The 3 Foods This Cardiologist NEVER Eats—and 5 Foods He Eats Every Day

With cardiovascular disease still the leading cause of death in America, this heart doctor lets you in on his own diet secrets

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Whether you have a history with heart disease, it runs in your family, or you just want to make sure you’re setting your body up for a long, healthy life, including heart-healthy foods in your diet can be one of the best ways to support your overall health. The CDC reports cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, but the American Heart Association says a healthy diet is one of the key factors in managing your heart health.

To help keep things simple, The Healthy @Reader’s Digest asked Long Cao, MD, FACC, a board-certified cardiologist with Memorial Hermann in Houston, TX, for the heart-healthy foods he puts on his plate every day—and the food choices he incessantly avoids.

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Heart healthy foods to put on your plate

Fresh greens and vegetables

Dr. Cao says he always packs his plate with a variety of fresh greens and veggies such as avocado, kale, cucumber and spinach. That’s because they’re filled with good fiber that cleanses the gut and lowers cholesterol, and packed with antioxidants that can fight inflammation and even cancer.

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Fruit

Berries and apples are Dr. Cao’s fruits of choice. They have “slow releasing, healthy sugars,” he explains, and can also help control your appetite.

Fruits like apples and berries also contain polyphenols, which can offer protection against cardiovascular disease—as well as certain cancers, diabetes and neurogenerative diseases, according to the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center at Colorado State University.

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Fish

Dr. Cao says the healthy fats in fish can reduce triglycerides, which helps lower your risk of heart disease. If you’re looking to add protein to your plate, Dr. Cao says fish are a heart-healthy option.

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Chickpeas

Another heart healthy food full of protein are chickpeas, says Dr. Cao. According to the Cleveland Clinic, chickpeas are cholesterol-free, low in sodium and contain polyunsaturated fats, which can support healthy cholesterol levels. Dr. Cao recommends roasting them without additives or salt.

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Foods this cardiologist avoids

With nearly 20 years of experience in cardiovascular medicine, these are the foods Dr. Cao says he steers clear of:

Frozen, canned or processed foods

While these are often cost-effective, quick options, Dr. Cao says you should avoid them as much as possible. Because they’re high in salt and preservatives, they can increase your blood pressure, create inflammation and even cause weight gain if consumed regularly.

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Sugary, canned drinks

Dr. Cao says he avoids drinks like soda or beer because they contain high amounts of sodium and processed sugars, as well as chemical preservatives. This can lead to weight gain, increased blood pressure, inflammation and more. “Empty calories, basically,” he says.

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Pickled foods or jerky

Dr. Cao avoids pickled foods and jerky because of the high sodium content, which can increase blood pressure. He also avoids processed meats like jerky—which has been smoked, salted or both for preservation—because they’ve been found to cause cancer.

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Medically reviewed by Latoya Julce RN, BSN, on March 02, 2023

Miranda Manier
Miranda is the Associate Editor for TheHealthy.com and The Healthy section of Reader's Digest magazine. Previously, Miranda was a producer at WNIT, the PBS affiliate in South Bend, Indiana; and the producer in residence for Minneapolis TV news KARE 11, where she won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award for producing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial. Miranda also interned at Chicago’s PBS station, WTTW, and worked as the managing editor at the Columbia Chronicle at Columbia College. Outside of work, Miranda enjoys acting, board games, and trying her hand at a good vegan dessert recipe. She also loves talking about TV—so tell her what you’re watching!