ADVICE about what to eat for your heart can be confusing.
Most of us know that hamburgers and fries aren't great, or that too much beer won't do you, or your heart, any good.
But did you know that vegies actually improve your heart health because they fight bad cholesterol, or that cocoa and red wine get a big tick?
Or that going vegetarian may dramatically increase your chances of seeing your 100th birthday?
Here's how to stay out of the cardiologist's office.
Eat up to 15 different plant foods a day
For good health five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit a day are minimal.
But Australian health and longevity specialist Dr John Tickell recommends nibbling on 15.
Fruit and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants that fight free radicals (caused by pollution, junk food or stress) that attack the linings of blood vessels and increase LDL (bad) cholesterol.
There's another type of fat, besides saturated fat, that can increase your risk of heart trouble.
It's called trans fat and because it raises levels of LDL cholesterol, the Heart Foundation recommends you avoid it.
So if you regularly buy bakery products or fast foods such as meat pies or deep-fried foods, it's time to switch to healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and fish or wholegrain products.
Trans fats are also present in some margarines so check the label before you buy.
Go for omega-3s
According to the CSIRO, the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids that protect the heart and have benefits for blood clotting and blood vessel function are fish and fish oils.
Aim for at least three servings a week.
The polyunsaturated fats found in fish are also found in flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds and grapeseed oil.
Other good fats are monounsaturated fats such as those found in almonds, walnuts and olive oil.
Include them in salads and use the oil for cooking.
The Copenhagen Heart Study, which followed 13,000 Danes for 12 years, found those who drank two to three standard (100ml) glasses of wine had 50% less heart disease and cancer.
The study was published in the British Medical Journal in 1995. However, cardiologist Dr Ross Walker cautions: "You do not get double the benefit from double the dose!"
A fantastic, non-alcoholic, antioxidant-rich addition to your diet, is tea. First-picked, oolong tea, from a health food store or Chinese grocer, is reputed to have the highest levels of heart-healthy antioxidants.
But any tea is good. Let it steep for three minutes for maximum benefits.
Eat your beans
All the dried pea and bean family - baked beans, lentils, split peas, chick peas, soy beans are high in soluble fibre which is known to improve blood cholesterol levels and diabetes control, according to the Victor Chang Research Institute.
Legumes can be added to soups and stews and salads, or a favourite, chickpeas, used to make a delicious hummous.
Consider becoming a vegetarian or going Mediterranean
Vegetarians have 30% less heart disease than meat eaters, says Dr Walker. But if you must eat meat, the evidence points to a Mediterranean diet - rich in extra virgin olive oil, pasta and rice, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts - as being the best for both heart health and preventing cancer, he says.
Eat small amounts of dark chocolate
A 2000 study by the University of California, suggested that polyphenols - which occur naturally in cocoa - may help to maintain cardiovascular health.
They may also relax blood vessels, making blood flow more efficient and reducing the strain on the heart and reduce the formation of blood clots.
What's more, the main fat in chocolate, stearic acid, has been shown to exert a neutral effect on blood cholesterol. The researchers said positive effects were noticed after eating a chocolate bar weighing 35g.
Don't Forget About Love
There is now some evidence that love may affect heart health.
A University of Texas study showed that rabbits who were shown love and affection were able to avoid clogged arteries despite being fed a high cholesterol diet.
In other American research, people lacking in social and community support were more than three times more likely to die compared to others which strong social connections.
This study involved 7000 men and women in California.
Another research project by the VA San Diego Healthcare System concluded that women with heart disease and small social circles die at twice the rate as those who have more friends.
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