Foods for a Healthy Heart

They're easy and delicious -- who knew a heart-healthy diet could be so tasty?

If you think eating a heart-healthy diet means bland, boring food, your taste buds are in for a shock. With a few smart and simple substitutions, you won't even miss the unhealthy fats, salt, and extra calories making your heart old before its time. In fact, you can still eat some of the old standards if you modify them -- and when you add foods that lower cholesterol, you’ll have new, healthy, delicious options to choose from as well.

6 Must-Eat Foods for a Healthy Heart

To help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, and prevent inflammation and arterial aging, eat these delicious foods:

1. Strawberries -- and just about any other colorful fruit or veggie you can find. Why? Because fruits and vegetables like red grapes, cranberries, oranges, plums, and tomatoes are bursting with flavonoids -- antioxidants that help quell inflammation. And that's a good thing, because inflammation is one of the many processes involved in heart disease. Eat them fresh -- sliced or whole. What could be easier? Aim for 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. Know what the the highest antioxidant foods on the planet are? Find out here.

2. Rye bread -- and any other grain product made from whole grains. Whole-grain breads and cereals, brown rice, quinoa, flaxseeds, and whole soybeans are full of heart-protective fiber and magnesium that can help keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in a healthy range. Try for six or more daily servings of whole grains.

3. Avocado -- and other healthy vegetable-based fats. Use mashed avocado, olive oil, and nut butters in place of unhealthful fats. Mashed avocado makes a good sandwich spread if you mix it with a little salsa. And olive oil is a great butter substitute when you're sauteing veggies. Use nut butters and peanut butter in place of butter and cream cheese. Substitutions like these are delicious ways to bring down "bad" LDL cholesterol and boost the "good" HDL kind. Just remember to limit portion size as you would with any other oils or fats.

4. Salmon -- and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. A strong body of research shows that eating fish (as long as it's not fried) helps lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia, high triglycerides, arterial plaque buildup, and inflammation in your arteries. Opt for three portions per week of oily fish rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Find the top five low-mercury, heart-healthy fish.

5. Nuts -- yep, not only do they make healthy nut butters, but they make a great snack, too. And eating nuts regularly can cut your risk of heart disease by 20% to 60%. Almonds, pistachios, and especially walnuts are loaded with heart-friendly fats and are a great source of vegetable protein. Just stick to one handful per day to keep your calorie count down.

6. Dark chocolate -- see, you don't have to avoid sweets entirely. In fact, a little dark chocolate every day is good for your heart. Find out why dark chocolate is such a heart-smart treat.

Heart Cutbacks

As you add more heart-healthy items to your daily menu, you also need to curb the foods that age your heart. That means minimizing unhealthy saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugar. But as you can see by the list above, there's no reason to be dismayed when you've got options like apple wedges with peanut butter, low-fat yogurt with raisins, crusty whole-grain breads, fresh berries, olives, veggies with hummus, savory salmon, and even a bit of dark chocolate now and then. So what are you waiting for?

More: Check out this page for more foods that may help prevent a heart attack.

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