A Cardiologist's Top 3 Favorite Foods For Heart & Gut Health (One May Surprise You)
What are the best foods for heart health? Well, it's a tricky question—according to cardiologist and New York Times bestselling author William Davis, M.D., the best heart-healthy players happen to be great for gut health as well, so you'll find quite a lot of crossover between the two categories. His latest must-read book is even titled Super Gut, which only illustrates the importance of your gut for your overall health.
"Doctors should be experts in nutrition and the microbiome," he declares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, as the gut microbiome can affect everything from immunity to skin to brain function to, yep, heart health. So let's proceed with the menu—here, Davis shares some of his favorite (and surprising) fridge staples:
A cardiologist who praises meat? Now that's rare. After all, it's a plant-based diet that is commonly associated with heart health, as ditching meat in favor of veggies can support blood pressure1 and cholesterol levels. In fact, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that those who followed a more plant-based diet had enhanced their cardiovascular health by 16%.
But Davis considers grass-fed, sustainably sourced meat an important part of his heart-healthy food pyramid—especially organ meats, if you can stomach them. Organ meats (liver, tongue, thymus, pancreas, kidney, etc.) are rich in B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, hard-to-obtain choline, and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
Even if you can't fathom the thought of eating organ meats, Davis says to eat your grass-fed meat bone-in, skin-on. "Modern humans have gotten so squeamish that we no longer eat the brain, heart, tongue, or liver," he says. "And then we do really stupid things like buy boneless, skinless chicken breast and not take advantage of all the nutrients from the bone, bone marrow, and the collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin." According to Davis, you're literally throwing away the gut- and heart-healthy benefits of the meat. That said, he suggests finding the highest-quality meat you can and reaping the benefits of every single component. "Save the bones, save the fat, and make stews and soups out of it," he offers.
Legumes are rich in fiber, which enhances heart health by decreasing total and LDL cholesterol levels2. Not to mention, your gut microbiome thrives off of plant-based fiber—specifically, that prebiotic fiber promotes the growth of a good gut bacteria called Akkermansia muciniphila. "But when it's deprived of fiber, it has an added capacity to consume human mucus3," says Davis, which serves as the protective layer for your GI tract. Once this gut bacteria turns to mucus, it can affect your gut health over time (and since your gut health is connected to just about every process in your body, it can have downstream effects on your heart, brain, and skin health as well).
That said: Prioritize your fiber intake, starting with a healthy serving of legumes. "I fear that people who do severe, strict, low-carb diets and don't pay attention to the intake of those sources of fiber may pay a long-term health price."
Food-grade essential oils.
There is limited science on ingesting essential oils, but many cultures have been using herbs and oils to enhance their health for thousands of years. In a gut health setting, "those terpenes are very effective," says Davis. In fact, the limited research we do have4 considers ingestion to be particularly useful in situations of digestive distress: Peppermint essential oil, for example, has been shown to promote gut comfort, and bitter orange oil (with its high limonene content) has been studied5 for its effectiveness for gastric health6.
We highly recommend you read up on our ingesting essential oils guide, as you have to be very, very careful with this practice. "There's a very specific way to use them because you don't take them directly. They're very caustic, they can burn, so you want to dilute them heavily," Davis adds. There is also a list of essential oils you should never ingest, which we also discuss in the guide.
Everyone's body is different, so it's important to discover the specific foods that work well for your own lifestyle. However, Davis loves a mix of animal- and plant-based staples, if you can tolerate them well. As a general rule of thumb: Keep gut health top of mind, and your heart will likely reap the benefits.
Enjoy this episode sponsored by Kori Krill Oil! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Amazon Music!
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.