What is the best way to battle heart disease and a bounty of other potential complications in life? Basically what you eat and what you do are the biggest weapons you have. People struggle to incorporate healthy foods into their diet with no hope in site. So what’s the secret?

David Grotto, RD says:

“Consuming a diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium can help reduce your risk for heart disease. But that’s only one side of the equation. It is also important to choose foods that can promote heart health such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber.”

Surprisingly, 80% of Americans are aware of the relationship between omega-3s and heart health, while less than half of Americans are currently consuming omega-3s for this benefit.

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are necessary for human health but the body can’ t make them; you have to get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. They have also become popular because they may reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least 2 times a week.

It is important to have a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 (another essential fatty acid) in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids.

The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. The Mediterranean diet does not include much meat (which is high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.

In addition, nuts are a rich source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fat, nuts are a powerhouse food that can promote heart health. Almonds and hazelnuts are also high in vitamin E, which helps promote the function of a healthy cardiovascular system.

Getting your daily protein from soy sources can also help to reduce your risk of heart disease. Look for soy protein in nutrition bars, fortified soy beverages, tofu, soy cheese and edamame or try adding soy protein to your favorite smoothie.

Did someone say chocolate? Yes! Some dark chocolates can contain helpful components called flavanols. These cocoa-derived flavanols have been shown to help support the cardiovascular system, which helps move blood to and from the heart. When included in moderation, dark chocolate can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

Source: International Food Information Council

Written by Sy Kraft, B.A.