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Tips for Eating Heart Smart

With more than 30,000 items filling the shelves of the average grocery store, it is no wonder that you may feel confused when trying to select heart-healthy choices for your family.

Use the following tips the next time you’re shopping:

Eat your veggies

It always comes back to the green stuff. But it’s for good reason: The nutrients in vegetables (whether the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and/or polyphenols) all seem to be disease-fighters in a variety of ways. When it comes to your heart, vegetables can help keep your blood pressure and your weight under control, and they may help keep your arteries younger, especially when they are consumed in place of lower quality foods. As always, look for a variety of colors when choosing vegetables, emphasizing dark green and orange vegetables on a daily basis whenever possible. Easy way to do it: Munch on fresh vegetables dipped in a light dressing for a mid-day snack. For lunch, fill a whole-wheat tortilla with turkey and soy cheese. Top with organic spinach leaves, shredded carrots and cucumber slices. At dinner time, no need to make a separate side dish. Toss vegetables into your favorite pasta sauce, casserole, omelet, soup or pilaf.

Easy way to do it: Munch on fresh vegetables dipped in a light dressing for a mid-day snack. For lunch, fill a whole-wheat tortilla with turkey and soy cheese. Top with organic spinach leaves, shredded carrots and cucumber slices. At dinner time, no need to make a separate side dish. Toss vegetables into your favorite pasta sauce, casserole, omelet, soup or pilaf.

Choose oils wisely

Various oils, including olive and grape-seed oils, are powerful when it comes to heart health. Not only can their mono- and polyunsaturated fats help keep your cholesterol under control, but these foods are also some of the best sources of naturally occurring vitamin E. More recent evidence suggests that these heart-healthy fats may actually help control the fat around the waistline, as well. So even when total fat content is kept equal, those who consume a higher proportion of fats from nuts, seeds and olive oil, and fewer unhealthy fats (especially artery-clogging trans fats), may actually see their body fat drop, especially around the waistline.

Easy way to do it: Use canola or olive oil in your cooking. Instead of relying on commercial salad dressings, whisk up a healthy version using a dash of olive oil, a good shake of vinegar and your favorite herbs.

Be smart about low-fat and fat-free foods

Low-fat and fat-free foods that are high in calories may not be worth their while. Despite the fact that grocery shelves are overflowing with fat-free cookies and reduced-fat potato chips, many people continue to gain weight on these foods because they ignore the fact that they are high in calories. While there is a place in your diet for low-fat or fat-free foods, choose wisely.

Easy way to do it: Reach for non-fat or low-fat choices when it comes to the dairy aisle. Select non-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and reduced-fat cheese. But in the snack aisle, resist the urge to fill up on high-calorie, low-fat or fat-free foods. Balance these snacks with smarter snack options, such as nuts and fruit, whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cheese, or hummus with vegetables.