8 Steps to a Healthier Heart

Follow these eight easy tips, like eating well and exercising, to keep your heart strong and healthy.

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Choose Fruits and Vegetables

Not only are fruits and vegetables high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, they're low in calories and high in cell-protecting antioxidants. Adding more to your day couldn't be easier. Add extra vegetables to soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as egg, rice and pasta dishes. Snack on fresh fruit between meals. Find a local farmers' market and see what's in season in your region.

Focus on Fiber

Fiber is plentiful in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes (like beans and lentils). Eating a diet high in fiber helps curb your appetite and keeps the body's digestive system in check. Fiber has additional functions; insoluble fiber from nuts, seeds and whole grains helps prevent constipation, while soluble fiber from foods like oats, apples, nuts and berries can help lower cholesterol. Aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber each day. Learn more about your daily fiber needs.

Learn to Love Low-Fat Dairy

Reduce the amount of artery-clogging saturated fat and calories in your diet. Replace high-fat dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, sour cream and cream cheese with skim or 1 percent milk, low-fat yogurt, Neufchatel cream cheese and low-fat cheeses.

Help Yourself to Healthy Fats

Cut back on saturated fats found in meats and full-fat dairy products. Look out for trans fats ("hydrogenated oils") in some commercially baked goods, snack foods and fried foods. Capitalize on healthy unsaturated fats from olive and canola oils, nuts, avocados, peanut butter and olives. You don't want to avoid fat, just choose the healthy versions most of the time.

Shake Off Some Salt

The daily recommendation for sodium is 2,300 milligrams a day for healthy adults — that's about 1 teaspoon. Since too much sodium can aggravate high blood pressure and kidney disease, people who suffer from these conditions should cap their salt intake to 1,500 milligrams or less. Sadly, many Americans take in closer to 4,700 milligrams per day. Since much of the sodium in Americans' diets comes from processed foods, cooking fresh food at home can help you cut back on sodium dramatically. Use herbs and spices to boost flavor and always choose low-sodium versions of canned soups, broths and sauces.

Opt for Omega-3 Fats

Research has shown that polyunsaturated omega-3 fats can help lower triglycerides (fat in the blood), help maintain HDL "good" cholesterol, and decrease the risk of sudden heart attacks, blood clots and strokes. The best sources of omega-3s are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as plant foods like flax seeds and walnuts.

Move More

Extra pounds and inactivity can put stress on the heart and create other health problems. Exercise is key for heart health and weight management, so aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Not only will it help you shed some pounds, it can also help raise your "good" cholesterol.

Sip Some Wine

Alcohol in wine, beer and distilled spirits has been shown to protect the heart. You'll also find some heart-healthy antioxidants in both red and white wine. If you don't drink, there's no need to start, but if you do, keep the portions sensible. That means one drink per day for women and two for men.

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Heart-Healthy Foods