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8 Best Foods for Your Heart

Besides red wine and oatmeal, these can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol


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You knew that your diet is tied directly to your health, but did you know just how much, especially when it comes to your heart? Research suggests that more than half of heart illnesses can be staved off simply by eating better. And while red wine, oatmeal and green tea get all the publicity, many more foods — underdogs, if you will — work just as well. Read through this slideshow to discover just what they are.

(This article appeared previously on Grandparents.com.)

1. Fatty Fish

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No doubt you’ve heard about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are said to lower high triglyceride counts, reduce the chance of having an irregular heartbeat and decrease plaque in your arteries. Happily, fatty fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon are chock-full of the stuff.

Cooking up one 3.5-ounce serving twice a week is enough to do the job, says the American Heart Association. Try Tuna and White Bean Salad or Al Roker’s Grilled Salmon with Miso-Ginger Glaze, both at Grandparents.com, to get your good habit started.

2. Onions

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Onions? Yes, onions. Allium cepa is packed with flavonoids, a.k.a. plant-based nutrients with a multitude of health benefits. Among other wondrous accomplishments, they:

  • Decrease cholesterol
  • Keep blood pressure low
  • Make blood vessels supple and pliable
  • Inhibit inflammation

One cup of raw, chopped onions is the ideal way to ingest the benefits, but for those who balk at the suggestion (and the potential for bad breath), try Pork and Green Onion Tacos and Roast Corn with Bacon and Onion.

3. Potatoes

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Potatoes get a bad rap, unfairly dismissed as starchy calorie bombs, laden with super-fatty butter and sour cream. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Spuds — especially when their skins are included — are loaded with potassium, a key mineral in keeping blood pressure down. That’s not all.

In 2005, the Agricultural Research Service “turned up 60 different phytochemicals and vitamins” in 100 kinds of potatoes. "Among them are vitamin C, folic acid, chlorogenic acid, phenolics such as flavonoids and kukoamines [which] may lower blood pressure."

While few of us need help packing tubers into our diets, try steaming or baking them to keep calorie and fat counts down. This Lemon Mustard Potato Salad from Giada De Laurentiis is another good place to begin.

4. Ground Flaxseed

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To the naked eye, ground flaxseed doesn’t look like much; a pile of pecan dust comes most readily to mind. But this unassuming tan-and-brown powder is actually a powerhouse of heart health. Rich in omega-3s and antioxidants, flaxseed protects against high cholesterol, artery hardening and disease-related inflammation (Parkinson’s, asthma, etc.), among other things.

Sprinkle some in these Blueberry Almond Pancakes or these Flourless Dark Chocolate Brownies.

5. Citrus Fruits

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Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, tangerines and clementines are just a few of the heart-healthy citrus fruits to pack into your diet. That’s because they contain:

  • Flavonoids, which reduce blood vessel inflammation and blood pressure
  • Hesperidin, which improves blood flow and possibly protects against cancer
  • Vitamin C, which may help protect you from strokes

While juice without added sugar is OK, health experts encourage you to eat whole fruits, like in this Roasted Beet Salad with Oranges. Plain fruit works as well. Pack a pomelo into your lunch bag or kick off your a.m. with half a grapefruit.

6. Brown Rice

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It may take a bit longer to cook than white rice, but a bowlful of fiber-rich brown rice is worth the extra effort. Beyond the obvious benefits of the fiber, which reduces high cholesterol, arterial plaque and the risk of developing heart disease, studies suggest that brown rice also combats something called angiotensin II, which causes blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise.

Eating a half cup of plain brown rice with lean meat or fish is a great way to pack it into your diet, though fun applications like Herbed Wild Rice or Maple Brown Rice Pudding will also get the job done.

7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Olive oil, a staple of the Mediterranean diet and also proven to be excellent for reducing the risk of heart disease, has only grown in popularity over the years, thanks to its increasingly accepted health benefits. Olive oil is a solid source of monounsaturated fats, which lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Extra virgin olive oil can even reduce inflammation, a major source of illness and pain.

To get your daily dose of olive oil, use it on top of grilled produce, like in this Grilled Vegetable Antipasto with Balsamic Dressing, or as a salad topper, like this simple Italian Dressing.

8. Dark Chocolate

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Good news, chocoholics. Not only is the product of cacao seeds hands-down delicious, but it’s great for your ticker in limited doses. The polyphenol content in dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent cocoa) can lower blood pressure, inflammation and the risk of blood clots. And in 2012, dark chocolate was found to lower the incidence of stroke and nonfatal heart attacks in people at risk for heart disease.

Sadly, this doesn’t mean you can chomp on a Snickers 24/7. Instead, try small squares of high-quality dark chocolate bars or make your own treats, like these nut-filled Tart Cherry Jungle bits.

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