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Take Care of Your Heart With These Foods

By ALEXANDRA MILLER

February is American Heart Month and to support heart health, the LIVESTRONG.COM blog is publishing a series of heart-focused articles to share strategies on how to protect your health.

Eating right and maintaining a healthy weight are powerful tools when it comes to keeping your heart healthy. Here are a few nutrient-rich foods known for their heart-healthy benefits.

Heart health

Fish
Fatty fish -- such as salmon, tuna and rainbow trout -- are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory and triglyceride-lowering effects. Aim for at least two servings of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids per week.

Try This:
Top a bed of dark leafy greens with grape tomatoes, green beans, sliced red onion and tuna from a pouch. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.

[Read More: Train Your Brain to Crave Healthy Foods]

Make tuna or salmon burgers by combining two six-ounce cans of tuna or salmon (packed in water) with a quarter-cup of minced red onion, a quarter-cup of quick-cooking oats, one egg and a splash of lemon juice. Season with black pepper and parsley. Form burger patties and cook on a lightly greased baking sheet until golden brown on both sides. Serve on whole-wheat English muffins with slices of lettuce and tomato.

Nuts
Nuts are a rich source of fiber, heart-healthy fats, protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. The healthy fats from nuts may help lower blood cholesterol levels and increase HDL (aka "good") cholesterol.

Try This:
Grab a 100-calorie pack of almonds, walnuts or pistachios for a healthy snack. Sprinkle nuts on top of baked fruit, oatmeal or yogurt.

Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens, such as chard, kale and spinach, are a great source of fiber, folate and vitamins A, C and K, all of which support a healthy cardiovascular system.

Try This:
Add dark leafy greens to casseroles, frittatas, omelets, pasta dishes, soups, smoothies and salads. Make a wilted-spinach salad with hazelnuts, golden raisins and goat cheese.

Oats
The soluble fiber in oats (beta glucan) has been shown to help lower LDL (aka "bad") cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.

[Read More: Is “Coffee Hacking” a Bad Idea?]

Try This:
Replace breadcrumbs with quick-cooking oats in recipes for meatloaf, meatballs or as a bread coating. For gluten-free recipes, use certified gluten-free oats in place of flour. Grind oats in a food processor until you get a flour-like texture and use as you would regular flour.

Berries
Berries are packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The antioxidants in berries may help lower LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation in the body and prevent plaque buildup.

Try This:
Top low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh or frozen berries. Or add berries to hot or cold cereal or toss them into a salad or smoothie.

Winter Squash
Winter squash is rich in vitamin A and carotenoids, which have been shown to benefit heart health. With several varieties to choose from, such as acorn, spaghetti or butternut squash, you're bound to find one you like.

Try This:
Substitute spaghetti squash for pasta or rice. At 40 calories per cup (compared with 220 calories per cup of spaghetti), it's a great lower-calorie and lower-carbohydrate alternative.

Purée winter squash and add it to casseroles, chili, muffins and soups. Roast bite-size chunks of butternut or acorn squash with a light drizzle of pumpkin-seed oil and cinnamon.

Heart-Healthy Recipes

Overnight Oats
Prep Time:
5 minutes
Chill Time: 8 hours
Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients
* 2 packets Medifast Apple Cinnamon oatmeal (or your favorite oatmeal brand)
* 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
* 1/4 cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 tablespoon chia seeds
* 1/2 ounce chopped walnuts

Directions
* Combine all of the ingredients, except for the walnuts, in a medium-size bowl.
* Cover and refrigerate overnight. Top with walnuts before serving.

Kale Chips
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients
* 1 16-ounce package ready-to-cook kale
* 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
* Salt to taste

Directions
* Preheat oven to 300°F.
* Drizzle kale with oil and sprinkle with salt. Massage the oil and salt onto the kale leaves to evenly coat.
* Arrange kale in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake until crisp, flipping leaves halfway through, about 20 minutes.

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--Alexandra

Readers -- What kinds of foods do you eat to keep your heart healthy? Do you eat certain foods for their specific nutritional benefits, or do you just try to eat "healthy" in general? Did you find this article helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, is a corporate dietitian at Medifast. She has received her Levels 1 and 2 Certificates of Training in Adult Weight Management and is a certified kickboxing instructor. She is devoted to promoting optimal health through a balanced lifestyle based on healthy eating habits, physical activity and a positive relationship with food -- especially if it's the occasional homemade chocolate-chip cookies that she just can't live without. Everything in moderation, right? She supports Medifast customers at every phase of their weight-management journey, develops Medifast programs and materials and champions the Medifast Recipe Library.

Follow Medifast on Facebook and Twitter.

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