Updated: August 26, 2011

Heart disease claims the lives of half a million American women each year. In fact, it's the No. 1 killer of women. You're probably already aware of how important your diet is to maintaining your heart's well-being. Regular exercise is the other half of the healthy-heart equation: It keeps cholesterol and weight down and helps to regulate your blood pressure.

Here are the top four food choices for a strong heart:

* Soluble fiber -- from foods like oats, apples and pears, peanuts, beans, lentils, and whole-grain breads and cereals -- helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, cutting your risk for heart disease.

* Folate, found in leafy green vegetables, beans and lentils, reduces blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that may increase heart-disease risk.

* Omega-3 fatty acids, from nuts (walnuts are the best source) and fatty fish, discourage arterial blockages; help relax narrowed arteries; and decrease VLDLs (very low density lipoproteins), fats in the bloodstream that have been associated with cardiovascular disease.

* Monounsaturated fats, from foods like olives, olive oil, and seed and nut oils, can lower risk by cutting blood-cholesterol levels. Plus, unlike polyunsaturated fats, the monounsaturated kind are more resistant to oxidation, a process that leads to cell and tissue damage. (Saturated fat, found in red meat, butter and full-fat cheese, raises artery-jamming cholesterol, so avoid or limit these foods.)

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