3 easy ways to eat heart smart

“Nutrition is probably the most powerful thing you can do to prevent and treat coronary heart disease,” Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Yahoo Life. “There’s a lot of good research that says if you eat in a certain way that you can significantly decrease your risk for heart attack.”

Some of the easiest and most affordable items to add to your menu are fruits and vegetables. “Plants have amazing health benefits,” Dr. Taz Bhatia, a board-certified physician specializing in immune support and wellness, tells Yahoo Life. They contain antioxidants, such as vitamins A, B and C, which help keep your arteries free of plaque buildup.

“I know how hard this is, but kicking table salt is one of the keys to preventing heart disease,” says Bhatia. The popular seasoning actually constricts your blood vessels and in turn, decreases the amount of blood and oxygen that gets to your heart. But it’s not just the salt shaker sitting on your table that’s the problem — the biggest sodium threats are found in processed foods such as breads, pizzas and fast food sandwiches. Some of these foods contain more than 100 percent of the 2,300 milligrams of sodium that’s recommended per day.

To ease the pain of reducing your intake of some of your favorite processed foods, treat yourself to some dark chocolate. Varieties with at least 70 percent cacao help your body release nitric oxide. This powerful compound actually relaxes blood vessels and keeps them flexible. Just be sure you check the label to see if the chocolate has been processed with alkali

Video transcript

- Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. The good news, though, is that we can take this into our own hands. Here are three diet changes that can boost your heart health and reverse heart disease.

- Tip number one, eat more plants. Plants have amazing health benefits. Fruits and vegetables are very high in antioxidants. In fact, you can prevent plaque build up when there are more antioxidants in your system. Plaque, remember, is formed when cholesterol gets super sticky and that attaches to the sides of our blood vessels increasing our risk for heart disease.

- The antioxidants come in and they prevent that whole process from happening and keeping the blood vessels nice and open and preventing that plaque from forming. One way to really get some of these antioxidants in your system is to eat the rainbow. Meaning, we want to take different colored fruits and vegetables on any given day or in any given meal.

- Tip number two, eliminate table salt. Now, I know how hard this is, kicking table salt is one of the keys to preventing heart disease. Table salt can actually increase your blood pressure. High blood pressure is when the blood vessels in the heart start to tighten up and thicken up really, making it tough for the heart to get the blood and the oxygen it needs to do its job.

- When we lower salt, we actually help the blood vessels to relax. It increases blood flow coming into the heart, also increases oxygen levels and brings that overall blood pressure down. Working to eliminate processed foods from your diet is one of the key ways to reduce your overall salt intake.

- Instead, opt for real foods and whole foods and choose high quality salt like pink salt or Himalayan salt or even the Celtic sea salt.

- My final tip is to eat dark chocolate. Can you believe dark chocolate is good for your heart? Believe it and be excited about it. Dark chocolate, which has more than 70% cacao, actually helps to release more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide actually helps to relax the blood vessels of the heart bringing more blood flow to the heart, free more oxygen to the heart and lowering your overall blood pressure.

- And we know that blood pressure is one of the greatest risk factors for heart disease. Try to add in one to two squares of dark chocolate every day. After all it's fun and a delicious way to really prevent heart disease. Work these three simple diet changes into your daily routine to really begin taking the steps towards a healthier heart.