Bastyr University adheres to a whole-food philosophy that guides all of its nutrition programs, emphasizing the consumption of a variety of foods in their least-processed forms.

When assessing health and wellness, the university integrates mind, body, and spirit by drawing connections between whole food, exercise science and health psychology.

This month, Dr. Shanshan Chen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Basic Sciences at Bastyr, talks about how we can eat to support our heart health.

Credit: AND-ONE

The Problem

February is the time to celebrate love and enjoy delectable foods, and with all the heart-shaped decorations, there are plenty of reminders that it’s also National Heart Health Month.

Being aware of our heart health is vitally important considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S.

The Natural Defense

Want to hear some good news? Heart disease may be prevented through consistent lifestyle changes.

Physical activity, regular consumption of fruits and vegetables, and finding ways to effectively cope with stress can do wonders for the body and the heart.

The Culinary Reinforcements

In addition to staying active, incorporating the following heart-healthy foods into your daily meals will help keep your heart happy and healthy.

Credit: seb_ra
Credit: Anthia Cumming
Credit: seb_ra
Credit: Anthia Cumming


Dark Chocolate

Good news for chocolate lovers, a large study in England found that middle-aged and older adults who ate up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate per day seemed to have lower rates of heart disease than those who spurned chocolate.

Your best bet is to stick with dark chocolate, since it contains more flavonoid-rich cocoa, less sugar, and less saturated fat than milk chocolate.

Flavonoids have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart, and prevent blood clots. For the greatest benefit, shop for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa.


Research has found that people who eat more nuts have improved heart health and a lower risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that eating walnuts may be a particularly good choice.

Naturally high in “good” fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory effect of walnuts keeps blood vessels healthy, in addition to having favorable effects on blood lipids.

Walnuts are also rich sources of fiber, minerals (potassium, calcium, and magnesium), vitamins (folate and vitamin E), and phytosterols (a heart-healthy plant-based cholesterol), all of which help keep your heart functioning at its best.

Add a handful to your oatmeal or granola in the mornings.

Credit: Olya Bogachuk


Rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin K, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients, dates are beloved around the world for their amazing health benefits. According to Israeli researchers, eating a handful of dates per day improves blood lipids while lowering blood sugar levels, thus reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

As one of the sweetest fruits, dates are high in sugar and calories, so enjoy them in moderation. Chopped dates make a great addition to salads, savory snacks, and, of course, dessert.


Haas avocados grow year-round in California, so we are especially lucky to have easy access to the fruits that are highest in healthy, monounsaturated fat.  Eating avocados as part of a healthy diet helps to lower undesirable “bad” cholesterol and reduces risk of heart attack and stroke.

In addition to containing healthy fats, avocados provide a powerful combination of nearly 20 different nutrients such as fiber, vitamin K, vitamin E, and potassium.

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Fresh Berries

Chock full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, berries are also loaded with polyphenols—antioxidants that mop up damage-inducing free radicals in the body—all of which are linked to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School recommend eating berries like blueberries and strawberries three times a week as a tasty way to protect your heart.

So, throw a cup of berries in your yogurt, eat them out of your hand, or dip them in dark chocolate for a double-dose of heart health.

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