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How Eating Red Can Help Your Heart

Just in time for American Heart Month, dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, of Appetite For Health, is here to shed light on how eating naturally red foods can be beneficial to your heart's health.

Heart disease doesn't care what color your dress is, but eating plenty of red fruits and veggies can cut your risk of heart disease by up to 50 percent.

Heart disease kills more women every year than all types of cancers combined. In fact, it's so prevalent that it kills a woman every minute. The good news is that most cases of heart disease are preventable — starting with what's on your plate. Some phytonutrients responsible for making some produce red are especially protective of your heart. Read on to find out which rosy picks can help keep your ticker strong for decades to come.

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Tomatoes

A landmark study from Harvard School of Public Health found that women with the highest blood levels of the antioxidant lycopene (the phytonutrient that makes tomatoes red) cut their risk of heart disease in half.

While fresh tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, some 80 percent of the total lycopene comes from tomato products like sauces, ketchup, and tomato juice. What's more, research shows that the lycopene in canned tomato products is more absorbable than the fresh so be sure to keep canned tomato products on hand. Canned produce is packed at peak of freshness, so it is nutritionally similar to fresh and frozen varieties (and in some cases even better).

Raspberries

The anthocyanin antioxidants that make raspberries red are also known to be good for your ticker. A population-based study in 94,000 women reported that those who ate anthocyanin-rich berries three or more times per week reduced their risk for having a heart attack by more than 30 percent. Another study reported that raspberry provided the highest antioxidant activity among 25 commonly enjoyed fruits. Raspberries also provide a hearty dose of vitamin C, manganese, and potassium and a whopping eight grams of fiber per cup. Keep frozen unsweetened raspberries in your freezer and enjoy with oatmeal, yogurt, or try my favorite raspberry-beet recovery smoothie.

Beets

Beets and beetroot juice are popular for their performance-enhancing properties, but beets have unique properties that make them cardioprotective. They're a natural source of betalain and betaine (pigments that give beets their crimson color), which helps lower dangerous homocysteine levels. They're also a source of nitrate, which converts to nitric oxide in the body to help relax arteries and lower blood pressure. You can find plenty of ready-to-eat refrigerated and canned beets that can be added to salads or smoothies to help you get more of beets' benefits.

Red Kidney Beans

Deep-red kidney beans are an antioxidant-packed superfood for your heart. A half-cup serving of the legumes provides seven grams of protein, 5.5 grams of fiber, no saturated fat or cholesterol, and just 100 calories. They're also rich in blood pressure-lowering potassium, and studies consistently show that diets rich in beans can help slash your risk for developing heart disease.

Red Grapes

You know all about the heart-health benefits of red wine, but red grapes provide many of those same benefits — minus the ethanol. Red grapes contain resveratrol and flavonoid antioxidants that can help protect blood vessels and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In fact, one study of women who ate the equivalent of 1 1/4 cups of grapes per day reduced markers of inflammation linked to heart disease and lowered harmful LDL-cholesterol levels.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography
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