Your Heart-Healthy Shopping List

A cardio-friendly diet is low in sugar and saturated fat, and high in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. But that doesn't mean your grocery list should be reduced to flaxseed and tofu. Instead, fill your shopping cart with foods you love and some you may not have even have thought of. These 10 picks, for instance, pack cardiovascular power and great taste:

  • Tuna. That simple can of tuna fish provides omega-3 fatty acids that help to significantly lower your risk of heart disease.

  • Tomatoes. A major source of lycopene, which may decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, tomatoes can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • Black beans. Packed with soluble fiber which is recommended for lowering your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack, black beans offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection.
  • Peanut butter. Don't be put off by the saturated fat listed on your favorite jar of peanut butter. Overall, peanut butter offers a great nutritional kick. The biggest plus? Researchers have repeatedly seen that rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes are significantly lower among those who regularly consume nuts or peanut butter.

  • Tea. Although green tea is often touted as the "healthy" option, black tea also offers cardiovascular perks. In fact, black tea helps reverse a condition known as endothelial dysfunction, which researchers believe can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
  • Avocados. This guacamole staple is sometimes shunned because of its high fat content, but avocados consist mainly of monounsaturated fat, which may help lower cholesterol.
  • Olive oil. When you need a butter substitute, choosing the least processed variety of olive oil (extra-virgin or virgin) is the healthiest option. Olive oil decreases levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and increases HDL, the good cholesterol.
  • Chocolate. Specifically, you should look for flavanol-loaded dark chocolate, which seems to lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and lower cholesterol. But pass on any chocolate with added sugar, calories, or fat such as chocolate-covered marshmallow or caramel.
  • Milk. A Swedish study challenged the idea that potentially high-fat dairy products were not heart-healthy. In the study, those who consumed the most dairy actually had a lower risk of heart attack.
  • Apples. While most fruits and vegetables can be expected to reduce cholesterol, apples seem to have an exceptionally positive influence on heart health, proving that sticking with the tried-and-true basics is one of the best ways to stay healthy.

While reviewing your grocery cart for the good stuff, also consider whether there are any items you could do without. Foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol are natural no-gos, but keep your eye out for bad foods that may seem okay, such as:

  • Low-fat processed meat. Processed turkey breast, reduced-fat bacon, chicken sausages, and similar meats may seem like good options, but a study of meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding chemicals shows that these may significantly increase your risk of heart disease.

  • Packaged baked goods. Again, you may be tempted by items that make healthy claims, but muffins, breads, and other baked items often pack trans fatty acids. Trans fat is now required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label of foods, so you can make choices to avoid them.