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heart-fruit-and-vegetablesWhat we eat affects the health of our heart, but many of us may not know which foods are best for our heart. Since February is American Heart Month, I wanted to dedicate my first blog to focusing on fun, fresh food tips to support a healthy heart.

Expert advice for good heart health includes regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, lowering stress levels, not smoking, visiting your doctor regularly, taking medications (if needed), keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol under control, and just as importantly, eating a variety of delicious, heart-healthy foods.

Strive for a diet that is low in cholesterol, fat, sugar, and salt. Cut back on foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, such as meats, butter, dairy products with fat, eggs, shortening, lard and foods made with palm oil or coconut oil. Limit foods with trans-fats, such as snack foods and commercial baked goods.

Here are some foods to help you on the road to heart health:

Start Roughing It! Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet, and you should get a least 20 grams a day. The best sources are whole grain foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts. You can easily up your intake by eating whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices; replace white rice, bread, and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products; choose whole grain cereals for breakfast, and snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or cookies.

Go Fish! Mounting evidence suggests that oily fish can benefit heart health. The essential omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, are keys to a healthy heart (and brain and nervous system!) The best fish to include are salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and trout. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week. If fish is not your favorite, check with your doctor about adding fish oil or essential fatty acid supplements.

Eat Fruits and Veggies! Packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, fruits and vegetables can give your heart a real boost! Aim to fill half your plate with colorful veggies (kale, broccoli, yams, red and yellow bell peppers, berries, mango, papaya, etc.). Go for what’s fresh and in season. I’m a big fan of organic, when possible, for the added nutrients and health benefits! Don’t forget that dried fruits, frozen berries and veggies, applesauce, all-fruit jams, canned veggies (choose sodium-free), and vegetable juices, count too. Remember: Don’t over-cook your veggies. Whether you sauté or steam, keep them crisp-tender to help retain nutrients.

Snack on a handful of nuts! All varieties of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and cashews, can help support healthy cholesterol levels. Although high in fat, it’s primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, so they don’t promote weight gain when eaten in moderation. Nuts provide many important nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E and magnesium, which is good news for your heart and your waist-line!

Tea, anyone? Both green and black teas are packed with antioxidants called flavonoids, which decrease oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Three cups of tea each day can benefit your heart, but remember, green and black teas contain caffeine. Look for natural, decaffeinated tea if needed, or opt for some hibiscus tea. It’s red in color and imparts some of the same properties as red wine.

Have a glass of red wine! Moderate consumption of red wine enhances heart health by helping to support healthy cholesterol levels and healthy circulation. If you don’t imbibe, then try some grape juice. It has similar beneficial effects.

Dark Chocolate! Dark chocolate benefits many different aspects of heart health, including good circulation and antioxidant protection. As an added bonus, micronutrients, including magnesium and copper, are concentrated in dark chocolate.

Do you have a favorite heart-healthy recipe? Feel free to share in the comments!

Post by Lisa Townsend. Follow me on Twitter!