If you want to eat to be heart healthier, starting today, stock these foods and eat them daily, since each one has proven benefits that–when added into a whole-foods, plant-based diet and eaten regularly over time–will help lower your cholesterol, reduce chronic inflammation on a cellular level, and increase your energy, by delivering nutrients in a fiber-filled package.

When you eat a mostly whole-food, plant-based diet, your body begins to run more smoothly, burn fat faster, and feel less sluggish than if you eat a diet high in animal fat, processed food, and simple sugars. To be heart healthy in the future and feel great now, add these 8 foods to your daily diet, according to Dr. Loretta T. Friedman, founder of Synergy Health Associates.

Dr. Loretta, as she asks her patients to call her, has been in clinical practice for over 25 years, having once served as a nurse in a transplant center and later opening her chiropractic practice in 1994. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is an expert in women’s health. Dr. Loretta treats patients seeking help with metabolic detoxification, anti-aging, and lymphatic drainage. In an interview with The Beet last fall, Dr. Loretta explained that her inspiration for helping people improve their diets started when she was a nurse and she witnessed first-hand what cleaning up one's diet can do to overall health and wellbeing.

When she was an OR nurse, working in cardiothoracic surgery, open-heart surgery, and kidney transplants out at UCSF San Francisco, she witnessed the dramatic health changes that occurred when patients drastically changed their diets. Cleaning up your diet, before you get sick is the best form of medicine since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Here are Dr. Loretta's top 8 foods to eat to be heart-healthy now and later.

1. Berries of all kinds

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are jam-packed with important antioxidants that play a central role in heart health.

Blueberries are also rich in nutrients like Vitamin K, which is also great for prostate health,

Raspberries are full of fiber. A quarter cup of organic raspberries has the equivalent amount of fiber as 6 bran muffins, which helps to reduce cholesterol. Berries as a whole protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease

2. Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy green vegetables, like organic spinach, kale, and collard greens are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Their phytochemicals are linked with cardiovascular benefits.

High levels of Vitamin K in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale is good for heart health. A study has shown that deficient amounts of Vitamin K can lead to a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), which is an enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart, even among young people, putting them at increased risk of heart disease.

3. Whole Grains

Common types of whole grains include quinoa and kaniwa which are low on the inflammation scale, meaning eating them actually helps fight chronic inflammation in the body, which occurs on a cellular level, making it a silent symptom that can lead to high blood pressure and other diseases.

All other (non-whole) grains are high on the inflammatory scale, so don't confuse quinoa or brown rice with cereals that use the word "grains" on the box, but are overly processed and full of added sugars.

4. Avocados

Some people stay away from avocados because they're high in fat, but in fact, avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. Eating an avocado a day may even help your body burn fat as fuel. (Fats can be confusing, since saturated fat, found in animal products like meat and dairy, is unhealthy and is the precursor to high cholesterol, and clogging of the arteries (or plaque blockages.) The opposite is true of many plant-based fats, which are either mono- or poly-unsaturated fats, and which offer your body healthy calories and fuel without sticking to the inside of your blood vessels. So enjoy avocados, nuts, olives, and seeds, all of which contain healthy fats.

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids -- Flaxseed Oil

If you don't eat fish because you are taking a fully plant-based approach, then you can still get your Omega-3 Fatty Acids from flax seeds, which are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. There is a mountain of research showing that Omega-3 helps counter-balance the junk food and chemicals that get broken down into Omega 6s in the body.

So while you need a range of healthy fats, the one you're least likely to already be getting from food is Omega-3, which has been credited as reducing inflammation and helping boost brain health

6.  Walnuts

Walnuts are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper, and manganese, which help your body function at its optimal level.  Walnuts also contain Omega-3, a natural anti-inflammatory in the body. Research shows that incorporating a few servings of walnuts in your diet can help protect against heart disease.

In a large study on nuts and health, researchers looked at the dietary habits of 210,000 health professionals and found that people who ate one ounce of nuts five or more times a week had a 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease. Walnuts are also good for brain health.

7. Beans

Multiple studies have also found that eating beans can reduce risk factors for heart disease. Beans contain resistant starch, which resists digestion and is fermented by the beneficial bacteria in your gut.  According to some animal studies, resistant starch can improve heart health by decreasing blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.

All legumes reduce the risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, according to a review published in Advances in Nutrition. People who ate the most beans or legumes had 10 percent lower rates of heart disease compared to those who ate the least amount of beans.

8. Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate is rich in antioxidants, especially flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. Eating a little bit of dark chocolate a day appears to reduce blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And one study out of Finland shows that dark chocolate may reduce strokes, while another Dutch study found that eating 6 ounces of dar cocoa powder a week lowered the risk of irregular heartbeat. So, finish your meal with a small square or two of the purest dark chocolate you can find.

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