We’ve heard the phrase, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" and yes, we all know fruit is healthy, but is the saying literal? Apparently so!

According to new research from Florida State University apples are truly a "miracle fruit" that lower cholesterol to fight heart disease, the #1 killer of men and women. Apple antioxidants and pectin (the sticky part of fruit used to make all-fruit jams and jellies) lower “bad” LDL cholesterol (think L is for lousy) and fight inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and disease.

In the new study 160 women added a daily dose of dried apples to their diet for a year. Blood samples taken at 3, 6 and 12 months showed results scientists described as “incredible” — by 6 months LDL plummeted by 23 percent while HDL levels, the “good” type (think H is for happy) rose about 4 percent, and markers for inflammation dropped. What's more, the extra 240 calories per day did not lead to weight gain; in fact, the women lost on average a little over 3 pounds. Pretty impressive! But apples aren’t the only ticker-protecting food. Here are four more:

Garlic
In addition to reducing inflammation this herb, affectionally known as the stinking rose, also fights oxidation. Examples of oxidation you’re probably familiar with are when a sliced apple turns brown or when metal rusts. When the “bad” LDL cholesterol in the body gets oxidized, it creates a domino effect that ups the risk of heart disease. The antioxidants in garlic fight oxidation to protect the blood vessels from being damaged. Definitely worth the need to carry breath mints.

Green Veggies
A recent study found that a natural substances in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale protect the tiny bends and branches in your blood vessels, the areas most prone to cholesterol build-up and inflammation. It just so happens that previous studies have found that those exact same veggies contain natural detoxers that deactivate cancer-causing substances and stop or slow the growth of existing cancer cells.

Strawberries
A study in overweight men and women found that adding one serving of strawberries to an unhealthy meal (in this case a bagel with cream cheese and whole milk) prevented a post-meal rise in the oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol, the process that triggers hardening of arteries and ups the risk of heart attack and stroke. It also reduced post-meal inflammation, lowered insulin levels and relaxed blood vessels, to lower blood pressure and reduce stress on the heart.

Dark Chocolate
There’s plenty of research on the heart protective effects of dark chocolate. In one study that tracked nearly 32,000 Swedish women for 9 years those who ate an average of one to two servings each week had a 32 percent lower risk of developing heart failure. In another heart attack survivors who enjoyed it just twice a week over a two-year period cut their risk of dying from heart disease threefold. I’m such a fan I made a ‘daily dark chocolate escape’ a mandatory part of the eating plan in my newest book. I like to think of it as giving your heart a hug!


Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

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