active: Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.
Stop smoking: This should go without saying, but tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in America.
Sleep well: Most adults require seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night for optimal brain function and a reduced risk of chronic disease.
Manage weight: A healthy BMI is crucial for good heart health as being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol control: High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Healthy lifestyle habits (eg, regular exercise and a nutritious diet) can help lower LDL cholesterol.
Manage your blood sugar: Regularly raising your blood sugar with unhealthy foods can damage your heart and other organs over time and increase your risk for cardiometabolic conditions like diabetes.
Manage your blood pressure: Keeping your blood pressure in check will improve heart function and help keep you healthier for longer.
The bottom line
Combining a balanced and nutritious diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, with other healthy lifestyle habits (e.g. regular exercise, quality sleep and not smoking) is the best solution to improve cardiovascular health and add years to your life. Include more of these heart-healthy fruits in your diet for excellent heart health.
Related: The surprising thing is that it can help your heart health, according to science