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Best Foods for Heart Health

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Updated May 23, 2014

Rustic apples
Kevin Summers/Stockbyte/Getty Images

General dietary advice for reducing heart disease risk includes eating a balanced diet with less saturated fat from red meat; more fresh fruits, vegetables, fiber, and fish; less sugar and sodium, and for many people, fewer total calories.

Changing your diet is a great start. You can upgrade your diet even more by adding more of these heart-healthy foods:

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that protect your heart by reducing both inflammation and the risk of blood clots. These fats also work to keep your cholesterol levels healthy. Eat salmon or other oily ocean fish like tuna, sardines or herring at least two times per week. For a heart-healthy meal, try grilled salmon steaks with a green vegetable and a side salad with a sprinkling of lemon juice instead of high-calorie salad dressing.

Olive oil reduces your risk of heart disease by lowering your LDL cholesterol levels and it's an essential component of a Mediterranean diet. Choose olive oil for cooking, or make a nice dip for whole grain bread by pouring a bit of olive oil in a small bowl and add a bit of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of oregano.

Oats contain a soluble fiber called beta glucan that helps reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber also helps keep your digestive system healthy. Enjoy oatmeal with just a small amount of brown sugar and plenty of strawberries and walnuts for breakfast. Cold cereals made with oats are also good for you.

Apples contain a phytochemical called quercetin which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent and may help prevent blood clots as well. Apples contain vitamins and fiber, come in several delicious varieties and are portable. Eat an apple with a handful of walnuts or almonds as a healthy snack or add apple slices to your salads.

Almonds and other nuts contain healthy oils, vitamin E and other substances that will help keep cholesterol levels in check. Almonds are also a good source of protein and fiber. Almonds make a great snack on their own, or sprinkle slivered almonds on green beans or asparagus with lemon juice as a deliciously healthy side dish.

Red wine contains polyphenols that may be good for your heart. Be sure to enjoy red wine in moderation. Studies show that only four to eight ounces of red wine per day is all you need - and dealcoholized wine is good for you too.

Whole grains provide vitamins and fiber that will help to keep your heart healthy. Make a sandwich with two slices of 100-percent whole grain bread, three ounces of lean turkey breast, lots of sliced tomatoes and avocado, plus lettuce and a bit of mustard. Switch from white pasta to whole grain pasta.

Green leafy vegetables contain folate, which helps to keep homocysteine levels down, and vitamin E. Green leafy vegetables have also been associated with better retention of memory as age. Try using fresh spinach leaves or other greens for your favorite salad instead of iceberg lettuce.

Tomatoes are packed with vitamins and lycopene, which has been associated with a reduced heart disease risk. Add thick slices of tomatoes to sandwiches and salads or enjoy tomato sauce on whole wheat pasta. In fact, cooked tomato sauce and canned tomato sauce that you buy in the store both contain more lycopene than raw tomatoes.

Soy protein may prevent heart attacks and it makes an excellent protein substitute for red meat, which will reduce your saturated fat intake. Add tofu to your favorite stir fry or pour soy milk on your morning cereal.

Sources:

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Guarda E, Godoy I, Foncea R, Perez DD, Romero C, Venegas R, Leighton F. "Red wine reduces oxidative stress in patients with acute coronary syndrome." Int J Cardiol. 2005 Sep 15;104(1):35-8.

Hubbard GP, Wolffram S, Lovegrove JA, Gibbins JM. "Ingestion of quercetin inhibits platelet aggregation and essential components of the collagen-stimulated platelet activation pathway in humans." J Thromb Haemost. 2004 Dec;2(12):2138-45.

Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, Faulkner D, Vidgen E, Lapsley KG, Trautwein EA, Parker TL, Josse RG, Leiter LA, Connelly PW. "The effect of combining plant sterols, soy protein, viscous fibers, and almonds in treating hypercholesterolemia." Metabolism. 2003 Nov;52(11):1478-83.

Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Speizer FE, Colditz G, Ascherio A, Rosner B, Spiegelman D, Willett WC. "The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease." Ann Intern Med. 2001 Jun 19;134(12):1106-14.

Katz DL, Nawaz H, Boukhalil J, Chan W, Ahmadi R, Giannamore V, Sarrel PM. "Effects of oat and wheat cereals on endothelial responses." Prev Med. 2001 Nov;33(5):476-84.

Meshcheriakova VA, Plotnikova OA, Sharafetdinov KhKh, Iatsyshina TA. "The use of the combined food products with soy protein in diet therapy for patients with diabetes mellitus type 2." Vopr Pitan. 2002;71(5):19-24.

Nordoy A, Svensson B, Hansen JB. "Atorvastatin and omega-3 fatty acids protect against activation of the coagulation system in patients with combined hyperlipemia." J Thromb Haemost. 2003 Apr;1(4):690-7.

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