12 Red Foods for Better Heart Health
Are you seeking the best foods for your heart? If you are, then it’s all about the high-quality nutrients in the brightest and most colorful foods. Challenge yourself to incorporate a variety of these red foods into your diet for their impact on heart health.
1. Red onion
Onions are packed with nutritious phytochemicals, including allicin, one of the most impactful for heart health. Although the sulfur in allicin is what gives the onion its strong aroma, it is also responsible for many of the health-promoting effects that can impact nearly every cell in the body.
Red onions, most often used in salads in their raw form, contain the most allicin of any onions – with yellow onions somewhere between red and white onions.
Allicin helps reduce high blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) and LDL-cholesterol. Onions are also one of the best sources of quercetin, an antioxidant flavanol known to help maintain normal blood pressure. Research has found that constituents in onions can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.1
2. Red grapefruit
The ruby red grapefruit provides 15 powerful nutrients inside its juicy, sweet and sour red segments. Although there are whole-body benefits from the B vitamins, zinc, copper, and vitamins C and A in red grapefruit, it also touts several heart-healthy benefits.
Half of a medium-sized grapefruit provides 5% of your daily potassium needs but only 52 filling calories.
Adequate potassium intake is associated with the ability to maintain normal blood pressure and a lowered risk for heart disease.2 Regular grapefruit consumption can help with improved insulin control and appetite regulation. This citrus fruit, providing 2 grams of fiber per serving, has been researched for its support of weight control.
Although only 50% of this fruit by weight is edible, 80% of that half is the sweet, strong, and staining red juice from its seeds, which has loads of heart-healthy properties.
This unique fruit is comprised of 1.5% pectin and a plethora of antioxidants, such as ascorbic acid and flavonoids, packing lots of protection against free radicals.
The polyphenol composition of the pomegranate has been shown to protect both LDL- and HDL-cholesterol from being oxidized, to lower systolic blood pressure upward of 12%, and to reduce plaque development in arteries.3
Beets are a low-calorie root vegetable loaded with vitamins and minerals. They are most notable for containing nitrates, which convert in the body to nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide promotes blood vessel dilation, which lowers blood pressure and improves oxygen use throughout your body.
It only takes two beets a day for you to reap their benefits for six hours after consumption. But be mindful that their intense color can change the color of your urine and stool to a shade of red that can resemble blood. It’s their vibrant red hue that makes them a popular additive in coloring or dyeing of household products.
5. Kidney beans
Packed with protein and full of fiber, don’t save kidney beans for just your favorite chili recipe. These red kidney-shaped beans contain both insoluble and soluble fiber, which have been shown to lower LDL-cholesterol levels, increase HDL-cholesterol levels, prevent sugar spikes, and can be part of a well-researched weight loss program.4
Although they aren’t considered a low-carbohydrate food, they do provide essential nutrients like iron, copper, folate, and manganese, which help maintain several vital bodily functions.
Tomatoes are the most popular home-grown fruit at homes in the United States. Although there are thousands of varieties, it’s the bright red coloring of the carotenoid called lycopene that gives tomatoes their heart-protective qualities.
Lycopene is an antioxidant and is known to help cells from being damaged by free radicals. Research shows that lycopene helps lower the risk of stroke and heart attack because it inhibits cholesterol synthesis in the body, lowers LDL-cholesterol, and prevents blood clots.5
Unlike many nutrients in foods, you can absorb more lycopene from cooked than raw tomatoes.
And one study found that cooking diced tomatoes with olive oil resulted in significantly higher absorption of lycopene than when the diced tomatoes were not cooked in olive oil.6 If you are considering eating cooked tomatoes, however, be sure to read labels because many cooked tomatoes, like tomato sauce, have added sugars.
7. Red wine
Red wine contains antioxidants that, in moderation, help prevent coronary artery disease by modifying cholesterol levels.
One glass a day contributes to higher HDL-cholesterol (considered the “good” cholesterol) and lowers LDL-cholesterol levels, in part due to the antioxidant capacity of resveratrol.
Resveratrol is found in grape skins, and because red wine ferments with the grape skins on, resveratrol content is higher in red wine than white wine. Red or black grapes or grape juice would do the trick if you’re looking to avoid alcohol.
8. Tart cherries
Montmorency tart cherries are the most common varietal of sour or tart cherries grown in the United States. And they are tart – but not because they aren't ripe. They are bright red when harvested and retain their color through processing, juicing, or freezing.
As opposed to their cousin, the Bing cherry (which is darker red/purple and sweet), tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins, which provide antioxidative properties for muscles and cell structures, including the heart and all its cells.
Heart disease is also a risk factor for someone who doesn't sleep well. Tart cherries naturally contain melatonin to support restful sleep and help balance circadian rhythms.
9. Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice is the bright reddish-purple yeast (Monascus purpureus) fermented on white rice. It’s been used in traditional Asian cuisine for centuries, with references to it going back as far as 300 BC.
It can be found in foods that have been adopted in this country, such as Peking duck, and it is often used as a food coloring in such things as red rice vinegar and Japanese rice wine (sake).
Red yeast rice naturally contains constituents called monacolins, which help reduce cholesterol levels. Red yeast rice also contains the phytosterols beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol, as well as isoflavones and trace minerals, all of which contribute to good cardiovascular health.
The flesh of wild salmon is red or pink because their diet of small crustaceans and zooplankton contains astaxanthin, a red carotenoid pigment that acts as an antioxidant.
Salmon, especially wild-caught, also provides you with the full daily requirement for vitamin D in one serving.
For example, one 3.5-ounce serving of wild-caught salmon contains an average of 988 IU of vitamin D, compared to an average of 250 IU in farm-raised salmon.7
Aim for two servings a week, as this heart-healthy food also contains the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which have many heart health benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids support circulation by promoting healthy blood vessels, enhance blood flow by optimizing vascular endothelial function, and help maintain normal triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
11. Red meat
Although – depending on your current heart health status and habitual diet – you might not want to eat red meat on a regular basis, red meat is a rich source of nutrients.
Look for grass-fed organic beef; one 3.5-ounce serving provides 20 grams of high-quality protein and 37% of vitamin B12’s daily recommendation, 32% of zinc’s daily recommendation, and 12% of iron’s daily recommendation in the highly-absorbable heme iron form.
Vitamin B12 helps maintain a normal level of homocysteine, a high level of which is a risk factor for heart disease; whereas, zinc helps maintain cardiac function and reduces damage in heart tissue.8
Red meat is also rich in nutrients like creatine and carnosine, which are important for supporting muscle structure, function, and oxidative stress levels.
12. Cayenne peppers
Cayenne peppers are a type of chili pepper and are perfect for individuals who love a little heat in their food. They are long slender red peppers that are most often dried and consumed in their powdered form and used in dishes from almost every culture.
The primary active ingredient is called capsaicin, which has health-giving properties above and beyond spicing your favorite foods.
In addition to stimulating circulation, capsaicin can protect against atherosclerosis, hypertension, and risk of stroke.
Cardiology researchers are using capsaicin as part of a topical cream to reduce the extent of injury after a heart attack too.9 One teaspoon of the pepper in powder form provides 15% of the daily recommendation of vitamin A and is also a good source of vitamin C.
7. Lu Z, Chen T, Zhang A, et al. An evaluation of the vitamin D3 content in fish: Is the vitamin D content adequate to satisfy the dietary requirement for vitamin D? J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2007;103(3-5):642-644.
8. Little P, Bhattacharya R, Moreyra A, Korichneva I. Zinc and cardiovascular disease. Nutrition 2010;26(11-12):1050-1057.
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