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Heart Healthy Foods to Keep your Ticker Beating Strong

Heart disease is a major health concern and, let’s be honest, plain old scary. We’re afraid of sharks, heights, clowns, and spiders when we really should be more freaked out about what’s happening inside our arteries. Heart disease kills more than half a million people each year in the United States alone. Exercise and portion control are important in preventing or controlling heart disease, but what you eat, not just how much, makes a big difference too. There are many fruits and vegetables that are better for your heart than others. You should be eating more of them more often.

heart_healthy_foods_infographic_pic.jpgThese fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are more than just good sources of vitamins and minerals. They are also low in calories, rich in dietary fiber, full of antioxidants, low in saturated fat, and naturally cholesterol free. The antioxidants in plant-based foods keep free radicals from damaging the blood vessels and the heart. Antioxidants also keep cholesterol and blood platelets from becoming sticky, preventing dangerous clots that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Whole foods from plants are also rich in dietary fiber. Fiber cannot be absorbed or used by the body, but this makes it far more valuable than it sounds. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugars. Repeated sugar spikes can damage the lining of arteries, leading to hardening and plaque buildup. Fiber also binds to cholesterol and fat during digestion, safely moving it out of the body. In much the same way, fiber removes toxins, waste, and pollutants that can also cause damage to cells, arteries, and muscles like the heart. Fiber also helps lower blood pressure and feed the beneficial bacteria that improve digestion.

Acorn Squash – This winter squash is an excellent source of beta carotene (vitamin A) that prevents the oxidization of cholesterol to prevent plaque buildup. Acorn squash is also a good source of fiber and vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.

Almonds – These nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats that actually protect the heart. They are also a good source of fiber and antioxidants.

Asparagus – Asparagus is packed with fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, and potassium. Potassium plays a key part in regulating heart function and controlling blood pressure. Folic acid and vitamin C help prevent heart disease.

Avocado – This green, savory fruit is a heart health powerhouse, filled with fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C, good fats, and potassium.

Beans – Black or kidney, beans are an excellent source of fiber, healthy fats, and B vitamins.

Blueberries – These small berries pack a lot of antioxidant punch, containing compounds similar to the heart healthy ones found in grapes and wine. Paired with fiber, these antioxidants help control cholesterol levels and keep plaque at bay.

Broccoli – This flowering vegetable contains sulforaphane, a compound that triggers defense mechanisms that reduce inflammation and protect the arteries from damage and disease. Broccoli is a rich source of heart healthy fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Broccoli is also one of the few plants that contain co-enzyme Q10 which plays a crucial role in muscle health and strength, including the heart.

Brown Rice – White rice has been stripped of the bran along with many vitamins and minerals. Brown rice, on the other hand, is rich in fiber and powerful antioxidants. Brown rice also contains special compounds called lignans that fight heart disease.

Cantaloupe – This fresh summer melon contains fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and plenty of beta carotene, all of which protect the heart.

carrot_heart_health_picCarrots – Rich in beta carotene which is converted to vitamin A, carrots prevent the oxidization of cholesterol. They are also rich in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.

Chia – These seeds have an abundance of healthy fat, fiber, and protein. Chia supplies all the heart health benefits of flax without the concerns surrounding phytoestrogens.

Dark Chocolate – Dark chocolate contains compounds called flavanols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dark chocolate helps balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It also raises feel-good endorphins that ease the stress on your heart and system.

Grapes – Grapes contain a powerful antioxidant in their skins called resveratrol along with several other antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. These improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and prevent plaque.

heart_healthy_oatmeal_picOatmeal – Filled with fiber, potassium, and healthy fats, oatmeal combats heart disease, lowers cholesterol, and brings down blood pressure. Oatmeal also contains some unique and powerful antioxidants.

Oranges – Oranges and grapefruit contain flavanones, powerful compounds that can drastically lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol levels. They are also rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and B vitamins.

Papaya – Papaya is exceptionally rich in vitamin C, beta carotene, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. These tropical fruits also have anti-inflammatory properties and improve digestion.

Red Bell Pepper – Bell peppers of any color contain large amounts of beta carotene and vitamin C, but red bell peppers supply the most. They are also rich in B vitamins and contain a small amount of capsaicin that helps with blood flow and cholesterol.

spinach_for_heart_health_picSpinach – Another plant that contains co-enzyme Q10, which supplies energy to muscle cells and may also lower cholesterol levels. Spinach is also rich in potassium for blood pressure, fiber to continue lowering cholesterol and remove toxins, folic acid, and many antioxidants.

Sweet Potato – Much better for you than their white counterparts, sweet potatoes contain potassium, fiber, beta carotene, and vitamin C.

Tomatoes – Lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their bright red color, is a mighty antioxidant that can lower cholesterol and protect the heart and arteries from free radical damage. They are also rich in vitamin C, beta carotene, and potassium.

Walnuts – Like almonds, walnuts are rich in monounsaturated fats that actually protect the heart and a pretty good source of fiber and antioxidants too.

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