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Whip up heart-healthy meals with the right groceries and gear

Many people consider the kitchen the heart of the home. Well, here's a question: Just how heart-healthy is your kitchen?

Stock your pantry, fridge and cupboards with the good things your heart deserves, from nutritious foods to handy cooking tools. They can help you eat healthier — and may lower your risk of heart disease.

Five for life It takes a balanced assortment of foods to supply a heart-smart kitchen. So, where do you start? On your next shopping trip, focus in on these five love-your-heart food groups:

1. Fruits and veggies. For a wide range of nutrients and other valuable compounds, go for a colorful medley of fresh produce. You have so many options, too, from gorgeous green spinach to brilliant orange peppers to deep-purple berries — and everything in between.

You can also stock up on fruits and vegetables that are frozen, canned or dried. Look for products that don't have added sodium, fat or sugar.

2. Whole grains. Select whole-grain breads, pastas, tortillas and breakfast cereals. Other options to embrace wholeheartedly: brown rice, wild rice, bulgur, quinoa and oatmeal.

3. Lean proteins. Smart choices include skinless poultry, seafood, and lean cuts of other meats, such as round or loin. Some varieties of fish — such as salmon and trout — offer heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, too.*

And how about being ready with a few meatless protein choices? You might choose beans for chili, tofu for a quick stir-fry, or a variety of unsalted nuts and seeds for a handy snack.

4. Healthy oils. Reach for unsaturated, heart-healthy vegetable oils, such as olive, canola, corn, safflower or sunflower. But remember, they're still high in calories — so use them with a light hand.

5. Low-fat dairy products. Go fat-free or low-fat when it comes to milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy choices.

Gear up! Over time, you might also want to add a few kitchen items that can make it easier to cook the heart-smart way — with less sodium and fat, for example. Here are a few wish-list-worthy tools:

  • Kitchen scissors for cutting up fresh herbs

  • Veggie steamer

  • Nonstick pans

  • Grill pan — or roasting pan with a grate for collecting fat drippings

  • Oil spray bottle for misting salads and pans

  • Spice rack filled with flavorful, salt-free seasonings

  • Citrus zester

  • Garlic press

*Certain people need to be cautious about mercury exposure. This includes women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children. Learn more at Search for "mercury in fish."

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