By Michael Lasalandra, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States, but there are things you can do to prevent it from developing in the first place.

Photo: Thinkstock

Photo: Thinkstock

One of the most important components of a heart disease prevention program is a heart healthy diet. There are specific food groups that should be a part of such a diet, including those that are high in fiber, low in saturated and trans fats and high in unsaturated fats.

“Overall, for prevention of heart disease, a heart healthy diet should consist of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and foods that are low in sodium and should limit those that are highly processed and low in fiber or high in saturated or trans fats,” says Elisabeth Moore, RD, LDN, dietitian in the Department of Nutrition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

But within those food groups there are certain specific foods that are thought to be the best for protecting your heart health and can also help in the management of heart disease in people already suffering from it.

The top five foods to prevent heart disease, according to Moore, are, in no particular order:

Salmon. It is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which can prevent erratic heart rhythms, reduce the likelihood of blood clots inside arteries, improve the ratio of good to bad cholesterol and prevent cholesterol from clogging arteries.

Kale. This leafy green vegetable is high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. It is also high in protein.

Blueberries. This fruit is high in antioxidants, fiber and minerals. Blueberries are high in polyphenols, which prevent cell damage that causes unhealthy blood vessels.

Walnuts. This tasty nut is high in healthy unsaturated fats, protein and fiber. Walnuts can be added to almost any dish.

Beans. These legumes are a lean protein source and are also a good source of fiber. They can be eaten alone or added to soups or casseroles.

Moore recommends eating salmon twice a week and the rest as often as possible. She notes that there are many other heart healthy foods that can be substituted or added to the list including tuna, strawberries, pomegranate, almonds and seeds.

Other experts recommend garlic, red wine in moderation, lentils, olive oil and sardines.

These foods can lower LDL or bad cholesterol, raise HDL or good cholesterol, and reduce harmful triglycerides as well as help lower high blood pressure. Fiber helps in all of those goals by working to excrete cholesterol and also helps in making you feel satisfied so you don’t eat too much, Moore notes.

A heart health prevention program should also include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and having regular checkups with your doctor, she adds.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted January 2014