The remarkable heart beats about 100,000 times a day and more than 2.5 billion times over the course of an average lifetime. Making heart-healthy food decisions is one way to help it along. Here are five simple strategies to keep in mind.
Processed food -- usually boxed, wrapped, or in bags -- has fewer phytonutrients, which have been shown in some studies to reduce the risk of heart disease, says Susan Moores, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a Minneapolis-based dietitian.
The more colors you incorporate into your meals, the greater your exposure to a variety of heart-healthy antioxidants. "Fruits and veggies have the greatest variety of color, and making more colorful meals means you're taking advantage of their heart-friendly properties," Moore says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends less than 1 teaspoon of sodium per day. If you have high blood pressure, the condition is more difficult to control if you're not keeping salt consumption down. And because sodium balances against potassium in the body, you may want to add more foods with high amounts of potassium, such as bananas, oranges, grapes, nuts, potatoes, and cantaloupe.
Studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids found in many types of fish may help prevent heart disease by improving the elasticity of arteries and inhibiting plaque formation. Have broiled or baked (not fried) fish once or twice a week.
A small amount of alcohol can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, especially when coupled with healthful eating habits, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. For women, that means one drink a day. More isn't better -- too much alcohol raises the risk of other diseases, such as some forms of cancer.