Soy is another food component to consider in your efforts to prevent a heart attack. Even though research shows that eating foods high in soy protein lowers LDL cholesterol levels by a mere 3%, choosing soy-containing foods (for example, soymilk and tofu) can still be beneficial for your heart. That’s because people who eat soy products tend to consume them instead of foods like meat and full-fat dairy products, which are high in both saturated fat and cholesterol.
Numerous studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces heart attack risk. Some experts have attributed this benefit to antioxidants—naturally occurring substances that are plentiful in fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help the body neutralize cell-damaging free radicals, which are normal byproducts of metabolism that can increase the risk of a heart attack, most likely by accelerating the development of atherosclerosis.
The most common antioxidants in the diet are vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A in the body). A high intake of these antioxidants from food is associated with a lower risk of heart attacks. However, studies have shown no beneficial effect of antioxidant supplements on heart attack risk, and in some studies high doses of these supplements have been found to be dangerous. In addition, beta-carotene supplements can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
As a result, supplements of vitamin E, vitamin C, and betacarotene are not recommended. (It’s still okay to take your daily multivitamin, since the antioxidant levels it contains are not high enough to cause harm.) The best way to get your antioxidants is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Good dietary sources of vitamin C include broccoli, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, cauliflower, spinach, potatoes, and cantaloupe. Vitamin E can be found in vegetable oils (such as sunflower, soybean, safflower, and corn), green leafy vegetables, whole grains, wheat germ, and nuts. For beta-carotene, consume carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, oranges, papayas, and apricots.