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If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of heart problems, you have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. You can lower your risk by making this small change -- at each meal, choose foods that are healthy for your heart.

Don’t make a list of foods you “shouldn’t” eat -- the focus of most diets. Instead, increase your motivation by choosing a positive perspective. Each time you eat one of these healthier foods, remind yourself – with each bite, you’re lowering your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

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Eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The dietary fiber in these foods helps lower “bad” LDL cholesterol -- one of the main contributors to heart attack and stroke. Put these on your plate with every meal to reach these daily amounts: At least 5 cups of fruits and vegetables and three 1-ounce servings of whole grains a day.

Eat more legumes (beans), seeds, and nuts. Your weekly target: 4 servings of either nuts, seeds, or legumes such as black beans, garbanzos or lentils.

Put healthier fats to work for you.  

  • Cook with oils high in healthy, unsaturated fats, such as canola, olive, and peanut oils. These oils are less likely than butter or lard to clog your arteries.
  • Use plant stanols or sterols found in fortified margarines, salad dressings, and yogurt. (Check the labels.) These plant compounds help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol.
  • Eat fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, including albacore tuna, salmon, or sardines. This fat is a powerful defender against heart attack and stroke. Omega-3s seem to lower triglycerides, fight plaque in your arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk of abnormal heart rhythms.

Eat lean, unprocessed protein. Make fish and chicken your mainstays. They help lower your chance of a heart attack and stroke, while red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) increase your risk. The American Heart Association suggests you eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week. Tofu and soy protein are also lean sources of protein – and not just for vegetarians anymore.

If you’re craving some type of processed meat -- bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, sausage, chicken nuggets, or jerky – limit those to no more than 2 servings a week.

Feed your body regularly. When you skip a meal, you’re more likely to overeat later. For some people, eating 5 to 6 mini-meals works best to limit calories, help control blood sugars, and regulate metabolism. For others, 3 meals a day works better, since extra meals can trigger overeating. See which approach works for you.

Experiment with new flavors. Try using dried herbs and spices instead of salt, which can drive up your blood pressure. For chicken, try using rosemary, garlic, or sage. For fish, try dill or tarragon. Try vinegars – from balsamic to rice vinegar, to add zest to ho-hum food.

Exercise. Activity is good medicine. Exercise strengthens your heart, improves blood flow, raises "good" HDL cholesterol, and helps control blood sugar and body weight.

Add years to your life by quitting. No matter how many years you've been smoking, know this: Research shows that quitting works as well -- if not better -- than just about any heart drug available.Quitting now will lower your risk of death from heart disease by 33%.

Celebrate each pound you lose. Small steps help with obesity and heart health. Just dropping 5 or 10 pounds -- even if you're still technically overweight afterward -- will reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.