7 Foods to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

The first step to preventing heart disease? Know the risks. The second step? Avoid or reduce those risks. A heart-healthy diet and plenty of exercise is your first line of defense.

And when it comes to nutrition in particular, you can do more than avoid foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol—you can eat foods that help lower blood pressure, reduce artery-damaging inflammation, and keep your cholesterol in the heart-healthy range. Here are seven tasty foods. Here are seven tasty foods you'll want to incorporate into your diet:

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes contain fiber. Fiber, especially the soluble type, binds total cholesterol in the intestinal tract and promotes cholesterol excretion.

Other high-in-soluble-fiber foods such as oats, flaxseed and beans can also help lower cholesterol. Another heart-healthy bonus from sweet potatoes: They are also high in potassium and magnesium. Research shows that if Americans boosted their potassium intake, adult cases of high blood pressure could fall by more than 10 percent.  Other foods that are high in both potassium and magnesium: halibut, spinach, bananas, soybeans, kidney beans and plain nonfat yogurt.

Nuts

Five large studies (the Adventist Health Study, the Iowa Women Health Study, the Nurses' Health Study, the Physicians' Health Study and the CARE study) found that those who eat more nuts had a lower risk of heart disease.

More: The Importance of Nuts and Seeds in an Athlete's Diet

One nut in particular—peanuts—contain arginine. Arginine-rich foods improve wound healing, support the kidneys in detox, boost immunity and stabilize hormone function. How does arginine help the heart? In the body, the amino acid arginine changes into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a powerful neurotransmitter that helps blood vessels relax and also improves circulation. That's healthy news for your heart.

Dark Chocolate

According to Harvard researchers who analyzed 24 chocolate studies we should eat approximately 1 ounce of dark chocolate daily. Why? Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, which are natural compounds that cause dilation of the blood vessels. This means lower blood pressure.  Look for chocolates that contain 50 to 70 percent cacao.

More: 5 Ways Chocolate Boosts Your Workouts

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