Heart disease -- also known as coronary artery disease -- represents the No. 1 killer of Americans. When you have coronary artery disease, plaque made up of cholesterol deposits lodges in your arteries, hardening and narrowing them. This plaque can weaken your heart muscle, causing damage over time. It also can cause a heart attack when a piece of plaque breaks off and completely blocks an artery leading to your heart. Fortunately, it's possible to fight heart disease and keep your arteries elastic and unblocked by eating foods that fight heart disease.
Consider adding fish to your diet. It contains high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce your risk of coronary artery disease and help keep your arteries elastic, according to the American Heart Association. Oily fish contain more of the helpful fats, so stock up on mackerel, salmon and tuna, and try to have it at least twice per week. It doesn't matter if the fish come from a farm or if they're live-caught, the AHA says. However, if you're a woman who may become pregnant, you should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, and limit your consumption of tuna, due to high levels of mercury in those fish species.
Oatmeal helps maintain clear arteries because it contains plenty of soluble fiber, which helps to lower levels of so-called "bad" LDL cholesterol along with total cholesterol. One large bowl of oatmeal contains 3g of soluble fiber, enough to lower your cholesterol by 2 percent to 3 percent. You also can purchase oat bran to sprinkle on salads and cereal for the same effect, or enjoy the soluble fiber found in beans and oranges.
Nuts -- especially almonds and walnuts -- contain high levels of heart-healthy fats, so snacking on nuts instead of chips potentially can help keep your arteries in good shape. Like oatmeal, nuts reduce your levels of bad cholesterol, and also assist in tamping down inflammation in your arteries. If you eat 1.5 oz. of nuts per day -- about as much as fits into the palm of your hand -- you'll meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recommendations for heart health. Just be careful: Nuts pack plenty of calories, so don't overindulge.
You may tend to shy away from dairy products due to their saturated fat and cholesterol content, but low-fat dairy products can represent a good addition to a diet designed to optimize the health of your arteries, according to Yale University. Skim milk contains plenty of calcium but no fat, so drink away. If you want a little bit of creaminess, choose 1% milk. You even can have cheese, as long as you indulge in one that contains less than 3g of fat per serving, such as low-fat Parmesan cheese. For dessert, try low-fat frozen yogurt, which gives you calcium without the added saturated fat.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronary Artery Disease
- American Heart Association: Frequently Asked Questions About Fish
- Columbia University; A Bowl of Oatmeal A Day Keeps The Cholesterol At Bay; May 4, 2001
- Rush University College of Health Sciences; Heart-Healthy Foods; Heather Rasmussen, Ph.D., R.D.; Feb. 18, 2011