The top 20 artery-cleansing foods
"Instead of using a whopping dollop of mayonnaise on your sandwich, try using thin slices of avocado," suggests Megan Madden, a registered dietitian in New York, NY. A 1996 study done by researchers in Mexico found that people who ate avocado every day for one week experienced an average 17 percent drop in total blood cholesterol. What's more, their levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol decreased and HDL ("good") cholesterol increased.
The soluble fiber found in whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal binds the cholesterol in your meal and drags it out of your body, Madden says. "And, when your body needs to utilize cholesterol in the future, it draws on your blood cholesterol supply, effectively lowering your total blood cholesterol level and your risk for heart disease."
A 2011 study found that people ages 65 or older who regularly used olive oil (for both cooking and as a dressing) were 41 percent less likely to have a stroke compared to those who never use olive oil in their diet. Use a little olive oil instead of butter or drizzle some over pasta, salad or veggies to take advantage of its high mono- and polyunsaturated fats, Madden says. "And although it’s a healthier option, remember to use these oils sparingly, as all fats still contain the same number of calories."
Grabbing a handful of nuts is a heart-healthy way to beat the afternoon itch for a cookie, Madden says. "Almonds are very high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and fiber, while walnuts are a great plant-based source of an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid." According to the American Heart Association, monounsaturated fats can help reduce levels of bad cholesterol in your blood and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Foods fortified by plant sterols
Sterols are compounds that compete with the cholesterol in your food for absorption within your digestive tract, Madden says. "Sterols have been shown to lower both total and LDL cholesterol and can be found in certain brands of fortified orange juice, margarine spreads and milk." Just be sure to check the label—make sure the margarine is trans fat-free and that "partially hydrogenated oil" does NOT appear on the ingredient list.
Salmon (or other fatty fish)
Fatty fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna and salmon are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, Madden says. "Eating fish twice a week can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by decreasing inflammation and lowering triglyceride levels, and it may even help boost your HDL levels."
Asparagus is one of the best, natural artery-clearing foods around, says Shane Ellison, an organic chemist and author of Over-the-Counter Natural Cures. "Asparagus works within the 100,000 miles of veins and arteries to release pressure, thereby allowing the body to accommodate for inflammation that has accumulated over the years." It also helps ward off deadly clots, Ellison says.
Pomegranate contains phytochemicals that act as antioxidants to protect the lining of the arteries from damage, explains Dr. Gregg Schneider, a nutritionally oriented dentist and expert on alternative medicine. A 2005 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice stimulated the body’s production of nitric oxide, which helps keep blood flowing and arteries open.
Broccoli is rich in vitamin K, which is needed for bone formation and helps to keep calcium from damaging the arteries, Dr. Schneider says. Not to mention, broccoli is full of fiber, and studies show a high-fiber diet can also help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
"The spice turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory," Dr. Schneider says. "It contains curcumin, which lowers inflammation—a major cause of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)." A 2009 study found that curcumin helps reduce the fatty deposits in arteries by as much as 26 percent.