Over the years, the definition of a heart-healthy diet has changed. "Cutting saturated fat to lower cholesterol used to be the focus, but now we know if that's all you're doing, you're missing other dietary chances to further protect your heart," says Melissa Ohlson, R.D., nutrition coordinator of preventive cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. Additional risk factors, like hypertension and inflammation, can also be tamed by diet, but the foods that help aren't necessarily the same as the ones that slash cholesterol. The following 15 foods will help you tackle heart disease from every angle. We show you how to fit them all into your daily diet.
Head off high blood pressure
Hypertension (blood pressure that's 140/90 or higher) is the most common risk factor for heart disease. When blood pressure is elevated, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body. "That damages the lining of your arteries, leading to plaque buildup, which can ultimately cause a heart attack or stroke," says New York City cardiologist Richard Stein, M.D., a spokesman for the American Heart Association. To maintain a healthy blood pressure (120/80 or lower), eat these foods regularly.
SWISS CHARD A potassium powerhouse, this vegetable supplies nearly 1,000 milligrams (mg) of the mineral per cup, cooked. Studies show you need about 4,000 mg of potassium (found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and yogurt) a day to keep blood low. "When you don't get enough potassium, sodium levels in your body rise, which causes a buildup of fluid in the cells, increasing blood pressure," says Stein. On top of that, the greens are rich in calcium and magnesium, which also help prevent hypertension. Not a Swiss chard lover? The rainbow variety, with stalks that are yellow, red, or hot pink, tastes less bitter than other types and is worth a try.