The 5 Healthiest Foods for Heart Health

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You already know you need to ditch salty, fried and processed foods to keep your heart healthy. You might not know the types of foods that are good for your heart—the ones that actually improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure and provide nutrients that act like little ninja warriors in your bloodstream. The top foods that are particularly beneficial for your heart are not as boring as you may think.

5 Coldwater Fish

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Some types of fish are particularly beneficial for your heart. Cold-water fish—think sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring—have an extra layer of fat to help them survive through frigid temperatures. While the thought of extra fat may send you running the other direction, your heart actually needs this fat, known as omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat, not only drop your bad LDL cholesterol, they help raise your good HDL cholesterol. You want that. The more HDL cholesterol you have in your body, the more protection your heart has.

4 Dark Chocolate

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Yes, you read that right. Dark chocolate is good for your heart. You need chocolate that is at least 60 to 70 percent cacao, not the type you typically find at the checkout at the grocery store. According to Australian researchers, dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids that can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by improving blood pressure. Flavonoids make blood vessels flexible, keeping blood flowing through steadily. The study, published in the 2012 edition of the “British Medical Journal,” found that among research participants who already had high blood pressure, those who ate dark chocolate on a daily basis were more likely to have reduced blood pressure level over time. Don’t start skipping dinner and having a chocolate bar instead, however. All you need is a few squares each day, or roughly 1 ounce.

3 Avocados

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It’s true — avocados are high in fat and calories. But don’t let that fool you. The majority of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated fat—or “good fat.” Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian and nutrition editor with the Mayo Clinic, explains that these fats can actually protect your heart by lowering your harmful low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol. They go a step further by maintaining the good cholesterol level in your blood known as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol. Adding a few avocado slices to your salad is a boost to your heart health.

2 Citrus Fruits

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Having half a grapefruit for breakfast every morning or snacking on an orange while trying to keep your eyes open during your boss’ presentation does wonders for your heart. Citrus fruits are a hidden source of soluble fiber, but that’s not their only perk. You’ll get lots of vitamin C, a nutrient that combats heart-damaging free radicals. Plus, you’ll add potassium to your diet to balance out your sodium levels, so you can say bye-bye to high blood pressure.

1 Oatmeal

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Oatmeal is notorious for its high soluble fiber content. This is the type of fiber that soaks up some of the excess cholesterol in your body and brings your cholesterol level back into a safe zone—which is essential for a healthy heart. If your mother force-fed you oatmeal as a child, you may despise it as an adult, but it doesn’t have to be bland and boring. Spruce it up with ground nutmeg, cinnamon, crushed walnuts and a handful of fresh berries. You’ll be sneaking in even more soluble fiber, making your heart especially happy.

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