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week95You workout, you eat well, but do you also include foods that are especially good for your heart? Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of American deaths in and stroke is number four?

My own father had high blood pressure and passed away at age 79 after his second stroke. We thought he would outlive us all by his disciplined way of life through exercise and staying on top of his weight plus his exuberant zest for life. But he never told of us of his first stroke – probably not to worry us – for if he had I would have watched his diet choices closely and checked in on his daily exercise and activities.

Mom had low blood pressure practically her entire life until she hit her mid-70s when high blood pressure just genetically kicked in. Mom also began to slow down in her later years (she’s now 89) and exercises less. But shortly after Dad passed, Mom began having a series of strokes but survived them all most likely due to heart-healthy diet.

So while coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease may be in the genes handed to you, you can control your daily diet, which can help prevent, avoid, and stop a serious outcome. Keeping your heart healthy and strong and giving it the added nutritional boost it needs and deserves is in your hands by choosing to eat the right foods for excellent vascular health. Luckily, there are many. Below is just for starters.

Apples are rich in pectin, a form of soluble fiber known to help lower cholesterol levels and contain a wonderful antioxidant flavonoid mixture of quercetin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, kaempferol and other compounds to stop the “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and prevent plaque built up in arteries.

One of the world’s healthiest foods, avocados are crammed with monounsaturated fat and two key carotenoid antioxidants—lycopene and beta-carotene. The fruit, which is often mistaken for a vegetable, will help reduce your LDL levels while raising the amount of “good” HDL cholesterol in your body. The greatest source of carotenoids in the avocado is in the dark green flesh that lies just beneath the skin so be certain not to slice into that dark green portion any more than necessary when peeling.

Bananas are loaded with potassium and potassium helps to maintain your normal heart function and the balance of sodium and water in your body. Potassium also helps your kidneys excrete excess sodium, which in turn balances your blood pressure. Just one banana has 422 milligrams, about 12 percent of your recommended daily amount.

“Beans, beans; they are good for the heart, the more you eat, the more …” Healthier you are! Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and soluble fiber, just a half-cup of cooked beans daily helps to lower your cholesterol and prevents absorption. Beans also have flavonoids, which help to reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke by hindering the adhesion of platelets in the blood. Choose chickpeas or black, kidney, lima, navy, pinto beans, and legumes.

Full of anti-inflammatories, just a cup a day of berries — blueberries, strawberries, black berries, raspberries, cranberries, or bilberries — will help to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer by increasing your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol while also lowering your blood pressure. Eat your favorites!

Dark Chocolate
Ahhh, the health benefits when indulging in dark chocolate! Eating moderate amounts of flavanol-rich dark chocolate — just one-ounce daily of 70 percent cocoa solids — has a blood-thinning effect, benefiting your cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation while also lowering your blood pressure due to its plentiful levels of nitric oxide.

Top your morning oatmeal or sprinkle into your shakes as just a little goes a long way for your heart with flaxseed! Multiple published researches indicate flaxseed reduces the risk and fight everything from heart and lung disease to diabetes and certain cancers with its soluble and insoluble fibers, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and lignans.

Green Tea
Drink up! Studies show drinking 12 ounces a day reduces your heart attack chances by 50 percent thanks to the catechins (antioxidants) found in green tea by expanding your heart artery and keeping them clear hence improving your blood flow. It also reduces your cholesterol and triglycerides levels and lowers your risk of developing gum disease, which is often linked to heart problems.

Leafy Greens
The darker the better when it comes to leafy greens, which are highest in magnesium, lutein, folate, potassium, fiber, and Vitamin E. The combination helps to lower your blood pressure, triglycerides while increasing the good HDL cholesterol. Fresh spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are your best bets! Increase your daily servings for an added boost.

A great source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats with low levels of saturated fats, nuts provide much needed fiber in the daily diet. Also filled with of vitamins and minerals. Go for the walnuts if picking just one. Pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and peanuts are also excellent.

Full of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium, this fiber-rich superfood contains beta glucan, a soluble fiber that lowers your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. The oats also helps to keep your digestive system healthy and keep your arteries clear. Add oats to smoothies for an extra lift.

Oily Fish
Salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines are all super-rich in omega-3 fatty acids and contain astaxanthin, a very powerful antioxidant. All help to reduce blood pressure and clotting plus help prevent irregular heart rhythms. Eat two servings a week to reduce risk of a heart attack by up to 30 percent. Choose wild over farm-raised.

Olive Oil
Full of monounsaturated fats, olive oil reduces your bad LDL cholesterol and lowers your risk of developing heart disease. Only two tablespoons a day is all you need. Extra-virgin olive oil contains polyphenols that reduce inflammation and help prevent certain cancers. Remember to store your olive oil in a dark, cool spot in a tightly covered container.

Don’t buy or eat pomegranates? You might want to start now. Their powerful punch of polyphenols — including anthocyanins and tannins — help to reduce the buildup of the plaque in your arteries and lower your blood pressure.

Who would have guessed? Unsalted and unbuttered popcorn, which also happens to be a whole grain, is packed with polyphenols — antioxidants linked to improving your heart and cardiovascular health — and boasting three times more polyphenols than beans and four times more than berries.

An excellent protein substitute for red meat, soy is a high-quality protein containing high levels of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is also low in saturated fat, helping to reduce your triglycerides, preventing cardiovascular disease and keep your heart strong and healthy. Eat natural sources of soy, such as edamame, tempeh, or organic silken tofu.

Whole Grains
Just 25 grams of whole grains a day is all you need to reduce your risk of heart disease. Whole grains contain bran, germ, and the starchy endosperm and provide and high soluble fiber to help to keep your heart healthy by lowering your “bad” LDL plus the antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols found in whole grains protect your against coronary disease.

Countless studies have findings showing people who drink moderately are less likely to have heart disease than those who don’t. Up to one glass for women and two for men can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by raising the “good” HDL cholesterol while decreasing inflammation and “thinning the blood.”

Yogurt? Yes, yogurt! Older women who regularly eat four ounces of yogurt have less thickening of the carotid arteries’ walls, lowering the risk of a stroke and heart attack. Yogurt eaters also have healthier gums due to the probiotics.

Changing your diet is a great start.  A good rule of thumb for a healthy heart is to also control your portion size and eat more of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods and less of high-calorie, high-sodium foods. This means more fruits and vegetables and eliminating refine, processed, and fast foods. Choose lean meats, skinless poultry and fresh water fish. Select low-fat dairy products and chow down on egg whites versus whole.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.