We all know that too much saturated fat and cholesterol from the likes of cheeseburgers and french fries can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks and even heart disease. But when it comes to heart health, what you eat is just as important as what you don’t eat.

“Eating unhealthy foods too often can cause plaque to build up in your arteries over time and deteriorate your heart’s important functions,” says John Quinn, registered dietitian nutritionist, director of Food and Nutrition at Southern Ocean Medical Center. “Certain nutrient-rich foods can have the opposite effect, helping protect your body from conditions like heart disease.”

Incorporate these five superfoods into your diet for maximum heart health.

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  1. Dark chocolate is the sweetest treat, but eat it in moderation, says Irene Yu, M.S., registered dietitian nutritionist and clinical nutrition manager at Bayshore Medical Center. About 1 ounce of dark chocolate a few times a week can improve circulation, decrease inflammation and protect against the oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Dark chocolate is also rich in soluble fiber and minerals like iron, magnesium and copper. Look for dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 70 percent or higher.
  2. Dark leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard and spinach aren’t just for a bowl of salad. They can be sautéed, stir-fried or roasted. Full of vitamins A, C and K (which plays an integral role in blood clotting), dark leafy greens also have dietary fiber that can lower cholesterol and give you a sharper memory. About 1.3 servings of greens (a half-cup cooked or a full cup raw) are the suggested amount to consume each day.
  3. Whole grains such as whole oats, brown rice, popcorn and oatmeal can lead to better heart health, says Robyn Unrath, M.S., registered dietitian nutritionist at Palisades Medical Center. Three important parts of whole grains—bran, germ and starchy endosperm—each provide dietary fiber and keep your arteries healthy. Whole grains also support digestion and can reduce chronic inflammation. To reduce your risk of heart disease, consume at least 25 grams of whole grains per day.
  4. Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries contain high amounts of fiber, antioxidants, iron, and vitamins A and C. These berries can also increase “good” HDL cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. A cup of blueberries or eight medium-sized strawberries three times a week can help widen arteries, prevent plaque buildup and aid with your heart’s blood flow.
  5. Fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, sea bass and albacore tuna each contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. You should aim to eat this type of fish at least twice a week at a serving size of 3.5 ounces cooked or about ¾ cup of flaked fish. Options abound: You can bake, grill, steam or broil fatty fish in order to fully enjoy all of its nutrients.

Learn more about nutrition and the best foods to maximize your health.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.