By Sarah Benevides | Photo by bPhoto -Bartosz Konieczny/shutterstock.com

It’s easy to take our hearts for granted.

They work hard for us 24/7, and sure, they may lodge the odd complaint when we put them through a gruelling HIIT workout or test them on a flight of stairs, but for the most part, we don’t even have to think about them.

But we should, according to the American Heart Association, which still ranks heart disease as the number one leading cause of death in the U.S.

Aside from your regularly scheduled fitness regime, one easy way to show your heart some love is to make sure you’re feeding it right. A varied diet full of produce and healthy fats has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, so load up your plate with the following simple and delicious heart healthy foods to keep your ticker in tip top shape.


1. SPINACH 

As well as helping to build healthy blood cells, spinach (and other leafy greens) contains lutein, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that protects your arteries from plaque build-up which, in turn, helps prevent heart attacks.

Get-More Tip: Spinach can be used in almost any salad as a hearty base, but a Linköping University study found that the best way to get your greens is to drink them! Cooking at high heat can rob spinach of its lutein, but chopping or blending the leaves into smaller pieces helps release more lutein for your body to absorb. Throw spinach into a smoothie for maximum nutrient absorption.


2. AVOCADOS

Once added to your meal, avocados really step up to the plate. That’s because they’re full of fiber, magnesium, and even more potassium than a banana. Avocados also contain those infamous healthy fats, which lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise good cholesterol (HDL). One study done at Pennsylvania State University even suggests that an avocado a day is ideal.

Get-More Tip: Avocados have a rich, buttery texture, making them a good substitute for sauces such as mayonnaise and sour cream.


3. BEANS

It’s actually mind-boggling how much good stuff is packed into beans: Protein, fiber, folate, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, the list continues. Maybe even more mind-boggling, though, is what they’re not packed full of: Saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium. This makes them superheroes when it comes to fighting for your heart health, putting their nutrients and minerals to good use to lower your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases.

Get-More Tip: There’s a bean for every occasion. Add them to soup, throw them into a salad, or toss them into a stir fry. You could even roll up the classic (and our personal favorite): The mighty burrito.


4. WHOLE GRAINS

Here’s another food that’s jam-packed with benefits. Fibrous whole grains work overtime to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, which is essential in cardiovascular health. A Harvard-based Nurses’ Health study also found that 2-3 daily servings of whole grains lowered the risk of heart attacks by 30 percent, and these findings were particularly dominant in women.

Get-More Tip: There’s no shortage on variety when it comes to whole grains. Oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich made on whole-grain bread for lunch, and a side of brown rice for dinner—boom: You just fit three servings into your day without even trying.


5. DARK CHOCOLATE 

We don’t mean in bulk (unfortunately), but dark chocolate in moderation contains properties that make for a happy heart. Cacao, in partnership with chocolate’s minerals, is loaded with antioxidants that help fight high blood pressure and cholesterol, making it a smart and delicious addition to any woman’s meal plan. Treat yourself!

Get-More Tip: Whether it’s a simple pleasure with your morning coffee, or a sweet treat to end dinner, look for high quality chocolate that’s cacao percentage is 70 percent or higher to extract the highest level of nutrients.

STRONG Fitness
STRONG Fitness Magazine is a trusted source of cutting-edge fitness and health information for the modern woman who lives to be fit. STRONG’s sophisticated editorial voice combined with raw, powerful imagery and a modern, athletic design reflect the direction fitness has taken in the last decade.