What foods are part of a heart healthy diet?

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Answered by: Dani, An Expert in the Heart Healthy Diets Category
Whether you are a young person who wants to maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent future problems, or a middle-aged man who has been told by his doctor that he needs to decrease his cholesterol, there is important nutrition information that you need to know.

Your diet is an important factor in maintaining good heart health. A healthy diet will include foods from each of the major food groups. But there are foods that have been shown in studies to help lower the levels of low density lipoproteins (LDL, or "bad" cholesterol), lower inflammation levels, and help lower your risk of heart disease.

These heart-healthy foods include:

1. Whole grains. The American Heart Association recommends at least three 1-ounce servings a day of whole grains that contain fiber. Oatmeal is an excellent choice, since it is baked into breads available at your local supermarket, and is a traditional breakfast cereal.

Oatmeal is milled from oats. It can help lower levels of LDL, which is the cholesterol associated with fatty plaque deposits on the inside of arteries. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, and several minerals. The less processed the oatmeal is, the more beneficial fiber it contains. Instead of instant or quick oats, it is better to buy steel cut or old-fashioned oatmeal.

Other whole grains rich in fiber include brown rice, whole wheat (flour) and barley.

2.Antioxidant-rich berries: Blueberries (especially wild blueberries), cranberries and strawberries are all good choices. These berries contain antioxidants (athocyanins) that help to cut down on your body's inflammatory response. Since inflammation inside the artery wall can be a risk factor for heart disease, antioxidant-rich foods are good heart-healthy choices. They also contain vitamin C, and taste wonderful on a bowl of oatmeal!

3. Olive oil: extra virgin is best. Several studies (one spawned the well-known "Mediterranean Diet") have shown that mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil reduce the levels of LDL (the "bad" cholesterol). This is a risk factor for heart disease; eating foods that decrease LDL levels are an important part of heart-healthy eating.

4. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna or sardines. At least two 3.5 ounce servings a week are part of a heart healthy diet. These fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which if eaten on a regular basis can help lower blood pressure and prevent clotting inside the arteries. Several studies have shown the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing the risk of fat deposits in the artery walls. Omega-3 acids can also be found in fatty nuts, such as walnuts and almonds.

5. Green leafy vegetables: dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach are an excellent source of phytonutrients. Spinach is also rich in iron and folate, as well as potassium and other trace minerals.

As part of a balanced diet, that includes eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, these foods for heart health can be part of a healthier lifestyle. Reducing sodium (salt) intake, and cutting down on sugar-sweetened beverages is also recommended as part of better nutrition, that can help prevent degenerative disease.

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