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5 heart-healthy foods

February is Heart Health Month! But why focus on bettering this essential organ just one month of the year? You can keep your heart healthy all year long by eating a plant-based diet. 
The Chan School of Public Health scrutinized dietary data from more than 200,000 nurses and other health professionals over the course of 20 years. The big takeaway from this elaborate study? People who followed a plant-based diet were less likely to develop heart disease. So how can you make sure your diet is heart-healthy?

Here's what to eat:

1. Fruits and Veggies
Whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that support heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. By upping your produce intake to 5 cups a day, you may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by 28%. Apples, pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables have shown to have the greatest heart benefits.

2. Whole Grains
Any Quaker Oats fans out there is familiar with their heart-healthy marketing campaign. And they're onto something! Because eating whole grains can help improve blood cholesterol levels and can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

But even if you're not an oatmeal fan, there are plenty of whole grain options that will keep you feeling satisfied. Whole grain based bread, rye, barley, corn, popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, farro and quinoa are all healthy, whole grains.

3. Nuts
It turns out your heart is nuts about nuts! Indulging in nuts regularly may help your heart health by lowering the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, aka the bad kind of cholesterol. LDL contributes to the development of plaque that builds up on the blood vessels. Want another excuse to start snacking? Eating nuts has been linked to lower levels of inflammation and heart disease and may reduce your risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack.  

4. Legumes
Try swapping that artery clogging beef in your pot of chili for extra beans. Seriously, your heart will thank you! Red meat is infamously damaging to your heart, whereas eating legumes four or more times a week is associated with a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease, and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. 
Legumes - like beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts - lower heart disease risk by reducing LDL cholesterol, increasing HDL cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, helping maintain healthy blood glucose levels and assisting with weight management.

Find a savory and flavorful portion of legumes in our Three Layer Scramble and Lentil Meatloaf.

5. Dark Chocolate and Red Wine
Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and it's hard not to talk about chocolate and wine. While they aren't the healthiest of plant-based foods out there, these indulgences still have a few heart-healthy benefits. Daily consumption of dark chocolate made up of at least 60-70% cocoa has been found to possibly reduce nonfatal heart attacks and strokes in people at high risk of these problems. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids called plyphenols, which may help blood pressure, clotting and inflammation. Red wine when consumed in moderation, can help prevent cardiovascular disease. 

Read more about Jane Esselstyn on Women's Heart Health and are you at risk of a heart disease?.

Sources:Harvard Health Publishing - Plant-Based Diets That Protect Your Heart
Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council
One Green Planet
Red Wine: A drink to Your Heart
American Heart Association
Harvard Health Publishing - Fruits and Vegetables for Heart Health: More is Better

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