5 Foods That Won’t Break Your Heart

11Want to avoid heartbreak this Valentine’s Day? Try starting with your diet.

Plant-based foods are a surefire way to help combat one of our nation’s fiercest enemies: heart disease. They help Tom Brady propel his title as the NFL’s MVP, are the staples ofGrammy-nominated Beyoncé’s new business venture and according to a new study, may even reduce the risk of lung cancer.

The good news is you don’t have to invest in a personal chef or fork over your entire paycheck for groceries to experience huge health dividends. Stick to the healthy basics – fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains – to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and restore a healthy heart. Faster than cupid’s arrow, these diet changes can begin yielding results in just a matter of weeks.

If chest pains or undesirable numbers persist, it’s time to take it up a notch. In addition to curbing fat intake and avoiding cholesterol, make sure to take a look at three key nutrients for heart health:potassium, sodium and fiber. Adults should aim for 4,700 milligrams of potassium, 1,500 milligrams of sodium and 40 grams of fiber each day, but as with any diet change, be sure to consult with your health care provider.

Are you ready to jump into a heart-healthful diet?

Here are some of my favorite heart-friendly nutrition staples:

1. Oats. Oats are rich in soluble fiber, which acts like a defensive back, eliminating excess cholesterol from your digestive track and prohibiting it from entering your bloodstream, where the end result isn’t a touchdown but clogged arteries. A recent study of 4,000 heart attack survivors who added fiber to their diet lowered their risk of a recurrence by 35 percent. Other studies show that for every 3 grams of soluble fiber you consume, you lower cholesterol by about 5 milligrams. Try putting the science into practice at breakfast. One cup of oats, a teaspoon of flax seeds and a cup of fresh berries provides more than 15 grams of fiber, more than a third of what you’ll need in an entire day.

2. Black beans. Black beans are not only rich in heart-healthy fiber, but with more than 7 grams per half-cup serving, they also contain powerful antioxidants that protect cells, specifically those that line the arterial walls, an internal highway for delivering blood to your heart. You can thank the many nutrients found in this bean, including folate, iron and magnesium, for helping to maintain this heart-friendly road structure. Studies also show that people who add beans to their diet lower heart-harmful LDL cholesterolin a matter of weeks. Beans provide a hefty dose of protein – but without any saturated fat or cholesterol that usually accompanies beef burgers and bacon breakfasts. Choose dried or canned versions, and for optimal heart health, limit sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams each day.

3. Tomato products. One cup of low- or no-sodium tomato products boasts more than 2,600 milligrams of potassium, more than half of what you’ll need in an entire day. The secret behind this mineral is it works with sodium to naturally balance blood flow and lower blood pressure.Research shows that diets rich in potassium reduce the risk of stroke by about 12 percent. Other potassium-packed sources include bananas, mangoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and beet greens. Aim for 4,700 milligrams a day, unless you have poor kidney function. You can always play it safe by checking in with your health care provider to ensure this shift is a healthy choice for you.

4. Blueberries. Ever wonder why your eyes are drawn to the bright blue hue of blueberries? Turns out what looks good to the eyes is good for the heart. Blueberries are rich in colorful pigments called anthocyanins, which help protect cells, including those that make up your blood vessels and support cardiovascular health. A recent study finds that just one cup of blueberries a day, over a period of eight weeks, can help lower blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, by about 7/5 mmHg. Add a cup of fresh berries to breakfast bowls, smoothies and salads, or save for dessert.

5. Spinach. Leafy green vegetables are nutritional powerhouses that play an important role in heart health. The small amount of fat that spinach contains is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower triglyceride, or fat, levels in the blood, curbing risk for cardiovascular disease. Similar to all these plant-based picks, spinach is packed with antioxidants, like lutein, a type of carotenoid that protects the carotid arteries, whose main job is to carry blood from the heart to the brain. The good news is greens go with everything: Blend in a smoothie, prepare a colorful salad, use chard leaves for a vegetable wrap or toss into a hearty lentil soup.