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Top foods for preventing heart disease

Choosing the right foods is one of the most beneficial things you can do to prevent heart disease and maintain a healthy weight. “There is power in food,” says Shayna Komar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “You can go to the grocery store, get food and use it as ‘medicine.’” Heart health is not about deprivation: focus on filling up on these healthy foods and less on the foods that are “bad” for you. There are plenty of delicious, healthy options that protect your ticker.

Low fat protein

Protein is essential to a healthy diet. It can help you feel full longer, build lean muscle mass and supports nearly every system in your body. Fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, beans and legumes, egg whites or egg substitutes, skinless chicken or turkey, soy products and lean beef are all good options. Avoid higher fat varieties like whole milk dairy products, bacon, cold cuts, hot dogs, egg yolks, sausage, and breaded or fried foods. Just don't overdo it: “Look at meat as more of a side dish and add extra veggies to your diet,” says Nancy Waldeck, a chef at Cancer Wellness.

Fruits and vegetables

These are so-called “super foods” because their fiber content helps keep you full, they contain numerous essential vitamins and minerals, and are naturally low-fat or fat-free. Fresh or frozen produce is your best bet, but if you do select a canned variety, be sure it is low-sodium or sodium-free. Fruit should be packed in water or fruit juice. Avoid any options that are fried or include creamy sauces, sugary syrups or coconut. “Make sure that your plate has a whole lot of color on it,” says Komar. “I always say to my clients, ‘Eat from the rainbow.’ About 75 percent of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables and that last 25 percent can be lean protein.”

Whole grains

Whole grains contain fiber and nutrients that can stabilize blood pressure and keep you full, which is crucial when losing or maintaining weight. However, navigating the bakery and bread aisles can be tricky and many products claim to be healthy, but could secretly be loaded with fat, sugar and refined flour. Steer clear of baked goods, white bread, buttered popcorn, granola bars and crackers that are high in fat.

Instead, choose products made with whole wheat flour and/or whole grains. High fiber cereal, brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal and 100 percent whole wheat bread are generally good options. Just be sure to read the label to catch any hidden fat or sugar content.

Healthy fats

While some fat in your diet is actually beneficial to your health, you need to limit the amount of solid fats you consume to prevent heart disease. Solid fats include butter, shortening and margarine. This type of fat is especially dangerous to your health because it contains trans fats and saturated fats, which are known to increase levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Better options include canola oil, olive oil and trans fat-free margarine. For more healthy recipes, click here.

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