Eating certain foods may help prevent clogged arteries and lower your risk of heart disease. Some examples include berries, beans, tomatoes, fish, oats, and leafy greens.
Atherosclerosis occurs when fatty deposits accumulate along artery walls. You may have heard this condition referred to as clogged arteries or hardening of the arteries.
Atherosclerosis causes the arteries to narrow and restricts blood flow to the heart and other parts of the body.
Foods high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other beneficial compounds may help prevent plaque from forming in your arteries. These foods may include:
- some types of fish
- certain vegetables and leafy greens
- nuts and seeds
- olive oil
Here are 15 foods that may help prevent clogged arteries.
These fruits are associated with numerous health benefits, including their ability to reduce inflammation and Boost heart health.
Berries contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds. These include flavonoid antioxidants, including polyphenols, which may support heart health (1).
Research has also shown that eating berries significantly reduces atherosclerosis risk factors, including (2):
- elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol
- blood pressure
- blood sugar levels
Berries may help prevent clogged arteries by reducing inflammation and cholesterol accumulation, improving artery function, and protecting against cellular damage (3).
Beans are packed with fiber, and eating fiber-rich foods like beans is essential for preventing atherosclerosis (4).
Eating beans is an excellent way to manage cholesterol levels, reducing your risk of clogged arteries. Many studies have demonstrated that eating beans can significantly reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (5).
Beans offer various cardioprotective effects, including (6):
- reducing blood pressure
- reducing blood triglyceride levels
- lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels
- reducing inflammation
- improving artery function
The same review notes that bean-rich diets can also improve:
- insulin sensitivity
- body weight and waist circumference
- colon health
- gut microbiome diversity
All of these effects may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Eating omega-3-rich fish may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, though researchers have not yet definitively determined why.
The body can metabolize omega-3 fatty acids into bioactive lipid mediators, which may reduce inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can contribute to clogged arteries (7).
Another review of research notes that eating fish may (8):
- reduce triglycerides
- lower heart rate and blood pressure
- improve the pumping of oxygen-rich blood to your organs
- reduce inflammation
- reduce the risk of blood clots
Tomatoes and tomato products contain plant compounds that may be particularly helpful for reducing the development of atherosclerosis.
Tomatoes contain the carotenoid pigment lycopene. Studies show that consuming lycopene-rich tomato products may help (9):
- reduce inflammation
- boost HDL (good) cholesterol
- reduce the risk of heart disease
Combining cooked tomato with olive oil may offer the greatest protection against clogged arteries (10).
Onions are part of the Allium genus and are linked to health benefits, including supporting artery health. Research has shown that a diet rich in these popular veggies may protect the arteries.
A 15-year study that followed 1,226 women ages 70 and older found that a higher intake of Allium vegetables like onions was associated with a lower risk of death related to disease caused by atherosclerosis (11).
Onions contain sulfur compounds that scientists think may help prevent blood vessel inflammation, inhibit the clumping together of platelets in the blood, and increase the availability of nitric oxide (11, 12).
All of these effects may help protect against atherosclerosis and Boost artery health.
Citrus fruits are delicious and provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including flavonoids.
Citrus flavonoids can decrease inflammation and help prevent free radicals in the body from oxidizing LDL (bad) cholesterol. Oxidized LDL is associated with atherosclerosis development and progression (13).
This may be why citrus consumption is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke — two conditions linked to atherosclerosis (14).
Spices, including ginger, pepper, chili, and cinnamon, may help protect against clogged arteries (15).
These and other spices have anti-inflammatory properties and may help (15):
- reduce free radicals
- improve blood lipid levels
- reduce the clumping together of platelets in the blood
You can increase your spice consumption by adding these versatile flavorings to oatmeal, soups, stews, and just about any other dish you can think of.
Flax seeds are high in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. In addition to being highly nutritious, flax seeds may help prevent atherosclerosis.
Flax seeds contain secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG), an anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering lignan compound whose properties counter atherosclerosis and may protect against heart attack and stroke (16, 17).
You have to grind flax seeds or purchase them pre-ground to digest them and take advantage of their benefits.
Adding cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower to your diet may help reduce your chances of developing clogged arteries.
Studies show that eating cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of atherosclerosis.
A study of 1,500 females found that eating cruciferous vegetables was associated with lower carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) (18).
This measurement can help assess a person’s risk of atherosclerosis-related disease.
Research has also linked cruciferous vegetable intake to reduced arterial calcification and risk of death caused by atherosclerosis-related disease (11, 19).
Arterial calcification leads to the hardening of the arteries in atherosclerosis (20).
Beets are a rich source of nitrates, which your body converts to nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that plays many essential roles in your body.
Inflammation in the blood vessels leads to decreased nitric oxide production.
Eating foods like beets that are rich in dietary nitrates may help Boost blood vessel function and decrease inflammation, which may help prevent atherosclerosis (21).
Research has also found an association between dietary nitrate intake and a reduced risk of atherosclerosis-related death (22, 23).
Eating oats can help significantly reduce atherosclerosis risk factors, including high total and LDL (bad) cholesterol (24, 25).
Oats also contain antioxidants called avenanthramides, which may help inhibit inflammatory proteins called cytokines and adhesion molecules. This may help prevent atherosclerosis (24).
Consuming oat bran, which is packed with fiber, may also be helpful.
A study that included 716 people with coronary artery disease found that those who consumed oat fiber regularly had lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and inflammatory markers than those who did not eat oat fiber (25).
The study also found that oat fiber intake was associated with a lower risk of needing revascularization — a procedure to increase oxygen delivery to the heart and other parts of the body. A person may need this if atherosclerosis has impeded their blood flow (25).
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. What’s more, these tiny and versatile foods may help prevent clogged arteries.
Eating nuts and seeds can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and may help boost HDL (good) cholesterol and lower systolic blood pressure (26, 27).
Research also suggests eating nuts and seeds reduces blood sugar levels and may help protect against diabetes, a known risk factor for atherosclerosis (26, 28).
Eating nuts and seeds may also help Boost blood vessel function and protect against heart disease (29, 30).
Leafy greens, including lettuces, kale, arugula, Swiss chard, and spinach, offer nutrients that may help protect against atherosclerosis.
Green leafy vegetables are a good source of dietary nitrates, which can help Boost blood vessel function and reduce inflammation (31).
They’re also packed with potassium. This mineral helps prevent vascular calcification, a process that contributes to atherosclerosis (32).
Numerous studies have shown that eating green leafy vegetables can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
A review by the American Heart Association found that eating one serving of green leafy vegetables daily was linked to a 12-18% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke (33).
Cocoa and dark chocolate products are delicious and may help ward off atherosclerosis.
A review of research suggests that eating chocolate is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes (34).
Cocoa and dark chocolate products are rich in polyphenol plant compounds. These help increase nitric oxide production and decrease inflammation in the arteries, which may help Boost physical function in people with atherosclerosis (35).
But chocolate can also contain fats and sugar, which may counteract some of its beneficial compounds. It may be best to choose dark chocolate with more than 70% cocoa to take advantage of its benefits and consume the recommended amount of one to two ounces (35).
Olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Olive oil may significantly Boost blood vessel function and reduce inflammatory markers, which can reduce your risk of heart disease (36).
A 2018 review also concluded that olive oil consumption is associated with reduced atherosclerosis-related inflammatory markers and a decreased risk of heart disease and complications (37).
Researchers attribute olive oil’s ability to increase heart and blood vessel health to its high content of polyphenol compounds.
Remember that less refined extra virgin olive oil has significantly greater amounts of polyphenols than more refined olive oils (37, 38, 39).
Atherosclerosis is considered a major underlying cause of heart disease, including coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease in the United States (40).
Atherosclerosis is the underlying cause of about 50% of deaths in Western countries (41).
It’s a chronic inflammatory disease with numerous risk factors.
You’re more likely to develop atherosclerosis if you (41):
- have high LDL (bad) cholesterol
- have high blood pressure
- smoke cigarettes
- have diabetes
- have a family history of atherosclerosis
- have obesity
- consume a poor diet
- engage in a sedentary lifestyle
On the other hand, following a diet rich in certain foods like vegetables, fruits, and fish has been shown to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease (42).
A healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods may help reduce your risk of developing clogged arteries.
Adding foods like cruciferous vegetables, fish, berries, olive oil, oats, onions, greens, and beans to your diet may be an effective way to prevent atherosclerosis.
All of the foods listed above offer many other benefits as well. Adding them to your daily routine may significantly decrease your disease risk and boost your overall health.