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Heart Healthy Foods

Your heart is a pretty important piece of equipment, so it’s in your best interest to take good care of it. February is American Heart Month, and though most of us know the basics—eat whole grains, focus on whole fruits and veggies, exercise regularly—you might be unsure which foods are the best for your heart.

Eating for a healthy heart means filling your plate with fruits and vegetables, paying attention to fiber, eating fish a couple times a week and limiting unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats, as well as salt. And although no single food is a cure-all, certain foods have been shown to improve your heart health. Find out how these foods may help lower your risk of heart disease.

Salmon
Salmon doesn’t just taste good; it helps increase your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), otherwise known as “good cholesterol,” which can help lower your risk for heart disease. This fish, packed with omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of protein, is highly recommended by the American Heart Association. Shoot for two servings a week.

Soy
Soy packs an impressive nutritional punch. High in fiber and low in saturated fats, soy has been proven to lower “bad cholesterol” levels and triglycerides, helping prevent heart disease. Not sure how to incorporate it into your diet? Don’t worry, you don’t have to swap your steak for a block of tofu. Try pouring soy milk over your morning cereal.

Oatmeal
Start your day with a steaming bowl of oats, which are full of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. This fiber-rich superfood can lower levels of LDL (or bad) cholesterol and help keep arteries clear. Opt for coarse or steel-cut oats over instant varieties—which contain more fiber—and top your bowl off with a banana for another 4 grams of fiber.

Spinach
If it’s good enough for Popeye, it’s good enough for you. This superfood is packed with potassium, calcium, fiber, B-complex vitamins—a combo that not only defends your heart, but also helps fights disease and protects your eyesight.

Beans
Beans, beans, the powerful fruit. The more you eat…the healthier you are. Beans, including garbanzo, white, black, red, and navy, are naturally low in fat and contain no saturated fat, trans fats, or cholesterol. They are high in protein, fiber, iron, folic acid, and potassium. While all beans have benefits, the more colorful beans, such as red and black, may have an added bonus: eight types of flavonoids. Scientists say these plant chemicals act as antioxidants, which give you protection against heart disease and certain cancers. Studies also suggest eating beans may help manage diabetes and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

Nuts
Walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids and, along with almonds and macadamia nuts, are loaded with mono- and polyunsaturated fat. Plus, nuts increase fiber in the diet and are a great source of healthy fat.

Dark chocolate
Need an excuse to break off a piece of that tempting chocolate bar? Researchers have found that eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate has a blood-thinning effect, which can help your heart health and reduce inflammation. But this doesn’t mean you should give in to every chocoholic urge. For maximum health benefits, just limit yourself to one ounce a day, and remember to look for labels with 70 percent or more cocoa content.

Olive oil
This heart-healthy oil is full of “good” monounsaturated fats, helping you lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. But remember moderation, because all types of fat are high in calories. At the grocery store, make sure to pick out extra-virgin or virgin olive oil since they’re less processed and contain more polyphenols, antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation.

Green tea
Turns out one of the best “foods” for your heart is actually a drink. A steaming cup of green tea is chock-full of good-for-you catechins and flavonols. Some studies have shown that people who drink 12 or more ounces of tea a day are half as likely to have a heart attack as non-tea drinkers.

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