One of the easiest and most delicious ways to protect your heart is to trade in some of what you're eating for more of the West's most heart-protective power foods.
Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and strawberries are great sources of cholesterol-fighting soluble fiber. They also contain the antioxidant vitamin C, which can prevent fatty buildup in arteries.
Almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts provide your brain and body with fuel without cholesterol-raising saturated fats. Almonds contain arginine, a protein that keeps arteries elastic, and phytochemicals that help lower bad cholesterol levels. Toast them to maximize their flavor.
Full of omega-3 essential fatty acids, salmon and other cold-water fatty fish are an excellent source of lean protein. Think small portions (4-oz. servings) twice a week. If you're concerned about reports of toxins in fish, buy wild salmon and trim off the skin and excess fat.
Olive oil provides beneficial monounsaturated fat and antioxidants such as vitamin E. And it can help lower cholesterol levels when you use it to replace equal amounts of saturated fat. (Olives, like nuts, are high in calories, so use them in moderation.) Add unheated extra-virgin olive oil to salad dressings, or drizzle it on roasted or grilled vegetables, chicken, and fish.
The facts on flax seed
Working flax seed and flax seed oil into your diet is a simple way to give your heart a boost. Like salmon, walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans, flax seed is high in alpha-linolenic acid, which your body converts into beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Those omega-3s help fight heart disease by stabilizing heartbeats and slowing the growth of artery-blocking plaque; research has shown that they may also lower triglycerides, a form of fat linked to heart disease. In addition, flax seed is high in soluble fiber, a powerful cholesterol fighter.
Like most nutrients, flax seed is best consumed as food (ground flax seed meal or oil), rather than in supplements. Here are some easy ways to add it to your plate.
• When making muffins or other baked goods, replace ½ cup butter or shortening with 1½ cups flax seed meal.
• Sprinkle your oatmeal or smoothie with a couple tablespoons of flax seed meal.
• Look for flax seed in breads, cereals, and breakfast bars.
• In homemade salad dressings, use flax seed oil in place of 1/8 to 1/4 of the oil.