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5 foods your heart will thank you for eating

By Nick Upton, Staff writer
Published On: Jan 26 2012 04:56:44 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 27 2014 09:20:31 AM CST
Fruit in heart dish

iStock/dkgilbey

Heart disease is one of the biggest health dangers in the country -- 830,000 people die each year due to some form of heart disease. The high-fat, high-salt American diet is largely to blame: It's easier to eat junk than reaching for a healthy alternative.

The deeper cause for heart disease is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) that delivers cholesterol around the body and high sodium, which raises both blood pressure and the chance of heart attacks and strokes.

It's no fun to cut out salty snacks and red meat, but tasty alternatives can help you stay proactive about heart health without eating boiled chicken and rice cakes.

If health isn't your hot button, simply eating better can also save cash. Turkey is certainly cheaper than steak, and a good diet can help negate the need for expensive high-cholesterol medication.

Check out five easy alternatives that can go a long way ...

soy nuts closeup

No. 5: Soy nuts

Snacking can be tough when you're keeping heart health in mind, but getting that crunchy fix is still possible without saying goodbye to flavor.

Studies show that nuts lower the level of bad LDL cholesterol, and even lower the risk of developing blood clots. Nuts are also packed with fiber and heart-healthy vitamin E.

Soy nuts might not sound like something satisfying to munch on, but, prepared right, they can give you a crunchy snack fix without munching on high-sodium or high-fat snacks.

Instead of reaching for chips, toast some soy nuts with Italian herbs and some olive oil. And instead of salty nuts, try some toasted soy nuts with a dusting of sea salt. Taco seasoning can also give soy nuts a little bit of spice.

Mixing those soy nuts with almonds or walnuts can make for a very satisfying medley that doesn't carry the high fat or high sodium of chips and dip.

turkey burger on bun with french fries

No. 4: Turkey

The old way of heart-healthy eating meant sad, flavorless boiled chicken and white rice -- yuck.

But no more. With countless cuts of turkey in your grocery store, you can get away from those tired chicken breasts without reaching for red meat.

Burgers are the best, but getting that grill fix and staying healthy can be tricky.

Ground turkey, however, can be a great alternative for heart health that will still give you something to eat at the weekend barbecue.

You can spice it up with good herbs and grill it with olive oil. Pop some cheese on top for the whole package -- just stick to part-skim or a little high-flavor, small-serving gourmet cheese.

Turkey can also replace beef in spaghetti sauces to get a little more flavor beyond the vegetarian sauce snoozer. Get it ground or chop it roughly for a chunky meat sauce.

salmon fish fillets on grill

No. 3: Fish

Going without red meat is the No. 1 thing you can do to stay on top of your heart health. But going without a good steak can get awfully boring, and turkey just doesn't cut it sometimes.

So if you're looking for a big hearty meal, try a good size piece of salmon and some roast veggies. You'll get that big meat feeling, and plenty of taste, but instead of gristly beef fat, you're getting healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

While replacing all your meat with salmon might get expensive, other fish are also packed with those healthy fats. Trout and herring are great places to find those good fatty acids.

But the best thing about fish is you can cook it almost any way and it's still healthy. Searing a good cut of salmon and finishing it in the oven retains moisture and makes for big flavor. Grilling it infuses your fish with the smoky taste of the grill. Smoked salmon can be dropped in just about anything from breakfast eggs to game-time snacks. Just don't deep fry it and keep the sides light.

spinach vegetable leaves

No. 2: Spinach

Popeye certainly had some problems: freakishly large forearms, a constant squint and a severe addiction to tobacco. But with all that spinach, Popeye's heart was probably like a dream.

New studies confirm spinach's healthy compounds every few months, and though the mechanism isn't completely understood, doctors say everyone should be eating the leafy green vegetable. Raw spinach in a salad or cooked in just about anything has been shown to reduce heart disease by up to 40 percent.

Drop a pile of spinach on that turkey burger, or sauté it with some garlic for a great side for fish. Adding spinach into soup or on top of a light pizza can be an alternative for those who aren't a fan of leafy greens.

No matter how you get it, spinach is one of the most palatable and readily available sources of antioxidants and potassium.

bowl of oatmeal

No. 1: Oatmeal

It's possible the quote, "Oh boy, oatmeal!" has never been uttered, but anyone looking to eat with their heart in mind should try to say it.

Sure, oatmeal gets a bad wrap; you could be eating it on a speed boat and still be bored. But with a little spice, some crunch and taste of sweetness, that oatmeal will be at the top of your heart-healthy breakfast menu.

Like other heart-healthy foods, oatmeal lowers bad LDL cholesterol and is filled with cholesterol-absorbing fiber.

The best thing about oatmeal is that you can add just about anything, and it's still a good hot breakfast. Cinnamon and raisins are a popular way to kick up the taste. But almonds, walnuts and even soy nuts can really bring some texture.

It might sound simple, but a simple bowl of oatmeal with some honey and a piece of toast can be a great staple breakfast -- and one that won't clog arteries like bacon and eggs.