The connection between a nutritious diet and a healthy heart just became even clearer. A recent study by the University of Washington found that almost half of deaths from cardiovascular disease can be prevented by changing what you put on your plate.

To make those choices easier, researchers also identified several of the leading risk factors and measured how much they contribute to the likelihood of heart conditions and stroke.

It's a big deal when you consider that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the US and worldwide. Find out which dietary changes will have the biggest impact on helping you to lead a longer and more active life.

Top Dietary Factors for a Healthy Heart

1. Go nuts. The single most effective step you can take is eating more nuts and seeds. They reduce 11.6% of the risk of CVD death.

2. Eat more vegetables. Vegetables were close behind. Aim for at least 7 servings a day of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits.

3. Choose whole grains. Enjoy whole-grain bread, oatmeal, and brown rice. They have more protein and fiber than refined grains. Plus, they're more filling, so you'll probably feel satisfied with fewer calories.

4. Limit salt. Excess sodium increases blood pressure, and the symptoms are often invisible. Substitute lemon, garlic, and other flavorful herbs and spices.

5. Eliminate trans-fatty acids. Trans-fats raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy HDL cholesterol. You can avoid them by eating fewer processed foods, especially those that list partially hydrogenated oils in their ingredients.

More Habits for a Healthy Heart

1. Try a Mediterranean diet. Following a Mediterranean diet guarantees heart-healthy choices. This diet consists of mostly plant-based foods, along with fish and moderate amounts of red wine.

2. Increase omega-3s. However you eat, consider adding at least 2 servings of fish a week to your diet, especially fatty types like salmon and tuna. If you're a vegetarian, rely on flax seeds, walnuts, and beans for your omega-3 fatty acids.

3. Quit smoking. Talk with your doctor if you're having trouble giving up tobacco on your own. Your physician can help you understand your options, including nicotine-replacement devices and support programs.

4. Use alcohol in moderation. Small quantities of alcohol may actually be good for your heart. That means up to 2 cocktails a day for men and one for women.

5. Turn off the TV. Couch potatoes are at higher risk of heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Limit your daily viewing to 2 hours or less.

6. Exercise regularly. Physical activity makes your muscles stronger, and that includes your heart. Enjoy aerobic exercise, stretching, and resistance training. Design workouts that you love and will want to stick with.

7. Lose weight. Being overweight puts an extra strain on your heart, especially if those excess pounds are mostly around your waist. Slim down by eating less and exercising more. Ask your family and friends for support. They may even want to join you. Losing just 10% of your body weight can greatly enhance your cardiovascular wellbeing.

8. Manage stress. How you deal with stress can also take a toll on your heart if you reach for junk foods, beer, and cigarettes. Learn to relax more safely with meditation, stimulating hobbies, and gentle music.

Cutting your risk of cardiovascular conditions in half is one more worthy reason for eating a balanced diet and making other simple lifestyle changes. Take care of your heart by consuming more nuts, vegetables, and whole grains, and cutting back on empty calories.

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