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Bar Food That’s Good for Your Heart (Seriously!)

1. Choose tortilla chips Corn and tortilla chips may not sound heart-friendly, but a University of Alabama study found that

1. Choose tortilla chips

Corn and tortilla chips may not sound heart-friendly, but a University of Alabama study found that they can be a better choice than some other healthy-sounding foods. Researchers asked 45 men and women to snack on corn and tortilla chips fried in polyunsaturated fat-rich corn oil for 25 days, then switched the group to low-fat snacks such as fat-free cookies and cereal bars for a similar period. The men and women lowered their “bad” LDL cholesterol on both diets, but their triglycerides dropped while they were snacking on chips. (Note: the corn oil was not the partially hydrogenated variety commonly used in processed foods.) If you’re watching your salt intake, choose low-salt chips.

2. Dip in guacamole

Adding sliced avocado to salad greens and vegetables makes their nutrients easier to absorb. In one study, Ohio State University researchers asked healthy volunteers to eat salsa with and without mashed avocado. In another part of the experiment, they fed the men and women a simple green salad with and without avocado. Blood samples showed that when avocado was included, the volunteers absorbed nearly 4.5 more times lycopene, a compound that may guard against some cancers; 5 times more lutein, which combats macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness; and up to 7 times more alpha-carotene and 15 times more beta-carotene, which together protect against heart disease and cancer.

3. Ask for hot sauce

Experts like to say that there are no magic foods, but new research suggests that vinegar and lemon juice come pretty close. Add just a tablespoon to any meal containing carbohydrate and it could lower the glycemic rating by 20 to 40 percent. Chalk it up to acidity, which seems to slow the digestion of carbs. Red and white vinegars can both pull off this stunt, though red-wine and balsamic vinegars are the types most likely to complement your cooking. A tablespoon for salad dressing (mixed with some olive oil) is a simple way to add vinegar. Many Italian dishes call for balsamic vinegar in the sauce. Lemon and lime can add flavor to numerous dishes, like chicken piccata, asparagus with lemon, fish with lemon, and lime in guacamole. No obvious way to work in these flavors? There’s another source of vinegar in your kitchen: Tabasco, or any of the other similar hot sauces.

4. Potato skins are good for you

You don’t have to give up tubers completely. If you mash potatoes, leave the skins on. Baking them? Eat the outside, too. The potato skin contains many good nutrients such as vitamin C and potassium, not to mention fiber that slows down their digestion. Russet potatoes even deliver a wallop of antioxidants. They’re also high on the glycemic load scale, but varieties such as new and red potatoes actually have a fairly low score and fit well within the Healthy Heart Miracle Diet. Sweet potatoes are another excellent choice because of their low glycemic index (despite their sweet taste). Another way to keep your mashed potatoes low on the glycemic load scale is to mix in some greens such as spinach, kale, or chard. Cook the greens first and mix them with the mashed potatoes just before serving.

Advice: Load the crispy skins up with sautéed veggies and top lightly with cheese, salsa and low-fat sour cream. Try Crisped Potato Skins With Veggie Salsa.

5. Chocolate is on the menu

It seems completely counterintuitive: Fat contains twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein. Yet new research suggests that MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) not only don’t make you fat but they may help defend your body against the worst kind of flab: visceral fat deep in your abdomen. For example, some studies suggest that the body burns MUFAs—especially the kind in olive oil—faster than saturated fat. Whether that means eating more MUFAs will help you lose weight remains controversial. However, in a small 2007 study by Australian researchers, overweight people given a high-carb diet were more likely to pack on belly flab than others who ate a diet with the same calorie content but that was high in MUFAs. Try this Toasted Almond and Chocolate Souffle Cake.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest