Nothing matters more than taking good care of your heart. Getting regular exercise, not smoking, and controlling stress are just a few things health experts recommend, along with eating a variety of nutritious, heart-healthy foods that make up a healthy diet.
Where to start? Add these five "super-foods" to boost nutritional goodness while eating your way to a healthier heart.
Blueberries top the list as one of the most powerful disease-fighting foods. That's because they contain anthocyanins, the antioxidant responsible for their dark blue color. These delicious jewels are packed with fiber, vitamin C, and are available all year long. Boost heart health by adding them into your diet regularly. Here's how:
1. Top your whole-grain cereal with fresh or frozen blueberries to add delicious flavor, a dose of fiber, and heart-healthy antioxidants.
2. Power up pancakes, waffles, or muffins with fresh, frozen, or dried blueberries for a nutritious breakfast.
3. Eat them plain or mix with other fruit for a low-calorie, high-fiber tasty fruit salad, dessert, or snack.
Recipe idea: Make an irresistible trifle by layering lady fingers, light whipped topping or low-fat pudding, and blueberries. Or puree a batch of berries for a breakfast or dessert sauce.
This cold-water fish is a great source of protein and is also packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association advises eating salmon and other omega-3 rich foods twice a week for benefits that go beyond heart health. Americans love salmon because it is so versatile, easy to cook, and tastes great.
1. Salmon is easy to prepare on the grill, in the oven or microwave, or on the stovetop. Save leftovers to toss into pasta dishes, make into salmon cakes, add to salads, or mix into dips or spreads.
2. Smoked salmon comes in two varieties. The raw type is commonly used in appetizers and on bagels with cream cheese and capers. The dry smoked type has more of a cooked appearance. You can enjoy it the same way as the raw style, and add it to cooked dishes such as pasta.
3. Salmon cooks in a matter of minutes and its delicate texture quickly absorbs and showcases the flavor of added ingredients. For example, toss chunks of salmon into a chowder of corn and potatoes, or wrap salmon with herbs and chopped onion and tomatoes in parchment or aluminum foil and grill or bake 12 minutes for a satisfying meal.
Recipe idea: Marinate salmon in a lime, onion, garlic, and soy mixture for 15 minutes before grilling for a delicious fish taco or grilled fish sandwich.
This inexpensive, high-quality protein contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals -- all the ingredients for a heart-healthy meal. Also, a diet rich in soy protein can lower triglycerides, which help prevent cardiovascular disease and keep your heart strong and healthy. In those with high cholesterol levels,the benefits of soy foods are due to their high levels of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
1. Pack a soy protein bar or a bag of soy nuts for a quick snack during the day.
2. Edamame (the Japanese name for green soybeans) are snacks even kids will love! Find these nutritious nuggets in the freezer section at your supermarket. Boil them, then serve warm in the pod. Pop them out of the pod to eat plain or with a low-fat dip.
3. Tofu, made of soy beans, takes on the flavor of spices and foods you cook with it. Saute cubed tofu with green and red peppers, sliced garlic, and a dash or two of curry powder. Or add tofu to soups for a healthy dose of fat-free protein.
Recipe idea: Soy milk is not just for the lactose-intolerant. Make a nutritious beverage with chocolate soy milk, a banana, and some ice for a delicious smoothie.
Grandma called it roughage and we need plenty of it each day. Oatmeal is one way to get it. Oats are nourishing whole grains and a great source of vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol-lowering fiber. The FDA allows manufacturers of oats to make health claims about the grain on their products, suggesting that a diet high in oats can reduce the risk for heart disease. Research shows oats lower cholesterol levels, keep you regular, and may help prevent certain cancers.
1. A warm bowl of oatmeal fills the belly for hours with its high fiber content. Top it off with fruit (such as blueberries or strawberries) for added fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
2. Add oats whenever you bake. Substitute up to one-third of the flour with oats in pancakes, muffins, quick breads, cookies, and coffee cakes for an added dose of fiber.
3. Use oats in place of bread crumbs in dishes such as meatloaf, meatballs, or breading on poultry.
Recipe idea: Make your own crunchy granola by baking three cups of oats at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, then cool and mix in a variety of chopped dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
Popeye knew firsthand the value of eating spinach. Hands down, spinach is the powerhouse of the vegetable kingdom. Its rich, dark color comes from the multiple phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals (especially folate and iron) that also fight disease, protect against heart disease, and preserve your eyesight.
1. Keep frozen, chopped spinach in your freezer for an easy, quick addition to pizza, pasta, soups, and stews. Just defrost and squeeze the liquid from a box of chopped spinach before you toss into cooked dishes.
2. Mix fresh spinach with salad greens or alone, then top with peeled and segmented Mandarin oranges or sliced strawberries, nuts, and crumbled cheese for a satisfying and delicious salad.
3. Steam spinach, mix with garlic, a little olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon for a low-fat potato topper.
Recipe idea: Mix spinach with pine nuts and raisins, then stuff into winter squash and bake for a colorful, delicious main or side dish.