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Can you prevent heart disease with holiday foods?


Care for some hot cocoa? It has more antioxidants than green tea or red wine.
Care for some hot cocoa? It has more antioxidants than green tea or red wine.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Roast turkey, whipped potatoes, creamed corn. There are a few things I count on in life, and among them is my family's holiday menu.

By the time I reach the dessert course, my heart is fluttering in anticipation. But like many Americans, if I don't add a few "superfoods" to the mix, next year's holiday dinner could cause heart palpitations, too.

A national study conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine and the University of California at San Diego reports the majority of heart attacks occur on Christmas Day, the day after Christmas and New Year's Day. In fact, the 2004 study contends more than 5 percent of heart-related deaths take place during the holiday season [source: Escherich].

The good news is that by changing a few ingredients, your holiday meals could actually prevent heart disease rather than contribute to it. And you can start by adding these superfoods to the menu:

  • Spinach. Forget pale-green iceberg lettuce. Spinach is just as tasty and could lower your blood pressure, too, thanks to high levels of magnesium. By lowering your blood pressure, your heart muscle won't have to work as hard to get the job done.
  • Chickpeas. Whether you whip up some hummus for a healthy appetizer or add them to salads, chickpeas are high in fiber and cholesterol-free, both of which can help prevent heart disease.
  • Plums. Use them in salads or cook a batch of plum pudding, and plums will give your heart health a boost. Plums are potassium-rich, which lowers blood pressure, and are adept at absorbing LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol that can damage the cardiovascular system.
  • Mackerel. It may be difficult to replace the ham at your holiday dinner with grilled fish, but you should give it a try. Mackerel, in particular, is a fish that can help prevent heart disease because it's rich in omega-3s and selenium. The same goes for sardines, which you could add to sauces or salads.
  • Walnuts. Whether raw or roasted, walnuts are an ingredient that can elevate a green salad or side dish. They're also great for between-meal snacking because of their abundance of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 oils.
  • Hot cocoa. Skip the high-fat eggnog this holiday season, and sip something healthy for your heart. An after-dinner cup of hot cocoa has more antioxidants than green tea or red wine. Just be sure to use 100 percent cocoa sweetened with a teaspoon or two of sugar, instead of a calorie-laden packaged drink mix [source: Scritchfield].
  • Tofu. We're not necessarily suggesting a faux turkey become the centerpiece of your holiday meal. However, tofu is a nutritional powerhouse that can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease. Tofu is a master of disguise and mimics the foods it mingles with during cooking, so use it as a heart-healthy filler to round-out salads and main dishes [source: Eisenstein].

Even if you opt to stick to traditional holiday menu, adding more vegetables, fruits and whole grains to your plate will boost your heart health -- and give you a head start on your New Year's resolutions.


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