These 5 Surprising Foods Can Help Prevent Heart Disease

Heart disease accounts for one in seven deaths in the U.S. — within the next 90 seconds, someone will die from the disease in our country. While the death rate has actually fallen in the last few decades, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported that the risk factors remain scarily high.

And while there are some risk factors you can’t control, you can choose to eat unprocessed foods and those proven to be heart healthy (yes, this means laying off the fast food). The following five foods may not be your first thought to pump up your heart’s health, but they’re proven to help reduce cholesterol, inflammation, and lower blood pressure.

Avocados

Toast with avocado and cress

Avocados have healthy fats that support your heart. | Locknloadlabrador/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Avocados are more than just a healthy topping for your salads or toast. It can act as a good replacement for butter in baked goods to slash calories, cholesterol, and saturated fat counts. Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids which are proven to lower your total and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while maintaining your “good” (HDL) levels. An AHA study found that replacing a saturated fat with one avocado can reduce your blood pressure significantly.

“Avocados offer more protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals than plain butter,” Tawnya Dorn, RD, CDE told St. Jude’s Health. Substituting mashed avocados in butter when cooking baked goods like muffins, cakes, and even frosting is a good way to stay healthy without sacrificing taste.

Applesauce

Apple sauce is a surprisingly heart healthy food. | iStock

Applesauce is a surprisingly heart-healthy food. | iStock

Applesauce is another heart-healthy baking “secret” that helps you prevent heart disease. Just substitute unsweetened applesauce for cooking oil or eggs and reap the benefits. It’s a plus for vegans who want to bake recipes that call for eggs.

Want to go the extra mile with your healthy treat? Make the AHA’s recipe for applesauce bran muffins with fat-free milk and pumpkin spice.

Pistachios

pistachios

Pistachios can help lower cholesterol. | Maryna Iaroshenko/Getty Images

Unsalted nuts and seeds are a high-potassium protein-filled snack that’s known to reduce blood pressure. Pistachios can even reduce blood vessel tightening, heart rate, cholesterol, and blood pressure. A study showed that just one serving of pistachios a day was better at lowering blood pressure than two helpings were.

While nuts are a heart-healthy option, they should be enjoyed in moderation. Considering their high calorie and naturally high sodium content, the AHA recommends small servings — 1.5 ounces or just 2 tablespoons of nut butter — per day.

Beets

Freshly picked beets

Freshly picked beets | iStock.com/magpie3studio

Beets are a surprisingly heart-healthy vegetable. The veggie is full of nitric oxide, which studies show helps open blood vessels, in turn lowering your blood pressure. Not a fan of beet garnishes? A recent study found that drinking just 2.5 cups of beet juice can significantly lower your systolic blood pressure within six hours.

Health found that beets are also rich in betaine and the B-vitamin folate, which together actively lower blood levels of homocysteine. What does all this mean? Since high levels of homocysteine increase your risk for heart disease and artery damage, beets help reduce the risk of both.

Legumes

selection of legumes

Beans and legumes on a table | iStock.com

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart … we won’t finish the song out, but you get the gist. Still, the song comes from some truth. No list of heart-healthy options would be complete without legumes, which includes all kinds of beans, lentils, chickpeas and black-eyed peas.

Adding just three-quarters of a cup of legumes to your daily diet have been shown to improve blood pressure and contribute to weight loss in obese subjects. Legumes have no cholesterol and very little natural fat (about 3%) but are chocked with iron, magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, and protein. One important thing to remember about legumes: the canned version (often the cheapest) have salty preservatives. Since salt can raise blood pressure, it’s important you rinse the excess salt and water before cooking or eating the legumes.

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