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We all need to keep our hearts happy. Add these 7 items into your diet for a healthy, happy, and wholesome diet that's good for your heart!

The heart is among the most important organs in the body, which is why we need to safeguard its health the best way we can. While exercise can do wonders for maintaining cardiovascular health, it must go hand in hand with a wholesome diet in order to maximise the benefits. These seven foods can help improve your heart's condition and keep it in tip-top shape. They are not magic pills, but cardiologists swear by these, and we do too! Add these to your diet and see what difference a cup of whole grains or nuts can do! 

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1. Fatty Fish

We're often told to steer clear from anything fatty. The one exception? Fish. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout are all wonderful examples of fatty fish that are in fact heart boosters. They're chockfull of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to lower triglyceride levels and reduce inflammation. The important thing to remember when eating fish is that the way it's cooked tends to affect the health benefits you can possibly gain from it as well. When preparing these types of meat, it's preferable to steam or broil rather than deep-fry (such as in fish and chips). 

2. Oats

Oats are some of the many quintessential diet foods—and for good reason. When speaking on its heart-healthy benefits, oats have a powerful ability to reduce LDL levels (due to its soluble fibre content); these are low-density lipoproteins that tend to lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. There are many different types of oats such as rolled oats and steel-cut oats. Dieticians recommend going for steel-cut oats, as they are less processed and therefore tend to have more health benefits. Try to avoid instant oats as they can be loaded up with sugar or sodium, depending on the manufacturer. 

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3. Green Leaves

Green leafy leaves are an enjoyable addition to many dishes. Eat them as salad, or blended up as shakes! Either way, it's best to incorporate these superfoods into your diet. Bok choy, kale, spinach, and broccoli are perfect examples of easy-to-find and easy-to-prepare vegetables that will serve you well. They're all rich in folate, which is important in red blood cell formation, as well as healthy cell growth and function. 

4. Nuts

If you're a big snacker, nuts are your best friend. These delicious munchies are incredibly healthy and are densely packed with good (unsaturated) fats, plant sterols, and Vitamin E. Raw or dry-roasted nuts are much better than nuts cooked in oil too, so keep this in mind when shopping through variants. Avoid ones that are covered in chocolate, sugar, or salt. 

If you're wondering whether the kind of nut you eat matters, scientists say that it probably doesn't. Most nuts are generally healthy although it's important to note when eating for heart health, that walnuts have particularly high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, and pecans are good options too!

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5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The Seven Countries Study is "the first major study to investigate diet and lifestyle along with other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, across contrasting countries and cultures". In it, they noticed the cardio-protective properties of the Mediterranean Diet. After researchers had delved into this phenomenon, they discovered that extra virgin olive oil—a staple in those parts of the world—demonstrated an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capability. Researchers credited this to the olive oil's chemical composition, which is mostly monounsaturated fatty acids, tocopherols, and polyphenols. So yes, drizzle a little olive oil onto your salads and use it for cooking your meat! It will make both your tummy and your heart very happy!

6. Sweet Potato

We love mashed potatoes as much as the next person, but next time you're craving something rich and filling, consider sweet potato instead. This humble root crop is a rich source of vitamin C and B6, which helps to promote a healthy nervous system. Aside from that, they're also packed with plenty of potassium and magnesium, which helps to regulate blood pressure. This is particularly beneficial for those with hypertension and those who are at risk for stroke. 

7. Dark chocolate

We saved a little treat for last: dark chocolate! These kinds of chocolate—the ones that contain at least 70 to 85 per cent of cacao—are rich in flavonoids, which help lower the risk of heart disease. Some studies also suggest that chocolate can lower the risk of insulin resistance (diabetes) and hypertension (high blood pressure). So what are you waiting for? Have a square of your favourite dark chocolate for dessert!

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