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Six foods to boost your heart health

From wild salmon to dark chocolate, University of Minnesota Heart Care Physician Assistant Kate Moody breaks down which heart-healthy foods you should add to your diet.
To mark National Heart Month, University of Minnesota Heart Care Physician Assistant Kate Moody, a cardiology specialist, breaks down some of the most heart-healthy foods.

Everyone wants to be better at eating heart-healthy foods, but the trouble is: What do we eat?

To mark American Heart Month, University of Minnesota Health Heart Care Physician Assistant Kate Moody, PA-C, a cardiology specialist, breaks down some of the most heart-healthy foods below.

Wild salmon
Wild salmon is a heart-healthy—and delicious—food, because it contains high levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids. The fatty acids found in wild salmon can reduce the risk of sudden death from heart disease or stroke, and the risk of heart disease related to Type 2 Diabetes. Research has shown that these fatty acids can also decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, or arrhythmias. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, at least two times per week.

Walnuts are a light, easy snack that you can eat at work or during lunch. Research has shown that walnuts have more — and better — antioxidants than other popular nuts. Antioxidants protect cells against damage caused by harmful molecules, which can play a role in heart disease and other health conditions. Walnuts can also help in lowering cholesterol. The American Heart Association also notes that walnuts, like wild salmon, are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Olive Oil
When cooking, it’s important to think about the various ingredients you’re using and how they affect your heart health. Olive oil is a great substitute for butter or margarine and research has shown it can have significant benefits for your heart. Olive oil, Moody said, is part of what’s known as the “Mediterranean Diet,” which is associated with reduced risk of death from heart disease. The monounsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil are considered a healthy dietary fat.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health Heart Care.

Dark chocolate
You’ve probably heard the rumors about the heart-healthy benefits of dark chocolate and thought they’re too good to be true. Well, believe it. Research has demonstrated that dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, chemical compounds that help protect against the harmful products of oxygen reactions — or free radicals — in body tissues. These radicals have been linked to the development of heart disease. Antioxidants have also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, or what’s known as the bad cholesterol.

Red grapes
Red grapes are an easy addition to any lunch or snack. Because they are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants, they’re heart-healthy, too. The phytonutrients in grapes—polyphenols and phenolic acids —can help to protect you from heart disease by suppressing the process of atherosclerosis, which is caused in the buildup of low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol.

You may have refused to eat broccoli when you were a kid, but moms everywhere may have been on to something. Research has shown that eating raw or slightly steamed broccoli could reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol. Broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane, which can help activate a protein that stops plaque formation in the arteries. Just make sure you don’t use broccoli as a vehicle for ranch dressing, Moody said.