Fresh herbs can help make other foods heart-healthy when they replace salt, sugar, and trans fats. These flavor powerhouses, along with nuts, berries -- even coffee -- can be part of heart-wise eating.
Fact: Rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme contain antioxidants.
Mild, tender black beans are packed with nutrients including folate, antioxidants, and magnesium, along with fiber, which helps control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Tip: Canned black beans are easy to add to soups and salads. Rinse to remove extra sodium.
Red Wine and Resveratrol
If you drink alcohol, a little red wine may be a good choice. Resveratrol and catechins, two antioxidants in red wine, may help protect artery walls. Alcohol can also boost HDL, the "good" cholesterol.
Tip: Only drink in moderation: no more than 1 glass a day for women and 2 for men. Alcohol may cause problems for people taking aspirin and other medications. Too much alcohol is bad for your heart.
Salmon: Super Food
A top food for heart health, it's rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA. Omega-3s may lessen the risk of heart rhythm disorders and lower blood pressure. Salmon also lowers blood triglycerides and helps curb inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of salmon or other naturally oily fish a week.
Tip: Bake in foil with herbs and veggies. Toss extra cooked salmon into fish tacos and salads.
Tuna for Omega-3s
Tuna is another good source of omega-3s, and it generally costs less than salmon. Albacore (white tuna) has more omega-3s than other tuna varieties. Reel in these other sources of omega-3s, too: mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and anchovies.
Tips: Grill tuna steak with dill and lemon. Choose tuna packed in water, not oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This oil, made from the first press of olives, is especially rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help protect your blood vessels. It's also a good source of monounsaturated fats, which are a better choice than saturated fats (such as butter) for your cholesterol.
Tips: Use a little bit for salads, on cooked veggies, or with bread. Look for cold-pressed and use within 6 months.
A small handful of walnuts a day may lower your cholesterol and ease inflammation in your heart's arteries. Walnuts are packed with omega-3s, monounsaturated fats, and fiber. The benefits come when walnuts replace bad fats, those in chips and cookies.
Tip: Walnut oil has omega-3s, too; try it in salad dressings.
Slivered almonds go well with vegetables, fish, chicken, and desserts. They're chock full of plant sterols, fiber, and heart-healthy fats. Almonds may help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, if you favor them over other fats. Grab a small handful a day.
Tip: Toast almonds to enhance their creamy, mild flavor.
These green soybeans have moved beyond Japanese restaurants, where they're a tasty appetizer. They're packed with soy protein, which can help lower blood triglyceride levels. A half cup of edamame also has 9 grams of cholesterol-lowering fiber -- equal to four slices of whole wheat bread.
Tip: Try frozen edamame. Boil and serve warm in the pod.
Serve up tofu, and you get a great form of vegetarian soy protein with its heart-healthy minerals, fiber, and polyunsaturated fats. It can take on the taste of the spices or sauces you use to cook it.
Tips: Chop firm tofu, marinate, then grill or stir-fry, going easy on the oil. Add tofu to soups for protein with no added fat.
Swap out white potatoes for sweet potatoes. With a low glycemic index, these spuds won't cause a quick spike in blood sugar. They also have fiber, vitamin A, and lycopene.
Tip: Boost their natural sweetness with cinnamon and lime juice, rather than sugary toppings.
This sweet, juicy fruit has the cholesterol-fighting fiber pectin as well as potassium, which helps control blood pressure. Research shows that OJ may make your blood vessels work better and lower blood pressure a bit.
Tip: A medium orange averages 62 calories with 3 grams of fiber.
The dark green, leafy vegetable is rich in potassium and magnesium, minerals that help control blood pressure. You'll also get fiber, vitamin A, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin from these greens.
Tip: Serve with grilled meats or as a bed for fish. Saute with olive oil and garlic until wilted; season with herbs and pepper.
These sweet, crunchy veggies may help control blood sugar levels and make diabetes less likely. They may also help your cholesterol levels, since they're a source of soluble fiber -- the kind of fiber also found in oats.
Tip: Add shredded carrots to spaghetti sauce and muffin batter.
Try this nutty whole grain in place of rice with dinner, or simmer barley into soups and stews. The fiber in barley can help lower cholesterol levels and may lower blood sugar levels, too.
Tip: Hulled or "whole grain" barley is the most nutritious. Barley grits are toasted and ground -- nice for cereal or as a side dish. Pearl barley is quick, but much of its fiber has been removed.
Oats in all forms can help your heart by lowering LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. A warm bowl of oatmeal fills you up for hours, fights snack attacks, and helps keep blood sugar levels stable over time -- very useful for people with diabetes.
Tips: Trade oats for one-third of the flour in pancakes, muffins, and baked goods. Use oats instead of bread crumbs in cooking.
This shiny, honey-colored seed has three things that are good for your heart: fiber, phytochemicals called lignans, and ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants.
Tips: Grind flaxseed for the best nutrition. Add it to cereal, baked goods, yogurt, or mustard on a sandwich.
While low-fat dairy foods are often touted for bone health, they can help control high blood pressure, too. And yogurt has twice as much calcium and potassium as milk. To minimize fat, choose low-fat or non-fat products. Check the label to see how much sugar you're getting -- it might be more than you expected.
Tip: Use milk instead of water in instant oatmeal, hot chocolate, and dried soups.
Foods Fortified With Sterols
Some margarines, soy milks, almond milks, and orange juices have cholesterol-fighting sterols and stanols added. These plant extracts block cholesterol absorption in the gut and can lower LDL levels by 10% without affecting good cholesterol.
Tip: Eat or drink at least 2 grams of sterols a day.
Coffee and tea may help protect your heart -- even decaf coffee works! Studies show that people who drink 3-4 cups a day may be less likely to get diabetes, too. If you already have high blood pressure, be careful, since caffeine can make it worse.
Tip: Choose black coffee or a non-fat latte to limit fat and calories.
It could be worth a try for people with high blood pressure. The larger kosher salt crystals have more flavor than regular table salt, so you might use less and end up with less sodium. But measure carefully. A teaspoon of kosher salt has 1,120-2,000 mg of sodium, and the daily limit for people with high blood pressure is 1,500 mg.
Tip: Mix with your favorite herbs for a homemade, lower-sodium spice blend.
Cherries are packed with anthocyanin, believed to help protect blood vessels. Cherries in any form -- fresh sweet cherries, the sour cherries used for baking, as well as dried cherries and cherry juice -- all have that antioxidant.
Tip: Sprinkle dried cherries into cereal, muffin batter, green salads, and wild rice.
Blueberries are simply brilliant when it comes to nutrition. Their anthocyanins give them their deep blue color and support heart health. Blueberries also have beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber.
Tips: Add fresh or dried blueberries to cereal, pancakes, or yogurt. Puree a batch for a dessert sauce.
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.