6 of the Best Foods for Your Heart

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Every 43 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. And, every four minutes, on average, someone dies of a stroke. Heart attacks are the No. 1 killer in America, while strokes are the No. 5 cause of death. Luckily, you can take control of your health! Eating a heart-healthy diet can help decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. Kick off National Heart Health Month this February by adding these seven foods into your diet:

1. Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, these pulses were originally cultivated in the Mediterranean. A study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism examined the effects chickpeas had on blood cholesterol in adults. One group added chickpeas to their diet, while a second group added wheat. After five weeks, the groups switched for another five weeks. The results? After the diet with added chickpeas, participants had lower total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol than after the diet supplemented with wheat

2. Salmon

This fatty fish contains healthy unsaturated fats that have been shown to help lower total cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fat). Although many foods contain omega-3 fats (hello chia seeds!), the type of omega-3s found in salmon called EPA and DHA are commonly found in cold-water fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. Chia, walnuts and flax contain a different type of omega-3 fat called ALA. The problem with ALA is that the body must convert it into EPA and DHA in order to get the health benefits. The process is not very efficient, so you would need to eat obscene amounts of these foods in order to get the health benefits you want.

3. Concord Grape Juice

Concord grapes have thick, dark purple skin and crunchy seeds that are used to make 100-percent grape juice. When making the juice, the entire Concord grape, including the skin and seeds, are pressed to release polyphenols, which research suggests provide many of the same heart health benefits as wine. Studies also suggest that Concord grapes and 100-percent grape juice made with Concord grapes can help promote healthy circulation, which is important for heart health.

4. Pistachios

Studies suggest that eating 1.5 ounces a day of most nuts (including pistachios) as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Pistachios also have another built-in advantage that can help prevent overindulging: The ones in the shell take longer to eat and encourage folks to slow down and be more conscious of what they’re eating. One study found that folks who snacked on in-shell nuts ate 41 percent fewer calories compared to those who snacked on shelled nuts.

5. Dried Tart Cherries

During the cold winter months, it’s slim pickings for fresh fruit. That’s when dried fruit comes in handy! Adding dried tart cherries to your diet can help protect your heart due to their high levels of the natural plant chemical anthocyanins, which have been associated with a decreased risk of stroke in young and middle-aged women. Add tart cherries to trail mix, top Greek yogurt with them or make a tart cherry glaze for fatty fish like salmon

6. Dark Chocolate

Since Valentine’s Day falls in February, here’s a food that can satisfy both a healthy heart and your romantic side. Cocoa beans are brimming with more antioxidants than red wine, including the antioxidant theobromine, which has been shown to help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. However, eating or giving your loved one pounds of chocolate won’t give anyone a healthier heart. One ounce of dark chocolate contains about 150 calories and 9 grams of fat. So, if you eat a box of dark chocolate, the calories and fat can rack up quickly. To reap the benefits of dark chocolate without going overboard, limit yourself to 1 ounce per day.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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