Classic Summer Foods From a Healthier View

I’d love to kick off this post with the old cliche “As summer heats up…”  However, this summer’s weather is so unpredictable (at least in the American Mid West), that I’ll start this way, instead:

As summer tries to decide what season it wants to act like, people are making vacation, cookout, and party plans of all sorts.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s plenty of heart-healthy must-haves for the summer.  Sure, we tell you that a lot of the old classics are bad for your heart and you should find healthier alternatives…but that’s not to say some of them aren’t good for you.

Iced Tea

Iced tea, for example.  Natural tea is a great way to bring antioxidants (many of which have been tied to heart health and weight-loss) into any occassion.  You can ice just about any type of tea, so there’s an iced tea to fit anyone’s tastes.  This time of year, the best way to make tea is to sun-brew it.  Toss a few bags in a large glass container full of water.  The heat of the sun will cause the tea to brew naturally, and it takes very little work.  One thing to keep in mind, though, is that a lot of people dump loads of sugar into their tea.  Natural fruit juices can serve just as well!  Squeeze some unsweetened lemon juice into your tea.  Or, crush up some berries and stir them in when you add ice.  By the time the tea is completely chilled, it’ll have plenty of flavor.

Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is also a popular cookout dish.  With the 4th of July coming up this weekend, pasta salad production is probably at its yearly high right now.  Well, there’s plenty of pasta salad recipes out there that have some heart health benefits!  Any salads that use mayonnaise or Miracle Whip should be excluded from this list.  Sorry.  However, those delicious pasta salads that are seasoned with olive oil, vegetables, and species are still allowed!  In fact, they’re good for you.  Olive oil is recommended for a heart healthy diet (in moderation), and the vegetables most commonly used in pasta salad have plenty of chemicals and antioxidants that are good for your heart, and the rest of you, too.

Veggie Platters

Summer is also the time for gardening.  This means that the veggie gardeners out there are probably up to their elbows in seasonal fare.  This also means that summer produce is more affordable.  Peppers, snow peas, tomatoes, beans, and carrots with some low-fat dressing is a must at most summer shindigs.  It’s even better if your healthy dressing is homemade (unflavored, fat-free yogurt makes a great base for veggie dips).

I know, this is just three instances of summer hosting cuisine.  However, I know when I go to a cookout or graduation party or whatnot, these are three things I always, always grab when I go through the buffet.  Even if it’s only 65-degrees out in July.

Heart Healthy Barbecue

 The sun is shining, the temperatures are rising.  Summer’s almost here.  Even as I type this, I’m sitting outside in the sunshine.  One thing that automatically comes to mind when summer kicks up is barbecues.  People are going to cook out, and have fun doing it.

I wanted to let you know, there are ways to enjoy cooking out without hurting your health.  You don’t have to give up the summer favorites like hot dogs and burgers.  A few tweaks can make a big difference.

Health Alternatives

First of all, look at the type of meat you’re cooking.  While many people worry about losing quality in their burgers, turkey or pork burgers can actually just as good, if not better.  I have plenty of experience with these white-meat burgers, and they’re delicious.  It’s easy to mix things up, too.  Finely-chopped vegetables, fresh herbs, and ground spices (salt-free) can easily be blended into these burgers, adding flavor and variety.  You can also marinate burgers in things like fruit juices and special mixes of water, herbs, and spices, for added juiciness and flavor.

There’s alternatives for hot dogs, too.  There are turkey and chicken-based dogs, as well as tofu dogs.  Like burgers, many people assume they won’t be as tasty as the original.  Even if they’re a little bit of a difference, they are still incredibly delicious.  You can find low-sodium condiments, too.

Avoid Steak

One of the biggest things to avoid here is one of the most savory:  steaks.  Unless you’re willing to go for a lower-grade cut with less marbling, it’s a safer bet to go with skinless white-meat chicken or pork chops.  These alternatives soak up flavor easily, though, so it’s not hard to find fun, interesting ways to prepare them.  They’re lower in the cholesterol that’s often associated with red meats, and still have plenty of healthy protein.  A great tip to reduce overeating is to butterfly your chicken breasts and pork chops.  This reduces cooking time because the actual cut is thinner, but also gives the impression of eating more by filling up more of the plate.

Lay Off the Sauce

Something to keep in mind is that summer-time barbecues often include barbecue sauce.  This tends to be a bad thing, since barbecue sauce is incredibly high in sodium and sometimes fat.  Both of these are worth avoiding for your heart health.  Instead, find healthy alternatives.  An olive oil and herb brush goes well on just about any meat.  On chicken, try a salsa made with citrus juice, ground pepper, tomatoes, and herbs.  There are so many possibilities to pull in natural, heart-healthy flavor, that there’s really no need to use all that harmful stuff.

Getting Healthier Can Be Shockingly Simple

Complicated Diets Shackle You to Self-Defeating Mindsets

If you’re like just about everyone else, you look at health like an all-or-nothing, gigantic goal that’s unattainable. It’s overwhelming so you don’t even start. I know because I feel that way a lot of times. It’s a self-defeating mindset though. Long-term health is negatively affected because it seems to hard to do anything about it short-term.

Carrying Health Baggage From The Last Diet You Tried.

I don’t blame you for thinking this way. There’s lots of noisy information out there. It’s hard know what to do short-term. Plus, you may have already tried something for a few weeks and failed. We all carry a little tried-everything-already “health baggage” around.

Simple Day-to-Day Decisions Make You Healthier, Not a Grand Scheme

In reality, long-term health can only be achieved through a simple short-term approach. It’s truly more about the nuances of what you eat, or what you do. It’s not about any grand scheme or plan of perfection.

Improving your health is in the margins: it’s achieved through small steps. You can just start building each step one after the other.

2 Cunningly Simple Approaches to Flip Your Notions of Health on Their Head:

  • One, learn just a little about the health benefits of the basic components of food (you can do this on the mypyramid.gov website in about 20 mins).
  • Two, adopt a strategy of making decisions before you have to (when you go into a restaurant decide what foods you can eat before you look at the menu.).

What Will You Say Immediately After You Get a Few Nutrition Habits Under Your Belt?

I hear the same response, “I feel like I woke up from a sleep”, right after people start adopting simple nutrition habits. Doing basic stuff like getting enough water all-day, every-day; avoiding foods high in sugar; lowering fat content; and, getting exercise leads to a result you can feel really fast–usually in a week or so.

Suddenly you have energy all day. You have stamina to get through the day and enjoy. Seemingly out of the blue you start loosing weight. It’s like you just woke up and realized there’s this whole other life they could be living–an “awake life” (higher energy, lower weight) and the “sleeping life” (no energy, crash-craving cycle, defeat and depression).

I think there’s two things that astonish people after they start improving their health one simple step at a time:

  • They didn’t even know they were sleeping health-wise
  • They didn’t realize they didn’t realize the impact small, everyday decisions where having on their life (good or bad).

So, pick 1-2 things you can start doing for the next week to improve your health. Don’t worry about what you’re not doing. Just master a few things. When you’re ready you can move on to doing 2 more things. You’ll know you’re ready for the next steps because you’ll either be bored or confident. Either once you approach the next step you won’t have to spend you effort juggle all the new habits at once.

Where Did All the Fiber Go?

Fiber’s Disappearing Act

Most health experts believe we should be getting 25-35 grams of fiber every day.  As Americans, we consume on average 10-15 grams of fiber a day.  This is a problem.

The consumption of fiber in the human population has continued to decrease over the course of human history.  In the last couple centuries it has taken a dive.  This most recent drop seems to have started with the genesis of food processing.  All that processing removes valuable fiber, as well as other nutrients.  Add that loss of fiber to America’s preference for poor food choices, and it’s easy to see how our fiber intake is decreased.

A Hole in Our Diets

Progressively, we have been exchanging high fiber, whole food products such as whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables for processed grains, potatoes with no skins, sugar, and processed oils.  This has left a huge hole in our diets, especially considering the health benefits of fiber.

Beyond the Basics

Most people are familiar with using fiber for constipation, but research in the last century has shown fiber to be benenficial for much more.  Fiber is broken down by good bacteria in our intestines.  It is a source of food for them, but when they have digested the fiber it serves as fuel for our intestinal cells.  Fiber is also beneficial for removing toxins from the body.  It has been shown in studies to help with maintenance of healthy weight and weight loss.

Fiber Helps More Than Just Digestion

Soluble fiber, such as those found in oats and beans, help lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.   Beta glucans, the soluble fiber from oats, have been allowed to carry a heart health claim by the FDA.  Soluble fiber is also beneficial for promoting maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels, which makes it especially important for diabetics.  Heart disease and diabetes are two of the most critical issues facing Americans today.  Finding one natural substance that helps fight both conditions is good news for the health world.

Time for Change

In an era of elimination issues, cardiovascular disease, and sugar imbalance, fiber is an important element to to return to our diets.   Since it is abundant in many whole vegetable-based foods, it is not difficult to add back into the diet.  It just takes a little conscious effort, and maybe a slightly longer preparation time for dinner.

Can Oat Beta Glucan Really Help With Weight Loss?

Beta Glucans

The soluble fiber from oats, which is mostly oat beta glucan, can be beneficial for someone looking to achieve healthy weight.  It has many properties that contribute to maintaining and achieving healthy weight loss goals.

The Benefits are Numerous

Because it’s a fiber, it can increase the feeling of fullness when taken with a meal.  Fiber is the last nutrient to breakdown in the digetstive tract, which can extend the feeling of satiety.  Fiber has also been shown in studies to increase a hormone that makes us feel full called CCK (cholecystokinin).  This pretty much translates into:  fiber makes you eat less.

Keeping an Internal Balance

Because it is viscous it can slow the emptying of food from the stomach.  This slow down decreases the rate at which sugar is absorbed, thereby having a positive effect on blood sugar levels.  When sugar levels are high in the blood stream insulin is released.  Insulin causes the sugar in the blood to push into the cells.  Fats also get pushed into the cells, which increases chances of weight-gain.  When there is a large release of insulin we also can have a fast dip in blood sugar, which can cause fatigue and hunger.  A good example of this cause-and-effect is eating a candy bar.  You eat that snack and your blood sugar rises very high.  To counteract it, insulin is released.  The insulin causes the sugars and fats to stay in your body, and your blood sugar to crash.  It is also believed that slowing down the absorption of sugars can affect how much is eaten at the following meal.

The Wonder of Fiber

One of the ways oat beta glucan is able to lower cholesterol is by binding to fat in the digestive tract and carrying it out of the body.  It also carries other calories out of the body as well.   In her Fiber35 Diet Brenda Watson calls this effect of the “fiber flush effect”.  The USDA and others have confirmed this effect.

Obviously, fiber is a good thing.  Everyone should eat a little more fiber.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that America is going to change its eating habits as a whole.  Every person who takes up healthy eating practices, including an increase in fiber, is a success story.

Snacking With High Cholesterol

Apples and Peanut Butter

Apples are rich in natural fiber, and fiber is an absolute must in any healthy diet.  These colorful fruits can actually help lower cholesterol.  On top of that, the skin is rich in antioxidants.  Your choice of apple will change what antioxidants you can get out of it since colors are a great indicator of the benefits.  Mix it up.  The more colors in your diet, the wider the variety of vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidants.  Apples also have a natural ability to clean teeth.  Peanut butter is a wonderful source of protein.  However, some peanut butter can be pretty high in fat.  If you can find a leaner or completely natural option, that would be best.

Carrot Sticks and Hummus

Carrots pack a powerful punch when it comes to boosting your immune system.  They’re potent sources of Vitamin A, which improve your eyesight, helps your skin, and strengthens your natural defenses.  In addition to Vitamin A, carrots have Vitamin C. Those two vitamins together give your immune system that extra pop it needs.  Also, Vitamin K is present, which helps to promote good texture and consistency of blood.  Add in the fiber that carrots bring, and it’s a wonder people don’t eat them more often.  Pairing them with hummus not only gives them plenty of taste and texture but even more benefits.  Hummus, which is made from chickpeas, is loaded with fiber.  Chickpeas also have some protein.  This snack is quite the little kicker when it comes to benefits.

Whole Wheat Pita and Bean Dip

Pitas are naturally low in fat, and making sure they’re whole wheat means that they have fewer empty calories and more fiber.  Topping your whole wheat pita with bean dip brings in some great benefits.  Beans have protein and fiber, which are both necessary in a healthy meal plan.  Beans also bring iron and potassium, which are both necessary for blood health.  In fact, potassium helps counteract sodium in the bloodstream and maintains proper pH and salt levels in the body.

Trail Mix

Not only is this mix delicious, but it’s customizable.  Fit your trail mix to your tastes.  Depending on any variety of nuts, dry fruit, granola, dry yogurt, and other ingredients, you can have whatever blend of benefits you desire.  A lot of people like to mix their own, adding more or less of a specific ingredient to match their needs and tastes.  It’s not hard, and trail mixes often keep for quite a while, which means you can make a large amount at one time.

Almond Butter Health Bar

Like most nuts, almonds are very, very healthy in moderation.  They’re full of manganese, which supports bone and nerve health.  The best part of manganese is that it helps the body process fat and cholesterol.  While many people think almonds are tasty on their own, including them in snack bars is a great way to bring in more flavors and benefits.  Almond butter is also good a way to mix it up.

Homemade Baked Tortilla Chips with Salsa (Tomatoes, Peppers, Onions, Beans, Corn)

Baking your own tortilla chips is a good way to get the benefits of a corn product without all the salt and oil of processed commercial chips.  Corn is a source of dietary fiber, but also natural chemicals like folate, which is good for your skin and blood.  Your salsa is where most of the benefits come in, though.  Those tomatoes have lycopene, an antioxidant that’s very helpful for cellular health.  Lycopene also prevents some of cholesterol’s chemical reactions, which helps to reduce risks of atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries.  The benefits of the peppers change depending on what type of pepper you use (based on color and species).  Onions are good sources of chromium, which helps to regulate cholesterol levels within the body.  Onions also have Vitamin C, for a healthy immune system.  Those beans are great for fiber and protein, both of which are valuable.  Tied all together, this can make one tasty snack.

Dried Fruit

Depending on your choices, the benefits of this snack vary.  Be sure to shop for fruit without sugar added, as the sweetened dried fruits are often high in fat.  Some dried fruits also have artificial flavors added, so try to avoid those.  As long as you go all-natural, this snack will be both tasty and beneficial.

Handful of Almonds

As stated above, almonds are a must-have for a healthy diet.  They’re especially necessary when the goal of a meal plan is to lower or maintain cholesterol levels.  Because they’re rich in manganese, they’re very beneficial for your heart health.  Almonds are also beneficial to bone and nerve health, as well.

Flavored, Roasted Soy Nuts

Soy nuts are a tasty way to receive the benefits of soy.  They are roasted soybeans, and their texture and taste are not too different from that of roasted peanuts.  Soy nuts come in a wide variety of flavors and go well in trail mixes and salads.  They are also a good snack on their own.  Soy is naturally rich in isoflavones.  Isoflavones have been proven to lower the risk of heart disease.  One thing to keep in mind with soy nuts, though, is that in excess they can be fattening.  In this case, too much of a good thing can be bad.

Nutrim Smoothie

Smoothies are a delicious way to bring the benefits of fruits into a busy lifestyle.  Adding Nutrim™ Oat Bran to a smoothie gives it that extra heart health boost.  Adding one scoop of Nutrim™ to natural unsweetened apple juice, a whole frozen banana, and 3 frozen strawberries is a delicious treat.  You won’t notice is the Nutrim™ taste, but you’ll receive all the advantages of cholesterol-lowering oat beta-glucans and a blend of fruit.

Flax Crackers

Flaxseeds have a mild, nutty flavor that goes well with just about anything.  Creating crackers from these seeds is a great idea, since they’re so tasty and beneficial.  Flax products are potent in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are a must-have for lowering cholesterol.  They’re also rich in manganese and dietary fiber, which are both must-haves for a heart healthy meal plan.  Flax crackers can be served with just about any type of topping, and come in several different variations.  Salty, sweet, spicy, and tangy versions are all on the market.  If you want to be creative, try making your own.

More Great Snack Ideas for Lowering Cholesterol

For more cholesterol-fighting snack ideas check out the Foodslowercholesterol.com website!

What is the Portfolio Diet?

The Natural Way

Is it possible to lower cholesterol?  A research study printed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritions says a emphatic “YES”.  A low saturated fat diet was combined with either a statin medication or a specialized diet.  The result of cholesterol drop for the specialized diet (29.6%) was comparable to the drop using the statin drug (33.3%).  This can give a lot of people hope.

The Main Idea

This diet is called the Portfolio Diet.  It’s made up of cholesterol-lowering foods such as soluble fiber (like beta glucan found in oats), plant sterols, soy foods, almonds, okra, and eggplant.  The diet was considered to be highly successful at lowering cholesterol which gives everyone hope for lowering their cholesterol through diet.

Have a “Stick To It” Attitude

One criticism of the diet is that some doctors say it’s difficult to follow the diet.  Since the diet was only followed for a month I think it is well within reach.  The main point I took away from the study was that it seems to be very possible to get significant drops in cholesterol through diet change alone.  One just has to stick with it.

The TLC Diet

Get Some TLC

To help people on the road to lower cholesterol naturally the goverment has created the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diet.  This diet is designed to help the typical American drop their cholesterol naturally.  The government suggests that doctors first recommend the TLC diet, for those who do not have heart disease, to help their patients lower their cholesterol before trying medication.  This is a great approach for people who would like to avoid medication.  Success rates are good, especially if the diet is started early.

Get to Know the TLC Diet

Below are some of the components of the TLC diet:

  • Reduced intakes of saturated fats, 7% of total calories
  • cholesterol, 200mg/d
  • Theraputic options -increased viscous(soluble) fiber; plant sterols and stanol
  • Weight Reduction
  • Increased Physical Activity

It Really Works!

Diet has been refered to as the “cornerstone” in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.  It is important to take heart and cardiovascular disease seriously and heed the diet recommendations of our doctors and government agencies.  In this case, implementing a good diet may not only help us avoid medications that can carry side effects, but you are likely to experience positive side effects by eating better and getting more exercise.  It’s a win-win situation.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the following:

  • An abundance of food from plant sources. These include vegetables, fruits, breads, potatoes, cereals and grains, nuts, beans and seeds. Whole grain instead of enriched sources of breads and cereals are preferred.  These benefits are definitely worth it.
  • Minimally processed foods and whenever possible, seasonally fresh produce. Purchasing seasonally fresh produce maximizes retention of heart-disease fighting nutrients.  Fresh produce are also at their peak of flavor when in season.
  • Fresh fruit are a typical daily dessert with foods containing refined sugars and saturated fats eaten only occasionally.  The fruit should be able to cut any sweet tooth you have, and the benefits are much higher.
  • Olive oil serves as the primary source of fat instead of butter and other undesirable fats. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, and when substituted for saturated fats, can reduce the bad (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Total daily fat intake ranging from 25% to 35% of total calories ingested, with saturated fat no more than 7% of calories.  This means that most of the fat taken in is good fat.
  • Dairy products (primarily yogurt and cheese) are consumed daily in moderate amounts (low and nonfat versions preferred).  It is possible to go overboard with dairy products, so be careful.  However, when used wisely, they’re a great addition to just about any dish.
  • Fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts. Recent research suggests that consumption of fish is favored over poultry because of heart-protective fatty acids present in most fish. Aim for 6 ounces of fish each week.
  • Red meat is consumed in very low amounts (a few times per month). Whenever possible, lean meats preferred.  Red meat is a big source of dietary cholesterol, so minimizing intake is a good idea.
  • No more than four whole eggs (with egg yolks) are consumed per week.  Cooking with only the egg whites or with an egg substitute can increase the amount you’re allowed to eat.
  • Wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts, normally with meals. This equates to two 3 ½ oz glasses of wine for men, one 3 ½ oz glass for women.  Wine has natural chemicals that are good for heart and blood health, but should be enjoyed with moderation.
  • An added benefit to the diet of these Mediterranean regions is regular physical activity at a level that promotes a healthy weight and physical fitness.

So, how can you start incorporating these dietary patterns into your already-too-busy lifestyle?
Try some of the following tips:

  • Replace vegetable cooking oil or animal fats with olive or canola oil. Both oils are rich sources of cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat.
  • Choose rolled oats, barley, buckwheat or other whole grain cereal for breakfast.  There are many options in this category, so it won’t be hard to find a few choices that you really enjoy.
  • Substitute refined or white flour products with unrefined whole grain products.
  • Have a bean and vegetable based soup for lunch instead of your usual routine.
  • Add dried beans to your favorite casserole or dish, or use to replace your usual meat entrée at dinner.  You’ll still be getting plenty of that beneficial protein, but you’ll be cutting out that animal fat and extra cholesterol.
  • Round up seasonal fruits and vegetables to have available for a snack during your break or lunch hour.  If you need more flavor, check out fat-free dips that go with fruits and vegetables.
  • Enjoy fresh berries alone or with nonfat yogurt for dessert.  
  • Aim to have no more than 1 red meat meal per week, 2 poultry dishes and 2 or more fish entrees each week. Have plant-based meals on other days.  This will cut out a lot of fat, but will also introduce more beneficial heart healthy ingredients.
  • Replace whole eggs with egg substitutes or egg whites at breakfast and when preparing baked goods.
  • Add 2 Tablespoons of your favorite nut to hot or cold cereal, stir-fry, salad, yogurt, pasta or rice dish or trail mix.  This will not only add another degree of texture and flavor, but will add the natural oils in nuts that are good for your heart.
  • Go for a brisk, 20-30 minute walk most days of the week.

http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/askdietician/ask10_01.aspx

What Are Some Good Foods to Eat for Healthy Cholesterol Levels?

Healthy Tips

High fiber vegetable source foods are best for a cholesterol lowering diet.  This includes beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.  In addition to fiber, all of these have natural phytochemicals (plant chemicals) which are beneficial to your heart health and your overall well-being.

Protein Sources

Use beans and whole grain recipes for dinner to substitute the protein you would normally get from animal meat.  This greatly reduces the amount of animal fat and cholesterol you take in, which is an automatic plus for your heart.  On top of that, both beans and whole grains are very fiber-rich.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Cold water fish like salmon and tuna, flax seeds, and walnuts are great sources of heart healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.  These natural fatty acids are proven to help lower cholesterol.  Keeping these foods in your diet are a must, but they should all be eaten with moderation.

Look for “Good” Fats

Utilize olive oil as one of your main sources of fat.  Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, which means it is naturally good for your heart.  Avoid solid fats like butter and lard as often as possible, because they are saturated fats.  Saturated fats are often partially to blame for weight gain and high cholesterol.  Olive oil, however, has been proven to help lower cholesterol.

Avoid Salt

Spice it up with herbs and spices instead of salt and other sodium- or fat-rich seasonings.  Herbs and spices can be just as effective, and often give you a wider range of flavors.  There are countless combinations to pick from to fit any taste!

Be Smart About Dairy

Cut down on the amount of cheese you consume.  This can be a large source of saturated fat consumed in a day.  If you still want to include it, try going for fat-free or skim-milk options.  Normally, the difference between whole cheeses and low-fat options are small.

Be Smart About Processed Flours and Sugar

Eat less white flour and sugar, which can increase insulin secretion thereby increasing cholesterol production.  Whole grains are not only a source beneficial fiber as stated above, but are lower in harmful sugars and have less empty calories.  You get even more benefits for fewer drawbacks.

Learn how to make a healthier butter by mixing Nutrim with your butter.  Watch the video recipe available on our website by following this link  http://www.oathealth.com/video-recipes/heart_healthy_nutrim_butter .

Great snacks:

  •  carrots and humus
  •  any whole fruit
  •  black bean and corn salsa (loaded with beans and corn)
  •  unsalted trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruits
  •  celery sticks and almond butter
Educate Yourself

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is also one of the main causes of death in Canada and is killing more and more people throughout the world.  Learning the ins and outs of this disease now can help you avoid major health problems down the road.

Dietary advice for reducing heart disease risk includes eating a balanced diet with less saturated fat from red meats, more fresh fruits and vegetables, more fish, less sugar, more fiber and for many people, fewer total calories. Then you can make your heart and the rest of your cardiovascular system even healthier by adding more of these foods:

Salmon

Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids that protect your heart by reducing both inflammation and the risk of blood clots. These fats also work to keep your cholesterol levels healthy along with lowering triglycerides. Eat salmon or other oily ocean fish like tuna, sardines or herring at least two times per week. For a heart-healthy meal, try grilled salmon steaks with a green vegetable and a side salad with a sprinkling of lemon juice instead of high-calorie salad dressing.

Olive Oil

Olive oil reduces your risk of heart disease by lowering your LDL cholesterol levels. Choose olive oil for cooking, or make a nice dip for whole grain bread by pouring a bit of olive oil in a small bowl and add a bit of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of oregano.

Oats

Oats contain a soluble fiber called beta glucan that helps reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber also helps keep your digestive system healthy. Enjoy oatmeal with just a small amount of brown sugar and plenty of strawberries and walnuts for breakfast. Cold cereals made with oats are also great with low-fat milk or soy milk plus slices of fresh fruit.

Apples

Apples contain a phytochemical called quercetin which acts as an antiinflammatory and will help prevent blood clots as well. Apples contain vitamins and fiber, come in several delicious varieties and are portable. Eat an apple with a handful of walnuts or almonds as a healthy snack or add apple slices to your healthy salads.  Apples are very versatile, and their fiber content helps to make them filling.

Almonds

Almonds and other nuts contain healthy oils, vitamin E and other substances that will help keep cholesterol levels in check. Almonds are also a good source of protein and fiber. Almonds make a great snack on their own, or sprinkle slivered almonds on green beans or asparagus with lemon juice as a deliciously healthy side dish.  The possibilities with the beneficial nut are practically endless.

Red Wine

Red wine contains a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol. Resveratrol has been shown to be good for your heart. Be sure to enjoy red wine in moderation.  While studies show that only 4 to 8 ounces of red wine is needed each day, it can be a healthy way to add elegance to a meal.

Whole Grains

Whole grains provide vitamins and fiber that will help to keep your heart healthy. Make a deliciously healthy sandwich with two slices of 100-percent whole-grain bread, three ounces of lean turkey breast, lots of sliced tomatoes and avocado, plus lettuce and a bit of low-fat mustard. Switch from white pasta to whole grain pasta too.  Whole grain pastas are just as versatile and delicious as white pastas, but the benefits are much higher.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables contain folate, which helps to keep homocysteine levels down, and vitamin E. Green leafy vegetables have also been associated with better retention of memory as age. Try using fresh spinach leaves or other greens for your favorite salad instead of iceberg lettuce.  Another benefit of these is that many of them are good sources of fiber, which is always good to incorporate in a healthy diet.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are packed with vitamins and lycopene, which has been shown to reduce heart disease risk. Add thick slices of tomatoes to sandwiches and salads or enjoy low-sodium tomato sauce on whole wheat pasta. In fact, cooked tomato sauce and canned tomato sauce that you buy in the store both contain more lycopene than raw tomatoes.  Be sure to try and find low-sodium options, though, because tomato products can often be very high in sodium.

Soy

Soy protein has been shown to prevent heart attacks and soy makes an excellent protein substitute for red meat, which will reduce your saturated fat intake. Add tofu to your favorite stir fry or pour soy milk on your morning cereal.  Soy is rich in isoflavones, which are very helpful in regulating cholesterol levels and improving heart health.  Soy is also very versatile, and can be eaten as meat replacement, in beverages, or as a snack in the form of soy nuts.