The basics of having a healthy heart are pretty simple: exercise, don’t smoke, and avoid trans-fat- and sodium-rich foods. Eating a wide range of foods can also boost vascular health, says registered dietitian Stephanie Mull. Try to “eat from the rainbow”—vary your diet by including a number of colorful fruits, vegetables, and other foods in your diet.
Incorporating these five foods into your diet will help keep your heart strong and improve overall health. For tips on serving sizes, visit the website Choose My Plate, which allows you to enter your age, weight, and height to determine how much of each food group you should be eating.
Why: Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, and sardines, are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeats. As local registered dietitian Cheryl Harris notes, omega-3 fatty acids are also “anti-inflammatory and may help with conditions from high triglycerides, rheumatoid arthritis, macular eye degeneration, high blood pressure, [and] depression.” The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week.
Why: It goes without saying that fruits and vegetables should be eaten daily, and these berries are ahead of the curve. “Blueberries are packed with antioxidants that can reduce cell damage and have been shown to help prevent some cancers,” explains Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian specializing in healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She recommends using fresh or frozen blueberries fresh in smoothies, parfaits, or oatmeal.
Also try: Spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, and carrots
Why: In addition to fiber and antioxidants, these seeds “provide a ton of omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation of blood vessels, raise HDL, and lower LDL cholesterol,” explains Scritchfield. Chia seeds also contain mood-boosting properties, helpful during the dark winter months. Sprinkle two tablespoons of them onto a salad, stir into yogurt, or blend into a smoothie.
Also try: Flax seeds
Why: This delicious treat contains phytochemicals, which “have many heart-protective effects,” Mull notes. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which can lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and protect cells from environmental damage.
Also try: Acai berries, cumin, dill, black and green tea, soy, and cranberries
Why: These nuts are a “nutrient-dense food,” explains Mull. “Consuming them gives you omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, and heart-protective monounsaturated fatty acids.” Keep in mind that nuts are high in fat, so portions should be controlled for weight management. Try raw almonds slivered over yogurt or cereal.
Also try: Walnuts
Photographs courtesy of Flickr users Marjin de Vries Hoogerwerff, little blue hen, Chocolate Reviews, HealthAliciousNess, and snowpea&bokchoi.