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These 25 foods are loaded with heart-healthy nutrients that help protect your cardiovascular system.

From asparagus to sweet potatoes to a robust cabernet -- every bite (or sip) of heart-healthy foods delivers a powerful dose of phytonutrients that prevent and repair damage to cells. That's the essence of preventing heart disease.

"There really is an abundance of fruits and vegetables in many colors, shapes, sizes that are good for your heart," says Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, a dietitian with the Preventive Cardiology Center at The Cleveland Clinic. "You can definitely reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating these foods every day."

Indeed, fresh produce provide the cornerstone for a heart-healthy diet because they help wipe out free radicals in the bloodstream, protecting blood vessels.

It's what Zumpano calls "the whole-foods diet. You want everything to be in its natural form, as it comes from the ground, the less processed the better," she says.

Whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, fatty fish, and teas are just as important -- offering all sorts of complex heart-protective phytonutrients.

That's why variety is best in selecting heart-healthy foods, says Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition in Denver.

"Everyone's looking for that one magic food," Farrell tells WebMD. "But heart-healthy is not only about oatmeal and omega-3 fats. You need to look for ways to get all the different nutrients. Plus, you'll stick to a heart-healthy lifestyle longer if you have variety."

25 Top Heart-Healthy Foods

With the help of these nutrition experts from The Cleveland Clinic and the American Dietetic Association, we've put together a list of the "best of the best" heart-healthy foods.

The foods listed here are all top-performers in protecting your heart and blood vessels. We've also got menu ideas -- so you can easily bring heart-healthy foods into your daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  1. Salmon

Omega-3 fatty acids.

Grill salmon with a yummy rub or marinade. Save a chunk to chop for a pasta or salad later on.

  1. Flaxseed (ground)

Omega-3 fatty acids; fiber, phytoestrogens.

Ground flaxseed hides easily in all sorts of foods -- yogurt parfaits, morning cereal, homemade muffins, or cookies.

  1. Oatmeal

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