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8 Foods that will make your heart happy

Get happy with heart-healthy foods

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Your heart isn't exactly filled with glee as you finish off that pint of premium ice cream or polish off the last French fry in your fast-food burger lunch. You can be sure, however, that your heart is filled with lots of saturated fat when you eat loads of junk food. The good news is that an abundance of nutritious and delicious foods can reduce your risk of heart disease and make your ticker happy. Put these eight heart-healthy foods on your daily menu.

Whole-grain bread

You can't go wrong with whole grains. Show your heart some love by starting your day with whole-wheat toast spread with peanut butter and mashed fresh fruit, or partner toast with an omelet heavy on the veggies. For your lunch munch, make sandwiches with whole-grain bread. Read labels and opt for brands that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Oatmeal

Do you heart a favor and go sow your oats, so to speak. Oats have been shown to lower cholesterol, which reduces your risk of heart disease. Dig into a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and incorporate oats into other dishes. For example, add some cooked oatmeal to smoothies (don't knock it til you try it!), toss oats into pancake and muffin batters, use coarsely chopped oats to replace bread crumbs, make cookies with oats, and bake fruit crisps featuring oat toppings.

Olive oil

Cook better by limiting your butter. Sure, butter tastes divine, but really good olive oils rival butter in flavor. Olive oil is loaded with monounsaturated fat, which is a healthy fat associated with lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. To boot, this luscious liquid fat is high in vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that can fight off free radical damage and is believed to contribute to heart disease. Use olive oil to saute foods, drizzle over finished dishes and to make vinaigrettes. Be sure to practice moderation; too much of anything isn't good for your health.

Salmon

Swimming with omega-3s, salmon is a cold-water fatty fish that can lower triglycerides, boost HDL (good) cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, which also contribute to heart health. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of salmon or other fatty fish each week. Bake, roast or grill salmon and serve with brown rice and veggies. If salmon isn't your catch, try tuna, mackerel, sardines or anchovies.

Walnuts

Walnuts hidden in a big pan of double-fudge brownies won't do your heart much good, but a modest handful of walnuts a day can lower your cholesterol and reduce inflammation around the heart. These yummy nuts are chock full of healthy fats and fiber. Add chopped walnuts to oatmeal, homemade trail mix, salads and desserts. You can also puree walnuts to add to sauces or use walnut oil to drizzle over vegetables. (Note: Walnut oil is high in healthy fats but lacks fiber.)

Edamame

Fresh soybeans have soared in popularity over the past few years, and they are a tasty nutritional solution for those of us who eschew tofu (also made of soybeans). Edamame is a great source of plant protein and fiber, and may improve heart health by lowering blood triglycerides. You can find edamame in the produce aisle or in the frozen vegetable section. It comes in the pod or shelled. Simply boil and eat as a snack, toss with salad greens or whole grains, or puree into a green hummus.

Fruits

Don't you love the way happiness dances on your tongue when you bite into a juicy mango or ripe creamy banana? So does your heart! Fruit is a naturally sweet treat that is not only packed with fiber and antioxidant power, but is also high in health-promoting vitamins and minerals and low in calories. The tasty array of fruit choices in the produce aisle or at the farmers market makes it easy to eat more fruit while tantalizing your tastebuds and keeps your heart-healthy diet far from boring.

Vegetables

Vegetables are a low-calorie source of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that will keep your heart smiling. Dark leafy greens are the most concentrated source of nutrients and can be eaten raw or cooked. Cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, are delish steamed or sauteed. Root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes and turnips, are dense in vitamins and minerals and can be baked, roasted or even grilled. Just take a stroll through the produce aisle and load your cart with a colorful variety of veggies. Your heart may pitter patter when you think of your hunky hubby, but a balanced diet high in vegetables will make sure your heart doesn't skip a beat.

More healthy eating tips

Nutrition labels 101: Keeping kids healthy
Healthy eating habits for busy families
5 Simple tips for healthy eating on the go


Michele Borboa, MS is a contributing editor for SheKnows.com, specializing in health, fitness, and lifestyle. She is also a food columnist for SheKnows and ChefMom.com and a blogger for Miso Vegan. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and freelance writer, based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also the author of the time-saving cookbook Make-Ahead Meals Made Healthy (Fair Winds Press, July 2011). You can reach her at michele.borboa@sheknows.com or give her a tweet at http://twitter.com/micheleeborboa.