AUSTIN, Texas (February 1, 2004) With hearts top of mind, February is an excellent time to focus on the physical health of the heart — both your own and those of the people you love. To help shoppers, Jody Villecco, in-house nutritionist at Whole Foods Market, has come up with a list of heart-friendly foods.

“Scientific research has shown us that what we eat can significantly influence the health of our hearts,” said Villecco. “At Whole Foods Market, we developed an easy guide to help shoppers discover a wide variety of tasty foods that are particularly supportive of your heart's natural functions and easy to fit into any lifestyle.”

The line-up from the guide, which is available at www.wholefoodsmarket.com, includes:

Fish:

Evidence showing that fatty fish benefits heart health keeps getting stronger and stronger. Many researchers believe that it is the omega-3 “essential” fatty acids that are responsible for these benefits. Two important omega-3 fatty acids include DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), both of which are found fatty cold-water fish like salmon. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends people eat two servings of fatty fish a week to maintain heart health.*

Fruits:

While all fruits play their part, red berries like raspberries and cranberries are some superstars with special heart-enhancing benefits. These colorful little fruits are renowned for their high antioxidant activity, which is attributed to flavonoid compounds called anthocyanins and quercetin. A higher intake of red berries helps maintain higher levels of antioxidants in blood, which can boost cardio protection overall. Due to how flavonoids metabolize in the body, they should be consumed frequently in order to maximize their beneficial effects. Pomegranates are packed with antioxidants, including anthocyanins and ellagic acid and modern studies have shown that just two ounces of pomegranate juice daily keeps the cardiovascular system, including arteries, healthy. Consuming two to three nutrient-dense kiwis daily can significantly protect heart health, according to promising new research. Additionally, choosing organic fruits may have even more benefits according to new research by The Organic Center for Education and Promotion, which found that antioxidant levels were about 30 percent higher in organic food compared to conventional food grown under the same conditions, especially fresh produce.

Vegetables:

Packed with nourishing vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, it's no secret that vegetables are good for your heart. Vegetables with lutein and carotene are especially beneficial. Lutein is a carotene-type antioxidant well known for its ability to benefit eye health. New research indicates that lutein can also benefit heart health by keeping arteries healthy. Additional research has shown people with the highest levels of blood carotenes have the best cardio-protection. Lutein can be found in kale, spinach and avocadoes, while carotenes are present in carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes and spinach.

Olive Oil:

A mainstay of the celebrated Mediterranean diet, olive oil contains predominately heart-friendly monounsaturated fat, which is known to nourish heart health. Studies show that olive oil supports healthy cholesterol levels and protects LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein or “bad”) cholesterol from harmful oxidation.

Red Wine and Grape Juice:

Studies show that regular, moderate consumption of red wine enhances heart health. Whether a result of the alcohol content or the antioxidant-rich flavonoid (resveratrol) content is up for debate, but it is certain that red wine helps maintain normal cholesterol levels and healthy circulation. Moderate consumption is defined as one to two glasses daily for men and one for women. Similar beneficial effects have been observed for Concord grape juice, a great choice for those who wish to avoid alcohol.

Tea:

Exceptionally high in flavonoids called catechins, green and black tea protect heart health mainly due to antioxidant content. The evidence suggests that tea catechins decrease the oxidation of LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein or “bad”) cholesterol which, in turn, positively affects the cardiovascular system. For those who are watching their caffeine intake, hibiscus tea may be a good substitute for green or black teas. Shown in preliminary research to keep cholesterol levels healthy, hibiscus contains similar beneficial compounds, called flavonoids, as red wine and tea.

Nuts:

Studies have consistently shown all varieties of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and cashews, are an excellent choice for people trying to improve heart health through diet. When nuts are eaten on a regular basis, heart health is thought to improve because arteries and cholesterol levels are kept normal. And although nuts are high in fat, they contain primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, and have not been shown to promote weight gain when eaten in moderation-about a small handful five times a week. In addition, many nuts are filled with important nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E and magnesium. This is good news for your heart and your waistline, so don't feel guilty about snacking on nuts.

Chocolate:

In recent years, chocolate has gained the reputation of a heart-supportive food, due to its antioxidant-rich flavonoid content. It is, however, important to realize that maximum benefits can only be attributed to dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. Significantly higher in flavonoids, dark chocolate has been shown in numerous studies to benefit many different aspects of heart health, including good circulation and antioxidant protection. And although it contains primarily saturated fat, dark chocolate is thought to have a neutral effect on cholesterol levels. As an added bonus, micronutrients, including magnesium and copper, are concentrated in dark chocolate.

Ginger:

This fragrant and versatile herb common in ethnic dishes is also a boon to heart health. Shown in studies to keep cholesterol levels healthy and to prevent the oxidation of LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein or “bad”) cholesterol, there are many ways to add fresh, pickled or crystallized ginger to your diet.

More details on this line up of foods along with serving suggestions, tips and recipes can be found at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthinfo/healthyheart.html *Mercury and Pregnancy. Levels of mercury, which is found in water from naturally occurring sources as well as industrial pollution, tend to be higher in long-lived, larger fish having more dark meat, particularly shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. The FDA has advised pregnant women (along with nursing mothers and young children) to avoid eating these types of fish out of concern that mercury in them may harm a baby's developing nervous system. If they choose from a variety of shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish, or farm-raised fish, pregnant women can safely eat 12 ounces per week of cooked fish.