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What to eat for a healthy heart

The heart is hands down the most important muscle. It keeps you alive by pumping much needed blood throughout your system. Its amazing design makes it one of the strongest, most fatigue-resistant muscles in the body. To keep up this pace over a lifetime, it is important to fuel it with heart-healthy foods. 
 
On a daily basis Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont’s Fuqua Heart Center, teaches patients about proper diet choices that will help prevent heart disease

"I tell my patients to focus on eating healthy foods — fruits and vegetables, high fiber whole grains, omega-3s and plant seed oils. But it's also just as important to stay away from bad fats like saturated fats and trans fats."

5 tips for heart-healthy dining

1) Eat more fruits and vegetables
Everyone should consume FIVE total servings of fruits and vegetables each day, ideally two veggies and three fruits or three veggies and two fruits. Choose foods with vibrant colors. These are typically higher in nutrients. Be sure to incorporate a variety of these foods, because every fruit and vegetable has its own set of benefits. 
 
2) Consume high-fiber whole grains
THREE servings per day of high fiber whole grains will help lower cholesterol. Foods high in soluble fiber include some cereals, oatmeal, and whole grain breads as well as fruits and vegetables like green beans, carrots, apples, legumes, nuts and seeds. The soluble fiber is found in the pulp and skin of these foods and helps minimize the absorption of dietary cholesterol. 
 
Beal advises shoppers to read food labels carefully. 

"Don't be fooled by packaging that flashes the word 'whole grain' across the front. Instead, read the label. If whole grain is the first ingredient listed, then it is a great choice because ingredients are listed in order of content."

3) Get your omega-3s
Omega-3s contain healthy fats that keep good cholesterol in check. They are found in cold water fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna and mackerel. You can also get a healthy dose of omega-3s in avocados and some nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, peanuts as well as various seeds like flaxseeds. Beal says it's best to limit cashews and macadamia nuts, though, because these nuts contain higher quantities of saturated fats.

4) Use vegetable oils
Plant seed oils are the healthiest choices. Many people pick olive oil as a healthy alternative to butter and margarine, but Beal recommends using canola oil. Canola oil has the least amount of saturated fat of all the oils. Then come safflower and flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and olive oil. 
 
5) Limit fats
While focusing on these natural foods is a wise, heart-healthy decision, it's also beneficial to steer clear of trans fats all together and limit saturated fats. Beal recommends choosing lean meats, low-fat milk and cheeses, and eating commercially-baked foods and fast foods in moderation.

"My number one take-away is you can't always control what you eat, especially if you are out at a restaurant, at a potluck or eating at a friend's house. But you certainly can control how much you eat. Portion control can help your heart just as much as watching what you are putting in your mouth," says Beal.     

Click here to learn the three worst foods for your heart.
 
For more tips for a healthy heart, visit Living Better’s Heart Health page. 

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