Did you know 9 in 10 adults in North America have at least one risk factor for heart disease? February is declared Heart Health month by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the American Heart Association and other health associations. The purpose is to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke. In addition to family history, there are eight major risk factors most commonly associated with poor heart health. They are physical inactivity, smoking, having extra stress, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, being obese or over weight, and consuming excess alcohol (1). The good news is that some lifestyle habits including food choices can make a big difference in decreasing the risk factors for heart disease.

Every time I speak at a conference, present a lunch and learn, or work directly with my industry clients, heart health is always a top priority. The heart is the most important muscle in the body; let’s check out my top six heart healthy foods to keep it running full throttle…

1.  Barley

Barley is a heart healthy food loaded with a soluble fibre called beta-glucan. Beta-glucans have been shown to lower total blood cholesterol levels and LDL (low-density lipoprotein or the bad) cholesterol levels (2). In 2012, Health Canada approved a health claim relating the consumption of barley to a reduction in cholesterol levels.

2.  Blueberries

Blueberries are full of heart friendly fibre and antioxidants including anthocyanins, which are known to decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Add blueberries to your morning cooked barley, to your post workout smoothie and to a spinach salad at supper.

3.  Dark Chocolate

This means chocolate with at least 70% cocoa! Dark chocolate contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which are known to decrease blood pressure and inflammation. Check out my video for ways to add cocoa to your day.

4.  Flaxseed (ground)

Flax is one of the seven seeds I feature in my upcoming book The Need for Seeds. In 2014, Health Canada approved a health claim linking eating ground whole flaxseed to cholesterol lowering, a major risk factor for heart disease. Add ground flaxseed to yogurt, breakfast oatmeal and to home baked muffins.

5.  Olive Oil

Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats, which help reduce both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. As one of the foundational foods of the heart healthy Mediterranean diet, olive oil is a kitchen must-have. Check out my HuffPost blog for more tips about heart healthy cooking oils.

6.  Salmon

Salmon is a lean, complete protein which helps keep the heart muscle strong. Plus, salmon is high is omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce risk factors of heart disease (3). The common recommendation to is to eat at least two servings of fish per week. Grill salmon for supper and save the leftovers for the next day to add to a heart healthy salad or pasta.


Do you need to add more heart friendly fish to your meal plan? Try this delicious salmon with mango chutney recipe from heartandstroke.com

Enjoy at least two heart healthy foods daily, increase your activity level, decrease your stress level and your heart will thank you.

Happy Heart Month!


  1. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. 2015 [Cited 2015 February 15]. Retrieved from: http://www.heartandstroke.com/site/c.ikIQLcMWJtE/b.7972337/k.BE0C/Heart_and_Stroke_Fact_Sheets.htm
  2. AbuMweis SS, Jew S, and Ames NP. Beta-glucan from barley and its lipid-lowering capacity: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. 2010 [cited 2015 February 16]; 64(12):1472-1480.
  3. Dietitians of Canada. Food sources of omega-3 fats. 2013 [cited 2015 February 16]. Retrieved from: http://www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Fats/Food-Sources-of-Omega-3-Fats.aspx