All about how foods like beans and oranges can improve your heart health

By Harley Pasternak
February 20, 2013 08:00 AM
Credit: Courtesy Harley Pasternak

February is Heart Health Month.

It’s a time to battle cardiovascular disease and educate Americans on how to live heart-healthy lives. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, claiming more than 865,000 American lives a year.

In honor of Heart Health Month, I wanted to do a post about some heart-healthy foods. We all know that olive oil, veggies and salmon are good for our hearts, but here are some others that might surprise you!


If you’ve read my books, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of beans. From garbanzo and navy, to bean soups, and bean dips, beans are as close to being a perfect food (i.e., nutritionally complete) as it gets. They’re packed with protein, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins and minerals.

Despite their nutritional perfection, many people avoid eating too many beans for fear of well gas! Luckily, recent research shows that you don’t need to eat a lot of beans to reap their benefits. Only a half-cup daily can lower cholesterol and improve several cardiovascular risk factors associated with heart disease.

A 19-year U.K. health study found that people who ate beans four or more times a week were a whopping 22% less likely to develop heart disease than those who ate them less than once a week. There’s good news for diabetics too: a study from my alma mater, University of Toronto, found that eating more beans, chickpeas and lentils can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and help control blood sugar levels.


Natural, ultra-portable, delicious and filling, oranges are a great source of soluble fiber, and fiber mops up cholesterol. They are also rich in potassium, which helps keep blood pressure in check and free radical-zapping antioxidants to protect blood vessels and combat atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

However, you have to eat the orange (rather than juicing it) to get the most benefit. Pectin, found in the pulp and pith (the white part of the rind), is the real superpower of the orange and has been shown to be a key factor in the prevention of heart failure.


Everyone knows how delicious peanuts are, but few people realize how nutritionally potent they are. While not technically a nut, peanuts have many of the same properties and health benefits as nuts. Incredibly versatile and available most anywhere, peanuts are an incredible source of protein and folate. Folate, among many other important functions, provides protection against heart disease and is essential for pregnant women. Researchers from Purdue University found that frequent peanut consumption reduced triglyceride levels by 24%.

Furthermore, you may have heard about the powerful antioxidant found in grape skins – and, thus, red wine – called resveratrol. Some people believe that resveratrol is protective against cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s. But did you know that next to grape skins, peanuts are the next richest source of resveratrol? For those of you who aren’t wine drinkers (like me), consider upping your peanut intake!

Whether you sprinkle them in a salad, spread on a sliced apple, or just love a handful of the classic Planters Dry Roasted, peanuts make for a convenient hit of heart healthy fat!


Disease-fighting anti-oxidants are found in all fruits and veggies, but berries contain particularly high levels of anti-oxidants – specifically polyphenols. The more we learn about polyphenols, the stronger their role proves to be in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Berries could be particularly beneficial for women, suggests a new study out this year by the Harvard School of Public Health. Researchers there found that women who ate three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries every week for almost 20 years dramatically reduced their risks for having a heart attack.

How do you get your hands on berries when they are out of season? A great trick is to stock up on frozen berries. They’re significantly less expensive but contain the same levels of nutrients and easy to add in to a delicious smoothie to boost your berry intake!


Yes! The old adage is actually true: an apple a day can keep the doctor away; or more specifically, the cardiologist! Apples, like oranges, are rich in the soluble fiber, pectin and polyphenols. Like oranges and berries, though, the skin of the apple is its most nutrient and fiber dense part, so you must eat the peel to maximize the nutritional benefit.

Researchers at Florida State conducted a study with two groups of participants: one group ate a serving of apples every day and the other group had a serving of plums every day, over the period of a year. The participants in the apple group experienced an average of a 23% decrease in LDL cholesterol, 14% decrease in total cholesterol and a marked decrease in markers of inflammation and plaque in the arteries.

Not only that, but the participants in the apple group also lost weight! The participants in the plum group also saw some improvements in cardiac health, but not nearly to the degree as those in the apple group.

Here’s a delicious recipe for a PB&J smoothie that has three of these heart-healthy superfoods. It’s filling, nutritious and tastes just like the classic sandwich favorite!


• 2 cups chopped fresh or frozen strawberries or blueberries (or a berry mix)
• ½ frozen banana, chopped
• ½ red apple with skin
• 1⁄8 cup Planters dry roasted unsalted peanuts
• 4 oz. fat free plain Greek yogurt

Blend until desired consistency and enjoy!

If you have any questions about healthy eating and exercise, tweet me @harleypasternak

Check back every Wednesday for more insider tips from celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak on Hollywood’s hottest bodies – and learn how to get one yourself! Plus: Follow Harley on Twitter at @harleypasternak