When seeking out foods with optimal nutrient content to improve cardiovascular health, look no further than these easy-to-find foods at your local grocery store.

What better way to incorporate good nutrition and great taste than by incorporating foods such as artichoke hearts, spinach, red peppers, garlic and olive oil into your daily meal plan.

These foods are loaded with nutrients and flavor and are common ingredients in your favorite heart-healthy recipes.

Artichoke Hearts: A 2004 study by the US Department of Agriculture found that artichokes were one of the top vegetables in terms of total antioxidant levels.

They also contain vitamins C and K, magnesium, potassium, and folate. Additionally, consuming artichokes has been correlated with reducing unhealthy cholesterol levels, calming inflammation in the body and improving blood flow.

Artichokes are very high in fiber, which is crucial to help the body to rid itself of extra cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.

Spinach: The vitamin C, beta-carotene and other nutrients in spinach can work together to prevent cholesterol from building up in the blood vessel walls.

The nutrient components of spinach work to lower blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. For those who regularly consume spinach, heart health can improve.

Red Peppers: Red peppers are a good choice for heart health, as they are full of lycopene, which is not found in green peppers. They are also a source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and powerful antioxidant vitamins A and C, which are good for heart health.

Red bell peppers also contain various plant compound associated with health benefits including the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Garlic: According to The Journal of Nutrition, studies show that garlic reduces cholesterol, inhibits platelet aggregation, reduces blood pressure and increases antioxidant status.

Although garlic appears to hold promise in reducing factors associated with cardiovascular disease, more in-depth and appropriate studies are required.

Olive Oil: The main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). MUFAs are considered a healthy dietary fat and may help lower the risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at carey.stites@smchh.org.

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