Once banished for their highfat content, avocados are making a health food comeback. While it's true that avocados are high in fat (one medium avocado has a whopping30g of fat!) it's actually their fat content that is responsible for their many health benefits. Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat, the type of fat that can lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. What's more, avocados are also rich in folate and potassium, two nutrients essential for heart health.
Need to know: One medium avocado delivers over 300 calories, so a little goes a longway. Keep portion sizes to a minimum, for maximum health benefits. Add diced avocados to salads, or serve on wholegrain toast with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. Dark chocolate
Chocolate lovers rejoice! Dark chocolate doesn't just taste good, studies show it can also boost heart health. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties. Studies show consuming as little as 7.5g of dark chocolate per day can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attacks and strokes.
Need to know: The heart health benefits of chocolate are limited to dark chocolate, and don't include milk or white chocolate. Choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70 per cent cocoa for the most health benefits, and avoid chocolate that contains added ingredients, such as nougat or caramel. Keep portion sizes small to avoid extra calories and weight gain - both of which can cancel out chocolate's heart healthy benefits.
Salmon tops the list of heart healthy foods, thanks to its exceptional omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce blood pressure, triglycerides, blood clots and can also protect against irregular heartbeats. Studies show that consuming fatty fish, such as salmon, as little as one to two times per week is enough to lower the risk of dying from a heart attack by over 30 per cent.
Need to know: The British Heart Foundation recommends eating one to two portions of oily fish each week. People who have had a heart attack should aim to increase this to two to three portions per week. For the most health benefits, steam, grill or bake salmon, instead of frying it.
Lentils are an exceptional source of fibre, which helps keep heart disease at bay. In fact, of all the beans and legumes, lentils outrank them all when it comes to fibre; a half cup (175ml) serving of cooked lentils delivers a whopping 12g of fibre, half the daily recommended intake for women. They're also packed with folate and magnesium, two nutrients essential to heart health. Studies show that a diet rich in legumes, such as lentils, can lower the risk of heart disease by up to a third.
Need to know: Compared with other dried beans and legumes, lentils are perhaps the easiest to prepare thanks to their small size. Boost your intake of fibre-rich lentils by adding them to soups, stews and salads.
5. Soy milk
Studies show substituting animal protein from meat, poultry and dairy with protein from soy foods, such as soy milk, can reduce total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. What's more, soy foods can help boost HDL (good) cholesterol, lower blood pressure and keep blood vessels healthy.
Need to know: When added to your diet in combination with other known cholesterol-lowering foods, soy's effect becomes even stronger. For the most health benefits, choose a soy milk product that is fortified with vitamins and minerals and contains at least
Flaxseed may be small in size, but it delivers big benefits when it comes to heart health. Flaxseed contains three heart-healthy compounds, alpha-linolenic acid (an essential omega-3 fatty acid), lignans (a type of antioxidant) and dietary fibre. Together, these compounds help protect against heart attacks and strokes by lowering blood lipids, maintaining healthy blood vessels, and decreasing inflammation. Studies show eating as little as two to six tablespoons (15g to 50g) of milled flaxseed every day for six weeks can significantly decrease your overall and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Need to know: Flaxseed has a very hard shell, which means they can pass through the body undigested if eaten whole. Grinding flaxseed enhances its digestibility and increases its nutritional value. Purchase milled flaxseed, or grind your own in a clean coffee grinder. Ground flaxseed has a shorter shelf life than whole flaxseed and is best stored in an airtight container in the freezer. Add ground flaxseed to hot or cold cereal, cookies, muffins and low-fat yoghurt.
Few other foods outshine oats when it comes to heart health. Oats is an excellent source of soluble fibre, which helps lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Studies show that consuming just 3g of soluble oat fibre per day, equivalent to one and a half cups (375ml) cooked oatmeal or half a cup (175ml) uncooked oats, can lower total cholesterol levels by up to 23 per cent. What's more, oats help stabilise blood glucose levels, which may benefit people with diabetes.
Need to know: Adding oatsto your diet couldn't be easier,try adding it to your favourite cookie or muffin recipe, stirringit into a bowl of low-fat yoghurt, or enjoying a bowl of warm oatmeal sprinkled with honey and fresh berries.
Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, can be a lifesaver when it comes to heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Studies show high intakes of fruits and vegetables can offer protection, but green leafy vegetables seem to offer the most protection. One study found eating just one serving of green leafy vegetables every day reduced the risk of heart disease by 23 per cent.
Need to know: When it comes to green leafy vegetables, the darker the colour the more nutrients it contains, which is why kale is one of the most nutritious green leafy vegetables around. Kale is low in calories, fat-free and packed with nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants. Kale's sturdy leaves make it a welcome addition to soups, stir-fries and salads.
The heart health benefits of tea are hard to beat. Not only is tea calorie-free, it's packed with disease-fighting antioxidants. Studies show that both green and black teas are effective at warding off heart disease. One study found that older adults who drank at least one and a half cups (375ml) of black tea per day were 43 per cent less likely to suffer a heart attack than non-tea drinkers. Likewise, studies show that drinking at least half a cup (125ml) of green tea every day may reduce the risk of high blood pressure by nearly half.
Need to know: The health benefits of tea are limited to green and black tea, and don't include white or herbal tea. For maximum health benefits, steer clear of tea with added sugar, such as bottled iced tea.
Pistachios are a no-brainer when it comes to heart health. Not only are they packed with heart-healthy antioxidants, amino acids and unsaturated fat, they also contain more potassium, a mineral essential for proper heart function, than any other nut. Studies show that a diet rich in nuts, such as pistachios, can help protect against heart disease by lowering the risk of heart attack, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Need to know: While pistachios contain the least amount of calories per gram than any other nut, they should still be enjoyed in moderation. Replace other, less healthy foods in your diet with pistachios, but remember to limit yourself to a 30g (1 ounce) serving per day (about 45 nuts, or a small handful).