Food For Heart


Our mission is to provide you with healthy choices for food for the heart, helping you achieve optimal health for both your mind and body. All recipes are vegetarian, gluten-free and/or vegan, making them suitable for most dietary needs and preferences. Check out our recipes!

Complete List of Heart-Healthy Foods

mediterranean broccoli pasta salad

In the United States, someone dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The good news is, research suggests that many of these deaths could be prevented with lifestyle changes, including a better diet. Genetics does play a role, as well. Eating for heart health is as much about what you do eat as it is about limiting certain foods and ingredients. Read on for a guide to what foods to buy and what to limit to keep your heart healthy, including fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, grains, desserts, frozen foods and drinks. (Don’t miss this list of best and worst foods for heart health.)

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a heart-healthy diet. They provide nutrients that are linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, including fiber, potassium, magnesium and phytonutrients. “Don’t worry about which ones are ‘best’ and choose the ones you will actually eat,” encourages Lindsey Pine, M.S., RDN, CLT, owner of Tasty Balance Nutrition. Megan Byrd, RD, at The Oregon Dietitian, adds, “To get the most out of the produce aisle, choose a variety of colors.” (Here’s why you should eat the rainbow when it comes to fruits and vegetables.)

Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh. Just watch out for any added sugars or salt. Canned fruits and vegetables can be part of a heart-healthy diet, but limit ones with added sugar or lots of sodium. Diets high in sugar are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and too much sodium can increase risk of high blood pressure.

Best options:

  • Any fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Avocados, which offer heart-healthy monounsaturated fats
  • Fresh herbs, like basil and cilantro
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fruit in fruit juice
  • No-salt-added canned vegetables or reduced-sodium options

Limit or avoid:

  • Canned vegetables with added salt
  • Canned fruit in heavy syrup or light syrup

Meat, poultry, fish and plant-based proteins

When choosing heart-healthy proteins, plant-based proteins and fish are best. They are abundant in the Mediterranean diet, a dietary pattern that has been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.

Byrd recommends avoiding high-fat and processed meats such as bacon, sausage and heavily marbled cuts of beef and pork. Processed meats and those with saturated fat are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. But you may even want to give some of the leaner cuts of red meat a second look. Newer research shows that eating any kind of red meat increases a circulating chemical called TMAO, which may also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s not to say you can never enjoy a steak or a hamburger, just choose those less often.

Best protein options:

These have been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease.

  • Beans (dried or canned with no added salt)
  • Lentils
  • Tofu & tempeh
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Fish, especially salmon, mackerel and sardines, which are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fats

Good protein options:

These likely do not increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, but have not been shown to decrease your risk either. Research on dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk is mixed, but the consensus from the American Heart Association is to focus on dietary patterns rather than eliminating foods with dietary cholesterol like eggs and shellfish.

  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Lean poultry

Limit or avoid these proteins:

These foods are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Red meat
  • Processed meats including sausage, bacon, salami, hot dogs, etc.


When choosing grain-based products, “it’s all about whole grains,” says Laura Yetz, RD, at Being Nutritious. Whole grains contain fiber and phytonutrients linked to reduced risk of heart disease. “Watch out for labels like ‘made with whole grains,’ which can be misleading marketing claims,” adds Yetz. While whole grains may be in those products, they don’t necessarily make up a big chunk of them. There may not be as much beneficial fiber as you might think. Instead, look for the 100% Whole Grain Stamp, which indicates that all of the grains in the product are whole. Or, look for products that list a whole grain, like whole-wheat flour, as the first ingredient.

That said, “Bread products can be a sneaky source of sodium,” notes Pine. And Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles, M.S., RD, CSSD, adds to also watch out for hydrogenated oils and added sugars, which can show up in breads, cereals and crackers.

“One easy way to identify heart-healthy packaged grains is to look for the American Heart Association heart check, which signifies it meets specific guidelines outlined by the AHA,” says Tejal Pathak, M.S., RD, LD. However, not all heart-healthy foods will have this check mark. For example, bulk whole grains or whole-grain breads from local bakeries are unlikely to have gone through the approval process for the stamp.

Your best bets are going to be whole grain products like oatmeal and whole-wheat pasta. If you’re buying any packaged or processed grains—like crackers or breads—keep an eye on sodium and added sugars, and choose whole-grain options most often.

Best grain options:

  • Oats and oatmeal
  • Farro
  • Wheat berries
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Rye & rye berries
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Kamut
  • Brown rice
  • Whole-grain bread, pasta and crackers
  • Whole-grain cereals with < 5 grams added sugar

Grains to limit:

  • White bread, pasta and rice
  • Cereals made with refined grains and those with > 5 grams of added sugar
  • Crackers and breads made from refined grains
  • Grain-based cereal bars
  • Grain-based desserts

Dairy and dairy alternatives

Research on dairy and cardiovascular disease is evolving. Recent research suggests that full-fat dairy products might not increase your risk for heart disease as much as we once thought. However, when dairy is replaced with whole grains or plant-based oils, cardiovascular disease risk goes down. The American Heart Association still recommends limiting saturated fat, so choose low-fat or fat-free dairy options most often. (Learn more about the differences between saturated fat and unsaturated fat.)

“Use full-fat dairy products like butter and whole milk where it really counts for flavor, but cook with plant-based oils like avocado and olive oil most often,” recommends Pine. Another thing to watch out for in dairy products is sugar, which shows up in many flavored products and plant-based dairy alternatives.

Best dairy options:

  • Plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • Plain low-fat or fat-free milk
  • Unsweetened plant-based milks and yogurts
  • Flavorful cheese where a little goes a long way such as Parmesan, sharp Cheddar and blue cheese.
  • Low-sodium cottage cheese

Limit these options:

  • Sweetened yogurts
  • Sweetened plant-based dairy alternatives
  • Heavy cream
  • Butter

Sauces, condiments and spices

This can be a tricky part of the grocery store for those looking to eat for heart health. But, “A heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be bland,” says O’Donnell-Giles. Limit products that contain a lot of saturated fat, salt and added sugar. Christa Brown, M.S., RDN , suggests looking for dressings and condiments made from olive or canola oil, both of which are linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

You’ll also want to consider the rest of your diet. It’s recommended you keep sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day (under 1,500 mg if you are at high risk for heart disease), and sugar consumption to less than 24 grams (about 6 teaspoons) per day for women and 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons) per day for men. This can add up quickly with condiments. Often the best option is to make your own, but read labels and look for low-sodium (< 140 mg per serving) and low-sugar (< 3 g per serving) options.

Best sauce, condiment and spice options:

  • Plant-based oils, including olive, canola, avocado and nut/seed oils
  • Vinegar
  • Spices and dried herbs
  • Mayonnaise made from canola, olive or avocado oil
  • All natural nut and seed butters made without added sugar or hydrogenated oils

Sauces, condiments and spices that need a second look:

  • Spice blends that contain salt
  • Soy sauce and other Asian-style sauces high in sodium
  • Tomato sauce
  • Bottled salad dressings
  • Some hot sauces
  • Sauces made with heavy cream
  • Barbecue sauce, ketchup and other sweet sauces
  • Jam and jelly
  • Coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat

Snack aisle

The snack aisle has evolved in recent years and if you know what to look for, you can find heart-healthy options. But sneaky marketing claims can steer you wrong, so read ingredient lists and Nutrition Facts labels. Yetz recommends keeping sodium below 140 mg per serving, added sugar under 3 g per serving and saturated fat less than 2 g per serving. Fresh fruits and vegetables make great snacks but here are some options to choose when you’re in the snack aisle. Be sure to read labels.

Best snack options:

  • Nuts & seeds (choose low-sodium and no-salt-added options)
  • Bars made from dried fruit and nuts or seeds, like Larabars
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Dehydrated fruit and vegetables
  • Roasted chickpeas and other dried bean snacks

Snacks to limit:

  • Crackers, cookies, and bars made with refined grains and added sugar
  • Chips, pretzels and other salty snacks
  • Fruit snacks and other high-sugar options

Freezer Aisle

Frozen foods have also progressed, with more emphasis on healthy options. However, many are still high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat, all of which should be limited on a heart-healthy diet, notes Byrd.

Best frozen options:

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Frozen whole grains, like brown rice
  • Whole-wheat breads and pizza dough
  • Bean- and vegetable-based vegetarian burgers (watch the sodium)
  • Plain frozen fish

Frozen foods to limit:

  • Most frozen dinners
  • Frozen desserts
  • Breaded and fried options


If you’re looking for a sweet treat, dark chocolate, which contains flavonoids, (a phytonutrient linked to reduced risk of heart disease) is a great option (here’s more on why dark chocolate is good for you). Fresh fruit is another good bet. Most other desserts contain a lot of added sugar, which is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. So, desserts should be something to enjoy on occasion or make yourself. Our heart-healthy dessert recipes all have limited saturated fat and sodium and are often made with less sugar and whole grains.


You already know that water is one of the best options for overall health, but what about other drinks? Soda and energy drinks are the biggest contributor to added sugar in Americans’ diets, and should be limited. Diet sodas, made with sugar substitutes, aren’t considered any better for heart health. The research on caffeine and heart health is still up for debate. While too much caffeine can raise blood pressure in some people, coffee and tea contain antioxidants that may be good for your heart.

What about alcohol? Research suggests that people who drink red wine in moderation may be at lower risk for cardiovascular disease, but there isn’t evidence to suggest that you should start drinking red wine if you don’t already drink alcohol.

Best beverage options:

  • Water
  • Unsweetened seltzers
  • Unsweetened tea or coffee
  • Moderate intake of red wine

Beverages to limit or avoid:

  • Sugary beverages
  • Coffee drinks made with cream and sugar or syrups
  • Excessive alcohol

Foods for a Healthy Heart

Heart disease was the No. 1 cause of death in the US in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But researchers continue to learn more about how to prevent cardiovascular disease, which includes both strokes and heart attacks—and it’s clear that healthy eating and living (like exercising more) can make a huge difference.

Here, nutritionists highlighted what you can include in your diet to keep your heart happy for decades to come.

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Salmon and other fatty fish such as sardines and mackerel are the superstars of heart-healthy foods. That’s because they contain copious amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, shown in studies to lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and decrease triglycerides (fat found in blood).

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish and preferably fatty fish at least twice a week. You can also get omega-3-rich fish oils as dietary supplements, though they may not have the DHA and EPA omega-3s specifically found in fatty fish.

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Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol. “It acts as a sponge in the digestive tract and soaks up the cholesterol so it is eliminated from the body and not absorbed into the bloodstream,” Lauren Graf, a registered dietician and co-director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told Health.

Graf recommends avoiding instant oatmeal, which often contains sugar, and heading instead for old-fashioned or even quick-cooking oats.

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Not just blueberries, but strawberries and other berries may lower the risk for heart disease. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Circulation, women aged 25–42 who ate more than three servings of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate less.

The authors of the study attributed the benefit to compounds known as anthocyanins, flavonoids (which are antioxidants) that may decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels. Anthocyanins give plants their red and blue colors.

A 2021 review of studies about berries and heart health published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition suggested that anthocyanin-rich berries can prevent heart diseases by lowering lipids and reducing inflammation in the body.

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Dark chocolate

Some studies have shown that dark chocolate—chocolate made up of at least 60-70% cocoa—may benefit your heart. A review published in 2015 in the journal Vascular Pharmacology acknowledged evidence for several ways dark chocolate could help with heart disease, but cautioned that more studies were needed to confirm and explain the mechanism.

One theory is that dark chocolate contains flavonoids called polyphenols, which may help blood pressure, clotting, and inflammation. Unfortunately, milk chocolate and most candy bars don’t make the grade when it comes to protecting your heart.

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Citrus fruits

People who consume high amounts of the flavonoids found in citrus fruits have a lower risk of stroke and heart disease, according to a 2017 review published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Stick with whole citrus fruits, which also provide filling fiber, or small portions of fresh squeezed or 100% citrus juice. But be aware that grapefruit products may interfere with the action of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, as well as other medications, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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There’s no reason to shun potatoes because they are often considered a “bad” starch. As long as they’re not deep-fried, potatoes can be good for your heart. They’re rich in potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. And they’re high in fiber, which can lower the risk for heart disease.

“They are definitely not a junk food or refined carbohydrate,” said Graf. “They have a lot of health benefits.”

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Like potatoes, tomatoes are high in heart-healthy potassium. Plus, they’re a good source of the antioxidant, lycopene, which have been linked to lower incidence of stroke, according to Harvard Medical School.

Lycopene is a carotenoid that may help lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, keep blood vessels open, and lower heart attack risk. And because they’re low in calories and low in sugar, they don’t detract from an already-healthy diet. “They’re excellent for the body in a number of ways,” said Graf.

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Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, and macadamia nuts, contain good-for-your-heart fiber. They also contain vitamin E, which helps lower bad cholesterol. And some, like walnuts, are high in a type of plant based omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, tied to anti-inflammation and improved circulation.

“Some people in the past have avoided nuts because they’re higher in fat, but most of the studies show that people who consume nuts daily are leaner than people who don’t,” Graf said. And leaner people are at a lower risk for heart problems. Look for varieties that don’t have a lot of added salt.

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Because they come from plants, legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas are an excellent source of protein without a lot of unhealthy fat. A 2017 review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found “moderate evidence” for the benefit of legumes on coronary heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease).

And legumes may help control blood sugar in people with diabetes, according to a 2020 study published in in the journal Nutrients. Lowering blood sugar levels is key in helping people avoid diabetes complications, one of which is heart disease.

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Extra-virgin olive oil

There are many studies that have suggested mechanisms by which extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) helps with the prevention of heart diseases, according to a 2019 review published in the journal Nutrients. This is especially true when EVOO is a supplement to the Mediterranean diet, which is high in grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Olives themselves—both green and black—are another source of “good” fat, said Graf.

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Green tea

Green tea may bring significant health benefits. A 2013 study published in the journal Stroke found that people who drank four or more cups of green tea daily had a 20% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke compared with people who “seldom” consumed the beverage.

A 2018 letter published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reaffirmed these results, suggesting that the heart protection came from polyphenols, antioxidants capable of dissolving a compound that could be one of the major causes of heart disease.

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Broccoli, spinach, and kale

When it comes to your health, you really can’t go wrong with vegetables. But dark green vegetables may give an extra boost to your heart. These are high in carotenoids, which act as antioxidants which counter potentially harmful compounds in your body. They’re also high in fiber and contain tons of vitamins and minerals.

Kale also has some omega-3 fatty acids.

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Another widely consumed beverage—coffee—may also promote heart health. A 2018 review published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases found that coffee led to reductions in heart disease mortality. “Daily consumption of 2 to 5 cups of coffee (16 to 40 oz) with caffeine intakes up to 400 mg/day appears to be safe and is linked with the strongest beneficial effects for the majority of the studied health outcomes,” the authors wrote.

But the news isn’t necessarily a reason to pick up the habit. “If you’re already drinking coffee and enjoying it, continue,” said Graf. “If not, there’s no reason to start.”

One thing to note about caffeine, however: Due to a genetic variant, some people break down caffeine more slowly. When this is the case, it can have a negative impact on heart health. You can get tested, through sites like, though the test isn’t covered by insurance.

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Flax and chia seeds

Flax and chia seeds are high in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. That’s one reason they’re good for your heart. Another reason is their high fiber content.

Plus, there are a million ways to enjoy the seeds. Try them ground up with other heart-healthy foods, such as dried blueberries, cranberries, or oatmeal, or even blended with plant milk and fruit to create a smoothie.

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These soft, tasty fruits have a well-established reputation for providing the body and heart with healthy fats. Like olive oil, they’re rich in monounsaturated fat, which may lower heart disease risk factors, such as cholesterol.

Avocados are also high in antioxidants and in potassium. They can be eaten on their own or blended into guacamole, perhaps with some heart-healthy tomatoes. But don’t overeat avocados—they are high in calories, as well.

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Pomegranates contain numerous antioxidants, including heart-promoting polyphenols and anthocyanins, which may help stave off hardening of the arteries.

A 2021 review published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that pomegranates were preventive for coronary heart disease because they had “potent antioxidant properties.”

But note that it’s important to have variety in your diet. If you don’t like pomegranates or can’t afford them, reach for apples, which also contain plenty of health-promoting compounds, said Graf.

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In addition to their proven ability to reduce total cholesterol, apples help protect the heart due to their prebiotic content. Prebiotics serve as “food” for beneficial bacteria housed in the gut, which are tied to cardiovascular protection.

Additionally, a 2012 study of healthy, middle-aged adults published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that an apple a day habit reduced blood levels of a substance linked to hardening of the arteries by 40% over four weeks. A 2019 literature review in Current Developments in Nutrition supported this evidence.

Chop and add apples to oatmeal or overnight oats at breakfast, slice and add to a garden salad at lunch, dip into almond butter as a snack, or dice and add to a stir-fry at dinner.

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This plant butter, made from ground sesame seeds, contains five grams of plant protein and three grams of healthful fiber per two-tablespoon portion. It also provides a variety of key nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, in addition to antioxidants. The phytosterols in tahini have also been shown to improve artery health, and lower blood cholesterol.

Tahini is a great alternative for those with nut allergies or sensitivities, and it makes a terrific base for creamy, dairy-free dressings and sauces.

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Garlic and onions

Allium vegetables, which include garlic and onions, have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn lowers the risk of artery hardening. The sulphur compounds in these veggies have also been shown to open up blood flow and improve circulation.

This may be why a 2017 study published in the Journal of Hypertension found that adult men and women with a higher habitual intake of allium vegetables had a 64% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease over a six-year period.

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Beetroot is one of the few vegetables that contain important bioactive pigments known as betalains, which provide the beets’ red-violet color. Betalains offer high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities known to protect a variety of systems in the body, including cardiovascular health. The natural nitrates found in beetroot help dilate blood vessels to decrease blood pressure, and may reduce the overstimulation of the nervous system that occurs with heart disease.

Fresh, peeled beets can be thinly sliced or shredded to add to salads, or blended into smoothies. Note: beeturia (red or pinkish urine and stools) may occur after upping your beet intake. It’s harmless, so don’t be startled if you notice this sudden change.

Chili peppers

Chili peppers have been shown to help lower heart disease risk by improving cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and enhancing circulation, as well as combating obesity. These spicy peppers also contain potent anti-inflammatory compounds and are even linked to extending longevity.

Bonus: fresh or dried hot peppers are a smart way to flavor meals without the need to add salt or sugar. Sprinkle a chopped fresh or some dried chili pepper onto anything from black bean soup to hummus, potatoes, and sautéed veggies.

The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the keys to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease. It’s not as hard as you may think!  Remember, it’s the overall pattern of your choices that counts. Make the simple steps below part of your life for long-term benefits to your health and your heart.

Use up at least as many calories as you take in.

  • Start by knowing how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. Nutrition and calorie information on food labels is typically based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. You may need fewer or more calories depending on several factors including age, gender, and level of physical activity.
  • Increase the amount and intensity of your physical activity to burn more calories.
  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) each week.

Regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lose and reach physical and cardiovascular fitness. If it’s hard to schedule regular exercise, look for ways to build short bursts of activity into your daily routine such as parking farther away and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Ideally, your activity should be spread throughout the week.

Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes:

  • a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains and products made up mostly of whole grains
  • healthy sources of protein (mostly plants such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy; and, if you eat meat and poultry, ensuring it is lean and unprocessed)
  • liquid non-tropical vegetable oils
  • minimally processed foods
  • minimized intake of added sugars
  • foods prepared with little or no salt
  • limited or preferably no alcohol intake

Apply this guidance wherever food is prepared or consumed.

It is possible to follow a heart-healthy dietary pattern regardless of whether food is prepared at home, ordered in a restaurant or online, or purchased as a prepared meal. Read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list on packaged food labels to choose those with less sodium, added sugars and saturated fat. Look for the Heart-Check mark to find foods that have been certified by the American Heart Association as heart-healthy. 

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