To keep a heart-healthy diet, you need to replace the bad—trans and saturated fats, added sugars and salt—with the good—fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. If you're looking for extra heart-health credit, there are certain foods that are especially good for your ticker. That's important, because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). And that number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.
So add these 15 heart-healthy foods to your grocery list:
Walnuts: Purchase them unsalted in bulk and store in the freezer to extend their shelf life. Add them to pastas, muffins, oatmeal and salads, or grab a handful when you have the munchies. They're a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and folate (a B vitamin). However, don't overdo it, because they're high in calories. A serving is about 12 to 14 walnut halves.
Oatmeal: Enjoy oatmeal for breakfast or snack on an oatmeal-raisin cookie. Avoid flavored and instant oats because they're loaded with sugar. Instead, opt for unprocessed, plain oatmeal and add your own nuts or dried fruit. Oatmeal boasts omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, calcium and other nutrients.
Kidney or black beans: One cup of cooked beans can replace two ounces of fish, poultry or meat for a serving of protein, according to the AHA. Stir some beans into a soup or salad to boost your intake. Beans contain heart-healthy omega-3s and folate.
Sardines: They're brimming with omega-3s, which raise good cholesterol levels and lower triglycerides, a type of unhealthy fat found in the blood. Opt for fresh sardines instead of salty canned ones.
Kale: Kale-like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage-is a cruciferous vegetable. They're known as cancer-fighting powerhouses, but they're also good for heart health, because they're rich in anti-inflammatories and anitoxidants, as well as vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals. Specifically, the sulforaphane in cruciferous veggies can improve blood pressure. This dark, leafy green offers omega-3s, fiber, potassium and more. Add it to soups, pasta sauces or smoothies. Or make a kale salad, adding fruit, nuts or even sweet potatoes.
Cauliflower: This cruciferous vegetable is very versatile. You can eat fresh cauliflower raw as a snack or in salads or you can steam or roast it. You can even mash it, instead of potatoes. Just stay away from the cheese sauce, or you'll lessen those heart-healthy benefits.
Asparagus: This vegetable boasts vitamins C and D and folate. Serve it as a side dish: Lightly steam, grill or roast asparagus and top with lemon and olive oil. It's best fresh during the spring and early summer. If you can't get it fresh, opt for frozen over canned.
Soy milk: It's loaded with heart-healthy nutrients like niacin, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Add this low-fat beverage to your whole-grain cereal or oatmeal or blend it in your smoothie.
Papaya: Help combat heart disease with this exotic fruit's vitamins, potassium and fiber. Enjoy it on its own or make a tropical fruit salad of papaya, mango and pineapple.
Salmon: The AHA recommends at least two servings of fish a week, and salmon is a good choice because it's high in heart-healthy omega-3s. Flavor fish with spices or lemon juice, avoiding cream sauces.
Sweet potatoes: Serve sweet potatoes baked or roasted as a side dish or make a meal of them. They boast beta-carotene, which lowers your risk of heart disease. Available year-round, refrigerate sweet potatoes to help them last longer.
Cantaloupe: Cut and enjoy this sweet and juicy melon any time of day. It boasts vitamin C, folate, potassium, fiber and more.
Red bell peppers: Add bell peppers to your salads, sandwiches and fish. You'll get a dose of folate, potassium and fiber.
Brussels sprouts: Sure, not everyone likes them, but they're members of that powerful fiber-rich cruciferous vegetable family, so give them another try. They contain folate, potassium, magnesium and more. Mix thin sprout slices into a salad. For a crunchier texture, pan fry them or roast, tossed with red grape halves, olive oil and sea salt.
Avocado: You'll get good monounsaturated fats from avocado, helping reduce blood clots and cholesterol. Slice and top salads and sandwiches with avocados.
Or use them to make guacamole. Like nuts, both of which contain healthy fats, they're high in calories, so don't overdo it.