Be Choosy About Your Chocolate: Studies show that chocolate increases antioxidant levels in the blood and helps lower blood pressure. But when it comes to reaping those antioxidant benefits, quality matters most. If you need a chocolate fix, treat yourself to a small square of dark chocolate—look for one that is 70 percent or more cocoa. Try These Recipes: Heart-Healthy Chocolate Recipes
Be Choosy When It Comes to Salad Toppers: Crunchy onions, bacon bits and seasoned croutons can look appetizing when you’re standing at a salad bar, but reconsider: such additions to your otherwise healthy starter can be high in sodium and “empty” calories. For added crunch, try a sprinkle of sunflower seeds or chopped nuts; while these also are relatively high in calories, they contain healthy fats and are full of antioxidants too. While you’re at it, choose a dressing that is marked “low-fat”—or just drizzle on a little olive oil (a heart-healthy fat) and balsamic vinegar.
When It Comes to Sodium, Shop Around. Comparing the sodium content for similar foods can save hundreds of milligrams of sodium. For example, the sodium content for frozen pizzas ranges from 450 mg to more than 1,200 mg. The range among salad dressings is 110 to 505 mg. Salsas: 120 to 240 mg. More Ways to Cut Sodium: Low-Sodium Dinner Recipes
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: Research links diets rich in fruits and vegetables with a lower risk for heart disease. But most Americans don't get enough produce! Aim for 5 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Pick produce in a variety of colors to get a range of antioxidants and vitamins. A serving size is 1/2 to 1 cup depending on the fruit or vegetable. Try These Healthy Recipes: How to Cook 20 Vegetables
Have a drink. A moderate amount of alcohol daily (no more than two drinks for men, one for women) has proven heart benefits, boosting levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) and reducing the tendency of blood clotting. A moderate alcohol habit may even be protective against certain types of strokes. But drinking more than those recommended amounts—generally, 3 to 4 ounces of 80-proof alcohol per day—can do just the opposite: it raises blood pressure. And, to put things in perspective, alcohol-related deaths kill more people each year than heart-disease.
Go Unrefined. Pick whole grains over refined grains. People who eat more whole grains tend to have lower LDL cholesterol and higher “good” HDL cholesterol. Plus, because whole grains have their bran intact they have more fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients. Learn More: How to Cook 7 Whole Grains and 9 Simple Ways to Jazz Them Up
Choose Low-Fat Dairy: Dairy products like milk, sour cream and yogurt are a good source of calcium. Replacing whole-milk dairy products with low-fat or nonfat is an easy way to cut saturated fat in your diet. Plus, substituting low-fat dairy for full-fat versions may also help lower blood pressure, according to a 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Learn More: Calcium Rich Milk Recipes
It's Not All About the Meat: Meat is a great source of protein but it's also a big source of saturated fat in many people's diets. So eat small amounts of lean meat, fish and poultry. Fill up half your plate with healthy vegetables and fruits, a quarter of it with whole grains and the remaining quarter with your choice of lean protein. Try These Recipes: Must-Have Meatless Recipes
Get Your Omega-3s: Eating more omega-3-rich foods, such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), canola oil and walnuts, might help you keep your blood pressure down, a recent study suggests. In the multinational INTERMAP study, researchers found that among 4,680 healthy adults, those who consumed the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in their diets had the lowest rates of hypertension—regardless of other factors like salt intake, exercise and alcohol. Learn More: