This "powerhouse" tops the list, says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD, WebMD's director of nutrition.
And Lisa Hark, PhD, RD, says, "Blueberries are not only delicious but are also rich in antioxidants." Hark is co-author, with Darwin Deen, MD, of Nutrition for Life: The No-Nonsense, No-Fad Approach to Eating Well and Reaching Your Healthy Weight.
According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, researchers believe that the antioxidants in blueberries work to reduce the buildup of "bad" LDL cholesterol in artery walls that contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke. Studies conducted at the USDA Human Nutrition Center have found that blueberries rank No. 1 in antioxidant activity when compared with 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called free radicals that can lead to cancer and other age-related diseases. Anthocyanin, the antioxidant that is thought to be responsible for this major health benefit, can also be found in blackberries, black raspberries, black currants, and red grapes.
Hark recommends a 1 cup serving of blueberries a day. Fresh, frozen, or dried, they can be added to cereal, muffins, or eaten by themselves.
Zelman says she's a "huge salmon fan." "Salmon is widely available, affordable, fast, and easy." It's also one of the best sources of a "healthy fat" called omega-3 fatty acids.
Oily fish such as salmon (as well as mackerel, herring, and sardines) contain omega-3s, explains Hark. This fat is believed to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by lowering the levels of triglycerides in the body -- blood fats linked to heart disease and diabetes.
Research has also found that omega-3 fatty acids prevent blood clots by making platelets less likely to clump together and stick to artery walls, Hark adds.
"Blood vessels are also less likely to constrict, making the heart less vulnerable to life-threatening irregular heart rates," adds Deen.
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish (especially oily fish like salmon) at least twice a week; a serving is between 3 oz and 6 oz.
Food for the Heart: Soy Protein
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals, soy protein is a good alternative for red meat, says Hobbs; it's also lower in fat and higher in fiber than many meat choices.
In people with high cholesterol, studies show that soy protein, when eaten with a healthy low-fat diet, lowers cholesterol. In fact, researchers found that people who ate a diet of several cholesterol-fighting foods lowered their cholesterol as much as people who took medicine.
Both the FDA and the American Heart Association encourage eating at least 1 oz (28 grams) of soy protein daily. You can get your soy from soybeans, soy nuts, soy milk, soy flour, energy bars, fortified cereal, tempeh, and tofu.