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How to Eat Smart for Your Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women the United States, so it's crucial to be diet vigilant. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. In addition to exercising and quitting smoking, embracing a heart healthy diet can prevent an ailing ticker. Although I hit the gym and pass on tobacco, sometimes knowing what foods to eat isn’t as black and white. To help our hearts, what exactly should we be eating?

Though the American Heart Association recommends eschewing refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, trans fats, and salt, I think it’s easier to just remember that if something is packaged, processed, and has ingredients you’ve never heard of, chances are it isn’t good for you. Or, as Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food, likes to put it, “don’t eat anything your great-grandma wouldn’t recognize as food.”

Below are five heart healthy foods that your great grandma would recognize. I’ve chosen these particular five not only because they are nutritional heavy hitters, but also because they’re easy and fun to incorporate into your diet.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish high in omega-3s at least twice a week. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce plaque formation and blood clots, which can contribute to heart disease. Salmon is a great source of these heart healthy omega-3-fatty acids. Best of all, preparing salmon is a no-brainer. I like to grill mine on the barbie, toss it in the broiler with a little lemon, or pan fry it in olive oil and spices.

We all know we’re supposed to eat more vegetables, but if we had to pick the best one for our hearts, I think broccoli would win. Broccoli contains tons of nice nutrients—calcium, vitamins A and C, potassium, folate, and fiber. As if that weren’t enough, broccoli is also packed with phytonutrients, compounds that may help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Even if I didn’t know this, I’d still be a fan of broccoli because it is low in calories, packs a nice crunch, and can be thrown in salads, stir fries, or served as an accompaniment to meat. I can’t wait to try the broccoli in this Steamed Ginger Chicken with Asian Greens recipe.

It’s hard to pick just one nut, because so many are good for you. But the two heart healthy stand-outs are definitely almonds and walnuts. Almonds have antioxidants and fiber; walnuts have omega-3s. Though both are high in fat, most of the fat is monounsaturated, or “good” fat. Steer clear of heavily salted or seasoned nuts and go for the raw or roasted versions. Check out this unique use of walnuts in a Cool Cucumber Soup.

I’m fond of apples because they’re inexpensive, easy to find, come in portion-controlled packaging, and taste good. Apples are a good source of pectin, a fiber that may help reduce cholesterol. They also have the antioxidant Vitamin C, which keeps your blood vessels healthy. Try using them in this healthy Pumpkin-Apple Breakfast Bread.

Garbanzo Beans
The American Heart Association recommends legumes as part of a heart healthy diet, and it’s no wonder: they’re low in fiber and high in protein, and they help reduce cholesterol levels. Garbanzos in particular are high in iron, folate, and manganese. And they’re inexpensive, versatile, and taste great. I like them in salads, curries, and of course, hummus. Try this unique version of garbanzos in this Orange Hummus recipe.

Of course, these are just the top heart healthy winners in my book. There are many more good options—blueberries, lentils, spinach, avocados, to name a few. Though you may never see something like cheesecake on a cardio-friendly list (and if you do, something ain’t right), at least there are some tasty choices to help keep a woman’s heart healthy and her appetite satisfied. 

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