Your heart is a pretty important piece of equipment, so it’s in your best interest to take good care of it. February is American Heart Month, and though most of us know the basics—eat whole grains, focus on whole fruits and veggies, exercise regularly—you might be unsure which foods are the best for your heart. We’ve got 10 of the most powerful superfoods around. Some you might already be familiar with (salmon’s a biggie), while others might surprise you (one of the “foods” is actually a drink). Check out our gallery and make your heart happy.
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Salmon doesn’t just taste good; it helps increase your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), otherwise known as “good cholesterol,” which can help lower your risk for heart disease. This fish, packed with omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of protein, is highly recommended by the American Heart Association. Shoot for two servings a week.
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Well-known as a disease-fighting food, blueberries contain anthocyanins, the antioxidant which gives this fruit its dark blue color. With plenty of fiber, vitamin C, potassium and other nutrients, these tiny berries have a lot to offer. If plain berries aren’t your bag, try mixing some into your whole-grain cereal, tossing them into a fruit salad or whipping up some delicious healthy pancakes. Not a fan of blueberries? Many other berries are packed with anti-inflammatories, so feel free to stock up on raspberries, blackberries and cranberries instead.
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Soy packs an impressive nutritional punch. High in fiber and low in saturated fats, soy has been proven to lower “bad cholesterol” levels and triglycerides, helping prevent heart disease. Not sure how to incorporate it into your diet? Don’t worry, you don’t have to swap your steak for a block of tofu. Try pouring soy milk over your morning cereal or adding it to a stir-fry.
Turns out, mom was right. Oatmeal, with its high-fiber, folate and omega-3 fatty acids, is a top power food. The oats can help keep your arteries clear and levels of “bad cholesterol” down. Look for the coarse or steel-cut varieties when you’re in the cereal aisle; they contain more nutrients and fiber than instant alternatives.
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If it’s good enough for Popeye, it’s good enough for you. This superfood is packed with potassium, calcium, fiber, B-complex vitamins—a combo that not only defends your heart, but also helps fights disease and protects your eyesight.
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Nuts include plenty of heart-healthy monosaturated fats and low levels of saturated fats. Some research suggests that people who eat nuts two or more times a week are less likely to be affected by heart disease than those who don’t. Stuck in a peanut butter rut? Add some pecans to your salad, bring raw almonds to work for a quick snack, or make homemade granola with walnuts.
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Need an excuse to break off a piece of that tempting chocolate bar? Researchers have found that eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate has a blood-thinning effect, which can help your heart health and reduce inflammation. But this doesn’t mean you should give in to every chocoholic urge. For maximum health benefits, just limit yourself to one ounce a day, and remember to look for labels with 70 percent or more cocoa content.
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Legumes deserve their good reputation: they’re low in fat, high in fiber, and help improve cholesterol levels. Some studies indicate that just half a cup of cooked pinto beans every day helps lower your cholesterol. Not too shabby. Look for the more colorful beans (red and purple) because they usually contain extra flavonoids, the chemicals that act as antioxidants and can protect against heart disease.
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This heart-healthy oil is full of “good” monounsaturated fats, helping you lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. But remember moderation, because all types of fat are high in calories. At the grocery store, make sure to pick out extra-virgin or virgin olive oil since they’re less processed and contain more polyphenols, antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation.
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Turns out one of the best “foods” for your heart is actually a drink. A steaming cup of green tea is chock-full of good-for-you catechins and flavonols. Some studies have shown that people who drink 12 or more ounces of tea a day are half as likely to have a heart attack as non-tea drinkers.