Plaque buildup in the arteries can reduce blood flow and cause severe complications. Eating certain foods cannot clear clogged arteries, but a healthy diet can help manage and prevent heart disease.

When people refer to ‘clogged’ arteries, they refer to the buildup of plaque deposits within them. This plaque contains cholesterol, other fatty substances, and cellular waste products. Over time, plaque buildup can lead to thickened or hardened arteries. This is a condition known as atherosclerosis.

This article looks at how diet can help with atherosclerosis, foods to eat and avoid, and strategies for heart health.

There are no specific foods or treatments that can reverse atherosclerosis. However, diet and lifestyle changes can form a key part of preventive treatment and help slow or stop the progress of atherosclerosis and associated coronary diseases.

For example, plant-based diets focusing on whole foods can help slow coronary artery disease progression and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Other diets, such as the Mediterranean and DASH, can also help manage coronary disease progression as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

There are many causes and risk factors for atherosclerosis development, and they are often linked. While diet plays an important role in atherosclerosis development, people should take a broader whole-lifestyle approach to managing the condition.

Share on Pinterest
Hours/Getty Images

Diet is an essential part of keeping the arteries healthy, along with other lifestyle aspects.

Certain foods benefit cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, and helping people maintain a healthy weight.

Below are some simple diet changes people can make to improve their cardiovascular health and lower the risk of heart disease.

Avoid unhealthy fats

The American Heart Association advises people to reduce their consumption of saturated fats and eliminate trans fats, which can help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Learn more about the types of fat and cholesterol here.

Limit salt

A high-salt diet is associated with atherosclerosis development and increased risk of other cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure.

Lowering salt intake to healthy levels is a simple and cost-effective way to improve heart health. The World Health Organization recommends healthy adults consume less than 2000 milligrams/day sodium which is equivalent to around 5 grams of salt per day.

Increase intake of plant-based foods

Diets that prioritize whole vegetables, fruits, and grains while limiting processed carbohydrates and animal proteins carry significantly less risk for heart disease development than diets that prioritize animal products.

Vegan and vegetarian diets are associated with lower incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, and saturated fat intake. These are three key risk factors for atherosclerosis development and heart disease risk.

Follow a Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that prioritizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, healthy fats, and whole grains. It is typically low in meat and processed foods.

One study followed participants ages 55 to 80 with high cardiovascular risk for nearly 5 years. The participants ate either a low fat or Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil or nuts. The Mediterranean groups experienced fewer major cardiovascular events during the study period than those following the low fat diet.

Learn more about the Mediterranean diet here.

While a whole-diet approach is best for reducing cardiovascular disease risk, below are specific foods that can benefit health as part of a balanced diet.

Whole fruits and vegetables

One should vary their vegetables and fruits to obtain a wide range of nutrients, including heart-healthy antioxidants.

Fruits and vegetables to prioritize include:

A moderate intake of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, can also form part of a healthy diet.

Healthy oils

Olive oil is a core component of the Mediterranean and other heart-healthy diets. By contrast, coconut, palm, and animal fat oils are typically associated with poorer heart health.

Other healthy oils include:

Compare the different types of oil here.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish are part of the Mediterranean diet and are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids play an important role in heart health and support numerous other critical body functions.

Fatty fish include:

People can include fatty fish in their meals up to twice a week but should limit their consumption of fish with higher mercury levels, such as swordfish and marlin.


Nuts are a healthful addition to a person’s diet. They are often rich in protein, dietary fiber, and healthy fats. There are many different types of nuts to choose from, including:

However, nuts are often high in calories per gram, so it is important for people to be mindful of portion sizes when managing their intake.

Legumes, beans, and pulses

Legumes, beans, and pulses contain protein, vitamins, and minerals and are a suitable alternative to meat for vegetarians and vegans.

A person can purchase them precooked in tins or soak and cook them from dry. Types to include are:

Whole grains

People should eat grains in their whole, natural state. Whole grains contain more fiber than processed grains and can help balance blood glucose.

Someone should be mindful of their portion size and aim to eat no more than a quarter of a plate of whole grains.

People can include whole grain:

People should limit or avoid the following foods:

  • added sugars in sodas, sweets, breakfast cereals, biscuits, and cakes
  • processed foods that contain trans fats, high sugar, and high salt
  • margarine, which may contain trans fats or hydrogenated fats
  • red meat
  • processed meats such as burgers, bacon, ham, and salami
  • refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice
  • alcohol

Other than eating a healthful diet, someone can help prevent atherosclerosis by maintaining a healthful lifestyle that includes:

Doctors can prescribe medicines to treat atherosclerosis. These include:

  • antiplatelet medication, such as aspirin or clopidogrel, to reduce blood clotting
  • anticoagulants, such as warfarin or heparin, to thin the blood
  • cholesterol-lowering medicines, such as statins
  • blood pressure medicines

Sometimes, a doctor needs to perform surgery for atherosclerosis. This may include balloon angioplasty or a stent to open a blocked artery. Healthcare professionals can treat angina with a coronary artery bypass. The doctor grafts a piece of a healthy vein to an area above the blockage to allow blood to flow.

When it comes to atherosclerosis or clogged arteries, prevention is better than cure. People can reduce their risk of the condition by adopting a healthy diet and maintaining a moderate weight.

Evidence suggests that a Mediterranean diet may be beneficial, so people should eat plenty of vegetables, olive oil, and nuts where possible.

Having a regular exercise routine and being physically active can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.