We all know our best defense is a diet low in saturated fats, but according to the American Heart Association, incorporating certain foods into your diet can dramatically improve your cardiovascular health too. Here's a primer to help get you started:
* Go nuts - Although nuts have earned a bad reputation because of their high fat content, it turns out they're actually loaded with heart-friendly monosaturated and polysaturated fat and low in the unhealthy saturated kind. According to the American Heart Association, people whose diets are high in these types of fats have lower levels of bad cholesterol. One caveat - nuts are high in calories, so if you're watching your weight, beware.
* Eat chocolate guilt-free - Yes, it's true, this guilty pleasure can actually work wonders for your heart. Researchers at the University of California Davis found that chocolate contains flavinoids, which are chemicals that thin the blood and help prevent clotting. Cocoa also contains antioxidants that help stave off disease and it's high in healthy monosaturated fat. Indulge in darker varieties, which have more pure cocoa. And remember, while this finding is good news for chocolate lovers, you don't want to get carried away - moderation is key.
* Go fishin' - Omega-3 fatty acids are essential components to any healthy diet and can be found in abundance in fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring. They may lower the risk of abnormal heart rhythms and reduce the cohesion of blood cells, which make them less likely to form clots and block arteries. Omega-3's seem to be particularly beneficial to people already at risk for heart disease and those who have experienced a heart attack. In a recent study of heart attack survivors, those who consumed a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids from fish had a significantly lower risk of a second heart attack. Aim for at least two servings of fish a week or talk to your doctor about taking fish oil supplements.
* Munch on oats - Not only are oats low in saturated fat, but they're high insoluble fiber, which reduces cholesterol. Just three grams of fiber from oatmeal daily could greatly reduce the risk of heart disease, so try to pack in a punch at breakfast.
* Drink a cocktail - A drink a day could keep a heart attack at bay. New research suggests that having a glass of alcohol at least three days a week could lower your risk of heart attack by one-third. Scientists speculate it's because like chocolate, alcohol keeps the blood thin, preventing clots. Drink several glasses of wine or beer in a week, but don't go overboard - it's not license to drink heavily.