9 heart-healthy foods to add to your diet


9 heart-healthy foods to add to your diet

Published May 2024 | 5 min read
Expert contributors Nicole Pritchard, dietitian and head of Health Programs at Digital Wellness; Jemma O’Hanlon, senior dietitian at the Heart Foundation
Words by Beth Wallace

Maintaining a heart-healthy diet is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. Here’s how to eat your way to a healthier heart. 

Heart disease (a broad term referring to conditions affecting the structure and function of the heart muscles and blood vessels) is Australia’s leading cause of death. This includes coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, heart failure and valve disease.

While some risk factors are out of your control, like age, gender, ethnicity and family history, many others are linked to lifestyle choices. Poor diet, in particular, is a leading risk factor and is estimated to contribute to around 50% of all cases of coronary heart disease.

The good news is that it is possible to prevent, or at least manage, many cases of heart disease with some simple lifestyle changes, says Nicole Pritchard, dietitian and head of Health Programs at Digital Wellness.

“If you look at some of the risk factors such as high blood pressure, being overweight, high cholesterol and diabetes, you know that all these can be improved with diet and exercise,” she says. “Heart disease can run in your family, but your food and lifestyle choices can make a big difference.”

To help keep our members' hearts healthy, HCF has partnered with The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute to offer free heart health checks for HCF members aged 18 and over with hospital and extras cover at selected HCF branches and dates*. It only takes 10 minutes and you can get your results right away.

What does a heart-healthy diet look like?

A heart-healthy diet should include plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and dairy products.

According to Nicole, the key is to aim for a well-balanced diet that relies heavily on plant-based foods and not worry too much about cutting out or focusing on individual foods or nutrients.

“It’s thinking about your whole diet and eating a variety of unprocessed foods, and also making small changes that you can continue with long term,” she says.

This also includes limiting your intake of saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugars, to make sure cholesterol levels and blood pressure stay within healthy ranges, says Jemma O’Hanlon, senior dietitian at the Heart Foundation.

“Adding salt to our meals should be avoided wherever possible, as salt increases our blood pressure,” she says.

Most of the salt in our diet comes from processed foods, with the likes of sauces, gravies, marinades, pies, pastries, potato crisps and many takeaway foods among the main culprits.

Instead of eating out, Jemma suggests cooking at home whenever possible and using herbs and spices rather than salt to flavour meals.

“Processed meats are recommended to be avoided as they increase the risk of heart disease,” she adds. “Discretionary foods such as lollies, chocolates, cakes, biscuits and ice cream are recommended to be limited in the diet and enjoyed only sometimes and in small portions.”

More fibre and healthy fats

While fibre is already celebrated for the vital role it plays in digestive support, did you know it can also lower your cholesterol levels and help keep your heart healthy?

To get more soluble fibre into your diet, Nicole recommends eating foods such as oats, barley, rye, flaxseed, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables. “It’s best to increase fibre in your diet gradually over a period of a few weeks, which gives your natural gut bacteria time to adjust,” she explains. “And make sure you drink plenty of water, because fibre works best when it absorbs water.”

Likewise, ‘good or healthy’ fats (such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help to lower cholesterol) play an important role in a heart-healthy eating pattern. On the other hand, eating too much of the ‘unhealthy’ saturated and trans fats can heighten your risk of heart disease and stroke by increasing the bad (LDL) cholesterol in your body. These include fried foods, cakes, cookies and highly processed snack foods and frozen dinners.

“The good news is that you can hack your body’s cholesterol system by eating more of the good fats, which stimulates your body to create the healthy type of cholesterol – HDL,” explains Nicole. “This picks up some of the bad cholesterol and takes it to your liver, where it is broken down and passed from the body.”

A great place to start is by eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat – for example, avocado, olives and unsalted almonds, cashews and peanuts – as well as using cooking oils made from plants or seeds, including canola, olive, peanut, soybean, sesame and safflower. Plus, you can stock up on polyunsaturated fats, which include healthy omega-3 and omega-6, by eating fish, tahini, linseed, chia seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and margarine spreads made from sunflower, soybean, safflower or canola oil.

Choose heart-healthy foods

To improve your wellbeing as much as possible, certain heart-healthy foods should be on high rotation in your pantry and fridge.

Along with following the Heart Foundation’s 5-step heart-healthy eating pattern, Jemma recommends adding these ingredients to your weekly menu:

  • Salmon – eating fish two to three times a week is recommended for a healthy heart. Salmon is rich in omega-3, which helps to reduce blood pressure and improve heart rhythm.
  • Brown rice – a whole grain that can help to increase feelings of fullness and boost fibre intake.
  • Avocado – contains monounsaturated fats, which help to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) in our blood and boost our good cholesterol (HDL).
  • Walnuts – rich in omega-3 and are particularly helpful for those who are vegetarian or don’t eat fish.
  • Lentils – budget friendly, low GI and high in fibre. They provide a valuable source of plant protein that’s good for the heart.
  • Yoghurt – a heart-healthy fermented food that’s packed with protein and calcium. Choose plain, unflavoured yoghurt and add fresh fruit for a healthy twist.
  • Apples – rich in soluble fibre and flavonoids, which can help to support a healthy heart by lowering bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol.
  • Oats and muesli – oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre that binds with cholesterol, encouraging it out of the digestive system rather than into the bloodstream.
  • Leafy green vegetables – vegies such as kale, bok choy and spinach are high in vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that helps to protect our arteries and promote healthy blood clotting.

Look for heart-healthy recipes

The Heart Foundation website is a valuable resource of heart-healthy recipes, featuring a great selection of delicious meal ideas, like this vegie-packed green goodness frittata.

As a rule of thumb, when deciding whether or not a recipe is ‘heart healthy’, Jemma says to make sure it’s low in saturated fat and salt, and contains lots of fruit or vegetables, along with good sources of healthy fats and lean protein.

Need inspiration to incorporate more heart-healthy foods into your diet? Kick-start your day with this this banana bircher muesli, thanks to the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet.

Banana bircher muesli

Serves 4
Prep time 5 min, plus minimum of 4 hours for the oats to soak


  • 2 tbsp raisins, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra for serving
  • 2⅔ cups plain, low-fat Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean extract
  • 2 small bananas, sliced
  • 1¼ cups mixed berries, fresh or frozen
  • 2½ tbsp flaked almonds
  • 2½ tbsp pumpkin seeds


  1. Place the raisins into a heatproof bowl. Cover with ¼ cup of boiling water. Stand for 5 minutes until the raisins are soft. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  2. In a bowl, combine oats and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, combine ¾ cup of water, 1⅔ cups of yoghurt, vanilla and raisins, including any unabsorbed water, then stir into the oat mixture. Spoon into an airtight container. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight is better.
  3. Spoon 1 serve (heaped ½ cup) of oats into a serving bowl and top with ¼ cup of remaining yoghurt. Top each bowl with half a chopped banana and add some berries, almonds and pumpkin seeds. Sprinkle over extra cinnamon.

Tip: For those with an extra sweet tooth, try a drizzle of honey on top.

Heart-healthy support for members

We know losing weight and keeping it off over a long period of time can be challenging. We’re helping eligible members save on the evidence-based CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. Created by Australia’s national science agency, the program combines a higher protein, low-GI eating plan with proven weight loss tools to help improve habits and create lifelong positive behaviours.

You can get a 20% discount on the cost of the 12 Week Program ($159 instead of $199) with eligible extras cover^ or through the HCF Thank You loyalty program^^. If you have hospital cover, are aged 18 or over, have a Body Mass Index of 28 or above and have multiple lifestyle risk factors, you may be eligible to join the Total Wellbeing Diet Premium Plus 16 Week Program for free+.

As an HCF member, you can also trust us to help you be your healthiest self. That’s why we've launched The COACH Program®. Delivered by qualified health professionals, this telephone support program is provided by dietitians, nurses and pharmacists, at no extra cost for eligible members* with heart conditions or diabetes.

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How to prevent heart disease

One in four Australians will die from heart disease. These healthy habits will help you reduce your risk.

Workouts for a healthy heart

It’s the consistency of your workout routine that helps keeps your heart healthy, not how many kilometres you can run, says a leading cardiologist.


* To be eligible, members must have a heart-related condition or diabetes and must have had HCF hospital cover that includes heart conditions and vascular system for at least 12 months. Excludes Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic cover and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. Clinical eligibility applies.

^ Must have extras cover to receive the 20% discount through eligible extras offer and must have purchased the program on or after 1 July 2023. Depending on the level of your extras cover, HCF may reimburse the cost of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet 12 Week Program up to your available Health Management Program limits. Some out-of-pocket costs may apply. Excludes Overseas Visitors Health Cover. After the 12-week program duration, HCF members will automatically roll over to the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Loyalty Plan which incurs a monthly recurring fee of $19.95 and is not eligible for the 20% discount offer through eligible extras and is not covered under your extras cover.

^^ You can access HCF Thank You offers after you’ve been a member for a week, and if your premiums are up to date. Excludes Ambulance Only and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. After the 12-week program duration, HCF members will automatically roll over to the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Loyalty Plan which incurs a monthly recurring fee of $19.95 and is not eligible for the 20% discount offer through HCF Thank You. Offers and partners are subject to change without advance notice. See the HCF Thank You Terms available at hcf.com.au.

+ Excludes Ambulance Only, Accident Only and Overseas Visitors Health Cover. Excludes members who have been enrolled in the Healthy Weight for Life Essentials Program in the last 12 months or the Healthy Weight for Life Osteoarthritis Management Program in the last 6 months.

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