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How Functional Foods May Help Your Heart

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3. Fiber

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and nuts -- and most Americans don't get enough. You can find fiber added to functional foods like bread, waffles, cereal, and soy milk.

Fiber helps lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol and your risk for heart disease.

It aids digestion, and may help prevent certain cancers.

You need two kinds of fiber: insoluble fiber, found in whole grains and vegetables, and soluble fiber, found in beans, grains, and nuts. Recommendations are 25 grams of fiber every day for women, and 38 grams daily for men.

4. Calcium

Calcium is found naturally in dairy products such as milk and yogurt, and in lesser amounts in foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds. Most Americans don't get enough of it. You can find calcium added to juices, breads, and soy products.

Here's how calcium helps body and heart health:

  • Calcium helps in blood clotting.
  • It helps regulates the heartbeat.
  • Calcium also helps conduct nerve impulses.
  • And calcium maintains healthy bones and teeth.

Adults need 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily up to age 50. People over 50 should aim for 1,200 milligrams a day.

5. Vitamin D

As with calcium, most of us don't get enough vitamin D. It's often added to milk, yogurt, and cheese. You can also find vitamin D-enriched juices, cereals, and margarine.

Here's how vitamin D helps body and heart health:

  • Vitamin D may prevent high blood pressure and artery damage.
  • Vitamin D helps keep the immune system strong.
  • It may help prevent depression.
  • And vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones.

Although too little vitamin D can be linked to a raised risk of stroke, heart disease, and heart failure, the jury is out on exactly how vitamin D affects the heart, says Washington dietitian Kerry Neville. Most adults need 600 international units of vitamin D daily.

Remember, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and keeping up on routine exams are the cornerstones of heart health. If you think you need help in any of those areas, talk to your doctor for tips on which nutrients you need and how best to get them.

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Reviewed on February 25, 2014

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