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Nutrition Advice You Can Take to Heart

WebMD's top 5 vitamins and minerals for heart health
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Proper nutrition -- including a low fat, high fiber diet -- is considered so important to heart health that just about every set of guidelines touches on what you should eat, what you shouldn't eat, how you should eat it, and when you should eat it.

In fact, government guidelines for treating blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity -- three top risk factors for heart disease -- all emphasize diet as a means of getting your numbers where they belong. And don’t forget that in addition to a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity contributes to heart health, weight management, and a host of other benefits.

"There is no question that nutrition is the single most important factor in the prevention of coronary artery disease," says Thomas Barringer, MD, the medical director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. "It definitely comes down to nutrition."

That's why WebMD put together a list of the top five vitamins and minerals you need for optimal heart health. Starting with:

Making More Magnesium Mandatory

Large studies have linked magnesium deficiency to high blood pressure, while some have shown an association between magnesium supplements and a decreased risk of death from heart disease.

"Some researchers say that, as a nation, we could cut our rate of heart disease by one-half if we took more magnesium," says City Island, N.Y.-based Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Miracle of Magnesium. "Magnesium is the body's natural calcium channel blocker. It balances out the excess calcium that is associated with the heart going into muscle spasm, which equals a heart attack."

Dark, leafy green vegetables are rich in magnesium, and whole grains and nuts also are good sources.

"Cooked and processed foods also lose a lot of magnesium, making it a very deficient mineral." That's why Dean suggests taking 300 mg two to three times a day of magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, or magnesium glycinate.

Although doctors may recommend higher doses of magnesium supplementation for specific conditions, the Institute of Medicine states that the upper intake of supplemental magnesium for healthy adults is 350 mg. There isn’t an upper limit tied to dietary magnesium.  Make sure to talk to your doctor about using supplements as they can interfere with some drugs and be unsafe in people with certain conditions or taking certain medications.

Data from the Nurses' Health Study and the Harvard School of Public Health back up Dean's claims. A higher intake of magnesium may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that low levels of magnesium may impair insulin sensitivity or function. Consuming adequate levels of magnesium may help insulin function properly in the body, which may prevent type 2 diabetes.

The American Heart Association (AHA) lists diabetes as one of the six major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In fact, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes.

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