Put a little (food) love in your heart

In this age of information, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the glut of "eat this, not that" advice.To help cut through the nutritional noise - we offer 11 foods that are at the top of the charts in terms of heart-healthy benefits. These foods are readily available and affordable, and you can incorporate them into a variety of meals. Fresh is best when it comes to produce, but frozen or canned will work, too - just be sure to check the sodium content in canned vegetables and the sugar in canned fruit.

  1. Apples. One a day may not keep the doctor away permanently, but it certainly can help. Beneath that shiny exterior is a fierce fruit packed full of fiber and flavonoids, both of which can help keep your arteries in good working order. If you don't love snacking on a crisp, juicy apple, try whipping up a batch of homemade applesauce, adding some apple slices to your favorite chicken or other salad recipe, or baking some into muffins, quick breads or other fruit desserts.
  2. Asparagus. Steam it, broil it with a little olive oil and pepper, or grill it. It's rich in heart-loving vitamin B6, folate, fiber and potassium.
  3. Avocados. Guacamole, anyone? Enjoy this greenish-yellow fruit mashed with some fresh cilantro, lime juice and salsa, or sliced on sandwiches or in salads. It may be high in fat, but it's the good kind of fat (monounsaturated), which helps raise your good cholesterol and lower your bad cholesterol.
  4. Bell peppers. Stuff them, toss them with a salad, roast them, or munch on some slices at lunch or snack time. They're packed with vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C, as well as folate and fiber.
  5. Blueberries. Drop them in your morning oatmeal or cold cereal; mix them with low-fat yogurt; throw a handful into a homemade smoothie; or just enjoy a handful, plain. Blueberries are extremely antioxidant-rich, and boast a high-fiber content, which is great for keeping cholesterol levels low.
  6. Carrots. What's up, doc? These orange vegetables are packed with vitamins A and C, fiber and carotenoids, which are phytochemicals that have strong antioxidant effects. Toss them into soups and stews; add them to your favorite pasta sauce; slice them for a snack; or shred and stir them into muffin, cake or quick bread batter for an extra dose of heart-y goodness.
  7. Legumes. Beans, beans, they're good for your heart … indeed. Rich in B-complex vitamins, calcium, fiber, folate and omega-3 fatty acids, beans are a wonderful complement to any meal, and can be used in as many ways as there are varieties, from garbanzo to kidney and lentil to pinto. They're also high in protein, so you can substitute them for meat as your main dish.
  8. Oats. You don't necessarily need to get these while they're hot, but a bowl of oatmeal is a good way to power through your morning. For a twist, try steel-cut oats. Oats are loaded with soluble fiber, magnesium, potassium and zinc. And if oatmeal for breakfast isn't your thing, get creative. Oats can be added to homemade granola and granola bars, cookies and muffins.
  9. Olive oil. Skip the butter or margarine, and get accustomed to cooking with olive oil, which - like avocados - contains monounsaturated fat. This healthy fat can lower your risk of developing heart disease by lowering your total cholesterol. In addition, if you struggle with diabetes, it can help stabilize your blood sugar.
  10. Nuts. Almonds and walnuts top the list of heart-healthy nuts. They are naturally cholesterol-free, high in protein, rich in fiber, and packed with heart-healthy vitamins E and B, folic acid, niacin and potassium. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and almonds are especially high in vitamin E, an antioxidant. Both contain a lesser-known amino acid, called arginine, which can help arteries relax and improve blood flow. They're also a good source of healthy fats, but they are very calorie-dense, so enjoy your nuts in moderation.
  11. Salmon. Go fresh, go canned, go wild - but do include salmon in your diet at least twice a week. Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which support a healthy immune system, reduce blood clots and protect against heart disease by keeping cholesterol levels and blood pressure in healthy ranges. If salmon doesn't suit your palate, consider herring, trout, tuna or sardines. A recent study reported that men and women whose diet were rich in omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to experience heart arrhythmias later in life.

Get the dish on heart-healthy recipes and resources here.