5 foods that lower your risk of stroke and heart attack

Heart Health

by Lauren E. Fournier, MD   and Robert Jay Widmer, MD, PhD

Apr 15, 2024

Even small changes can make a big impact on your heart disease or stroke risk. Whether you have risk factors or want to prevent another stroke or heart attack, you have the power to control your risk. And your diet is a great place to start.

Diet can be a major contributor to heart and vascular disease. For example, eating unhealthy fats can lead to weight gain, obesity and elevated cholesterol, all of which increase the risk of heart disease or stroke.

But when you choose foods that positively impact your health, you can significantly lower your risk by fueling your body with what it needs to stay well.

Instead of “dieting” or placing unrealistic expectations on yourself by cutting entire foods, focus on a diet that’s well-balanced and includes healthy foods from different groups. Some good examples are the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet. By emphasizing a variety of food options, you have the freedom to choose the foods that work best for you.

5 foods for heart health

To help you get started, here are five foods that offer some of the biggest benefits for your heart and vascular health:

1. Fresh vegetables

Choosing fresh or frozen vegetables is a great way to fill up on healthy nutrients, reduce weight, reduce blood pressure and improve your cardiovascular health. Aim for a variety of your favorite colorful vegetables.

2. Fresh fruits

Fruits are good for improving cardiovascular health and digestion. They can help with weight loss and help your body get rid of waste through proper digestion.

3. Whole grains

As part of a healthy heart and vascular diet, whole grains act to reduce cholesterol and improve digestion. Whole grains include foods like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa and barley.

4. Lean proteins

Focus on proteins like fish, shellfish, nuts, beans, lentils and seeds. These lean proteins can help you feel full longer and provide a boost of antioxidants.

5. Healthy oils and fats

Pick cooking oils made from plants or seeds, such as olive or avocado oil, as well as foods like nuts, avocados or oily fish. The fats found in these foods help lower your cholesterol, which sounds counterintuitive, but these fats are used by the body in good ways.

While making changes to your diet may seem challenging, you can take it one step at a time. Swap out your margarine for olive oil. Try a new vegetable. Look up heart-healthy recipes online that fit your lifestyle, budget and time.

Heart-healthy lifestyle choices

It’s also helpful to combine diet changes with other healthy lifestyle choices. Heart-healthy exercise habits such as walking or other aerobic activities for 30 minutes every day are extremely important. Light resistance training can help improve blood flow throughout the body, and deep breathing exercises such as yoga, tai chi and meditation can help manage stress, reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

Most importantly, regular follow-up with your doctor is key to creating the right plan for you. Even if you’ve had a previous stroke or heart attack, your doctor can partner with you to lower your risk. Ask your doctor how diet changes can help or if they can connect you with additional support—like a dietitian or cardiac rehabilitation.

Unlike other health concerns like cancer or orthopedic issues, you can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke with some simple lifestyle changes, including choosing beneficial foods.

With diet, one small change can make a big difference in your cardiovascular health. Talk to your doctor about how your diet can support your heart and vascular health, or find a doctor near you.

About the Author

Lauren E. Fournier, MD, is a vascular neurologist on the medical staff and Stroke Division Director at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple.

Robert Jay Widmer, MD, PhD, is an interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple.

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