Whenever most people think of fitness and health, it's done with a great deal of dread. Being healthier always means denying yourself what you enjoy - relaxing with comfort foods.
Being health means hard work, saying goodbye to certain foods and forcing yourself to eat other foods you find tasteless and bland. But it doesn't have to be this way.
Just as you can find time to squeeze in exercise throughout your day - by waking up earlier or shortening your lunch to fit in a workout - you can also find ways to add healthful foods into your diet - foods that protect the heart and help it perform better.
For the time being, don't look at foods as off limits completely. Instead, use everything in moderation and make it a point to add some of these 10 foods to your diet each day so that it naturally begins to replace unhealthy options.
These foods will improve your cardiovascular health, which can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. In addition to integrating these foods, make sure you swap out things like cooking lard for healthy olive oil, or full fat foods for lower fat options.
Seeds and grains work well to protect your heart. The one you're most familiar with is oatmeal. Some people have a disdain for cooked oatmeal, though. They don't like the texture of it.
You can create a mix similar to trail mix, which includes one cup of healthy raw oats that you snack on during the day. This single serving is enough to provide massive benefits to your heart.
It lowers your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Eating it raw delivers more healthy benefits, because many of the instant oatmeal packages most people use are flooded with extra ingredients like sugar.
If you're not an oatmeal fan, try grits! They're healthy for the heart, too. You can find grains in bread form as well - just make sure it's as unprocessed as possible.
As for seeds, there are several seeds that provide heart health benefits. Flax seed is well known - and chia seeds aren't just for growing hair on a pottery piece anymore!
They deliver rich omega-3 acids and are packed with fiber. You can eat them raw or mix them in with other recipes. Sunflower seeds are another good option because they contribute to weight loss, which in turn protects the heart.
Sesame seeds are great to sprinkle on salads or to use as a crust - and they help lower your blood pressure. And pumpkin seeds also contain omega-3 acids and prevent cholesterol build up in your body.
Any fish that contains omega-3 fatty acids is a good way to protect your heart. And fish in general is low-calorie when compared to things like pork chops or a t-bone steak.
But you can't fry it up and keep the health benefits intact - you need to cook it health, and make sure you choose the right kind. Salmon is one good option. This fish has a great deal omega-3 acids and if you add it to your menu a couple of times a week, you'll love what it can do for your triglycerides levels.
If you can, get Wild King Salmon - it's the highest in terms of omega-3 acids. But even canned salmon packs a heart-healthy punch. Tuna is another easy-to-find heart-healthy fish, as are anchovies. If you're out to eat, look for herring or trout to order, because those two also contain ample supplies of omega-3 acids.
Experts always recommend that we eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables during the day. So let's go over some heart healthy foods from each group. First up are blue and purple foods, like blueberries.
These foods are great for serving as an antioxidant, but when it comes to your heart, add just three simple servings of berries (blue or otherwise) each week and you have a 32% smaller risk of having a heart attack than others do. These berries lower your blood pressure.
As for fruits, you can also enlist the help of plums, grapes, blackberries, prunes and figs to help your heart stay healthy. Vegetables are abundant, too - but two of the most popular ones are purple cabbage and eggplants.
Pick a deep purple cabbage and sauté it - don't boil it. You can eat it raw, too. The deeper the color, the healthier it is for you. Eggplant is the same way - and it helps reduce your bad cholesterol.
Tomatoes are one red food that many of us naturally get plenty of - and some people lack. Pizza sauce has tomatoes as a base, but consumption overall is at an all-time high.
Tomatoes are packed with potassium. In case you aren't familiar with why potassium is important, it's because it's what helps your heart beat - it helps it pump blood through your body.
Other foods that help your heart are watermelon, pink grapefruit, raspberries and strawberries, apples, cherries, beets and cranberries. Some of these you might prefer in liquid form, while others fit nicely into your diet in solid form.
Now if you're already taking heart medication, talk to your doctor about the grapefruit - because it can complicate your medical regimen. But if heart disease isn't an issue yet, it can help prevent future problems.
You might want to sneak a bit of red wine into your diet, too. But just a bit. Small amounts can help you ingest heart-healthy resveratrol, but you can also just eat red grapes to get the same benefits.
One of the best fruits for your heart that doubles as an antioxidant is pomegranate. It helps your arteries continue escorting blood flow through the body without issue.
Next up on our rainbow tour of heart healthy foods is the orange food group. Oranges themselves are great for reducing the risk of clot-induced stroke. And if your vitamin C is at a good level, then you have a lower chance of developing heart disease.
It's best to eat them raw - not in a commercial juice form. That's because tons of sugar gets added to those products, and you want the natural juice without the added calories.
One of the best orange vegetables you can add to your diet is a sweet potato. Potatoes get a bad rap, but potatoes are packed with potassium and sweet potatoes help keep your blood pressure in check and offer you plenty of fiber for your meal.
Yellow heart healthy foods include fruits and vegetables such as:
* Bell peppers
* Corn on the cob
As we mentioned before, potassium is crucial for good heart functionality - and bananas are full of potassium. Squash has that too - but it also has magnesium, which helps control your blood pressure.
When it comes to corn, you're better off not eating it raw to get the maximum heart benefits for it. Cooked corn increases its ability to provide you with antioxidants.
Pineapple and lemon are packed with vitamin C and this vitamin helps improve blood flow to your heart. Some experts say that is has the ability to virtually open the arties, allowing blood to flow easily.
"Eat your greens" your mother probably used to nag. But she was right! Green fruits and vegetables are about as heart healthy as they come. As for vegetables, start with a mix of broccoli and spinach.
You can eat either of these cooked or raw and they both taste great! The carotenoids in them go through and help rid your body of toxins, allowing your heart to function better. Add kale to the mix and you now have an omega-3 rich vegetable powerhouse.
Some people look at an avocado and see the word "fat" - but it's heart-healthy fat (yes, there is such a thing). It works the same way olive oil works - to aid in the reduction of bad cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
You can also add the following to your diet for better heart health:
* Brussels sprouts
* Green cabbage
* Bok choy
* Green beans
* Green peppers
* Collard greens, mustard greens, or turnip greens
* Green grapes
Nobody is saying that a diet rich in chocolate is going to be healthy for your heart. Moderation is key to health with anything. But if and when you indulge, do it with dark chocolate.
There was a study in 2012 that showed that a daily intake of dark chocolate helped stave off heart attacks and even strokes. That's because the polyphenols help prevent clotting and lower your blood pressure.
More families are giving up meat to replace it with soy foods once or twice a week. Soy comes in many vegetarian products like tofu, but you can get it other ways, too.
Soy is similar to avocado in that it has healthy fats that reduce blood pressure. You can buy soy in the form of Edamame, soy milk, soy milk, soy cheese, and soy nuts.
Nuts such as walnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios and even plain old peanuts help your heart by providing lots of fiber. One of the best nuts is the walnut - because it is rich with omega-3 fatty acids.
When shopping for nuts, look for plain, unsalted varieties. You don't want the salt added in because then it has the opposite effect - possibly increasing your blood pressure.
Beans help you get the protein your body needs, without the majority of fat that meats tack on. Try to add this to your diet in at least four meals each week. This should give you a 22% lower risk of heart disease, according to one study.
Instead of trying to eliminate foods, stock up on these heart healthy choices and satiate your hunger with these, instead of fat-laden sugary foods that tend to damage your heart and put you are risk for all sorts of diseases.