Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways to improve heart health. As a leading provider of cardiac care and services, Mercy Health - Lourdes Hospital offers six foods that are good for heart health, and when combined with exercise and healthy living can help to lower the risk for heart disease, stroke and high cholesterol.

Suggestions include:

1. Blueberries -- This antioxidant-rich super food tops the list for heart health. Our bodies often can't produce as many antioxidants as we need. By helping neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called free radicals, antioxidants help reduce problems with our hearts, eyes, memories and immune systems. Blueberries are also a great source of vitamin K and C, manganese, fiber and copper. Whether fresh, frozen or dried, aim for one cup of blueberries a day. Blackberries, black raspberries, black currants and red grapes offer similar benefits.

2. Avocado -- Avocados are one of the best heart-healthy foods for your diet. Adding avocado to a sandwich or salad provides a healthy dose of monosaturated fat, which helps lower LDL levels and raises HDL cholesterol. The majority of the fat in avocado is oleic acid, which is also the main fat source of olive oil. Oleic acid has been linked to reducing inflammation and blood pressure as well as helping with weight loss.

3. Yogurt -- Research conducted with more than 1000 adults found that those who consumed yogurt and yogurt drinks had the healthiest gums. Because gum disease can lead to heart disease, adding yogurt to a person's diet helps protect their heart. In addition to reducing bacteria in your mouth, the probiotics in yogurt also help improve digestion, boost immunity, and reduce the risk of high blood pressure.

4. Whole Grains -- Many people have heard that whole grains are better for you than refined breads and pastas. However, most people don't know that many of those benefits relate to heart health. Rich in dietary fiber, whole gains can help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower a person's risk for heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Examples of heart-healthy whole grains are whole oats, brown rice, whole-grain barley, whole-wheat bulgur and whole-wheat flour.

5. Salmon -- Eating two servings of fatty fish per week can help reduce a person's risk for a heart attack. Fatty fish such as salmon, lake trout, sardines and tuna, contain the most omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that help reduce inflammation, which can lead to damaged blood vessels, heart disease and stroke. If wild-caught fish is not easily available, fish oil supplements can also improve heart health.

6. Dark Chocolate -- While binging on candy bars or cupcakes is not recommended, there is one heart-healthy way to satisfy a sweet tooth. Enjoying dark chocolate in moderation can protect a person's cardiovascular system. This reduces blood pressure and cholesterol and can also help people lose weight and increase their ability to exercise. Rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and flavanols, dark chocolate helps improve blood flow to the brain and heart, making blood platelets less likely to clot. The healthiest dark chocolate is minimally processed and has a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher.

For a healthy heart, people should also quit smoking, limit exposure to second-hand smoke, stay active, and aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

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