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What are heart healthy foods?

Eating right is important for heart health. To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they are low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and blood pressure. Whole-grain foods contain fiber that can lower your cholesterol and help you feel full, which may also help you control your weight. Eat fish at least twice per week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids may help you lower your risk from heart disease.
While losing excess weight, reducing saturated fat in the diet, and partaking in daily physical activity are all key to lowering your risk of heart disease, adding heart-healthy foods to your diet can also help. 

Here are 5 foods that are deliciously good for your heart:

Beans
Soluble fiber-rich beans can help curb your appetite by helping you feel fuller sooner so you’ll eat less at the meal. Trimming calories will help trim your waistline. Beans can also replace higher-calorie, higher-saturated fat-containing meats and cheeses in entrees.

Oats
Research suggests that consuming 3 grams or more per day of ß-glucan soluble fiber, which is found in oats (or barley, for that matter), can help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Nuts
A small handful of nuts daily may be a nutty way to manage your blood cholesterol levels. Research suggests that nuts can help lower blood cholesterol levels, and that eating 1.5 ounces per day of almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, or walnuts along with a heart-healthy diet may reduce your risk of heart disease. (An ounce of nuts = 25 almonds, 9 whole walnuts, or 48 pistachio nuts.)

Fish
While fish is low in heart-unhealthy saturated fat, it provides another healthy quality that makes it a ringer for your heart. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help slow the plaque buildup in your arteries that contribute to heart disease as well as reduce your risk of dying from heart disease. It is currently recommended that you eat two fish meals, especially omega 3-rich fatty fish, weekly. Salmon, sardines, and tuna are all good sources of omega 3. 

Whole Grains
While research shows that whole grains can reduce your risk of heart disease, most Americans are falling short of the recommended minimum three servings of whole grains daily. Make sure that at least half your grain choices are whole grains, such as oats, 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, and popcorn to gain that heart-healthy benefit.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics
Heart healthy foods will help you reduce three of the major risk factors for heart disease: high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight.

These are some tips to include more heart healthy foods:
  • Start your day with whole grain cereals
  • For snacks and meals select fresh fruits as your dessert
  • Add an assortment of vegetables to your favorite stews, stir fry and soups
  • Include kidney beans, garbanzos and lentils to your weekly menu
A healthy heart is the result of good genes, the right food choices, plenty of physical activity and knowing how to deal with stress. While you can't do much about your genes, regular exercise, eating right and dealing with stress are lifestyle behaviors you can control. In general, eat more plant foods, fish, poultry and low-fat dairy foods. Cook with moderate amounts of olive or canola oil instead of butter, margarine or shortening.

Some examples of foods for heart health include:
  • Beans, peas and barley
  • Soybeans, other soy-based foods (not soybean oil)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel
  • Red grapes and purple grape juice
  • Nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts
  • Green or black tea
  • Onions, scallions, shallots, garlic and leeks
Here are some practical tips for a heart-healthy diet:
  • Eat a balanced diet with fish two to three times a week, if possible.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat, and remove fats from meats and skin from chicken before cooking. Eat up to six ounces per day.
  • Broil, bake, roast or poach foods rather than fry them.
  • Cut down on sausage, bacon and processed high-fat cold cuts.
  • Limit organ meats such as liver, kidney or brains.
  • Eat two servings of fatty fish, such as mackerel, tuna or salmon, per week.
  • Instead of whole milk or cream, drink skim or 1% milk.
  • Try nonfat or low-fat yogurt in place of sour cream. Use nonfat or low-fat cheeses. Substitute sherbet and nonfat or low-fat frozen yogurt for ice cream.
  • Instead of butter, use olive oil or liquid vegetable oils high in poly- or mono-unsaturated fats. All fats and oils should be used sparingly.
  • Eat egg yolks only in moderation. Egg whites contain no fat or cholesterol and can be eaten often. In most recipes, substitute two egg whites for one whole egg.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as cereals, breads, rice and pasta made from whole grains (for example, rye bread, whole wheat spaghetti and bran cereal). These foods are good sources of starch and fiber, and usually contain no cholesterol and little or no saturated fat.
  • Liquid vegetable oils are a good choice for sautéing vegetables, browning potatoes, popping corn and making baked goods, pancakes and waffles. Use small amounts or try a vegetable oil cooking spray.
  • Eat plant stanol and sterol margarines. Plant sterols (also called stanol esters), work by blocking absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.