Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in industrialized nations. While genetics often play a part in developing it, many of the factors that contribute to heart disease are lifestyle related. In a recent study it was determined that 90 percent of cardiovascular disease is caused by diet and lifestyle choices that could be changed.

The good news is there are many ways to care for our hearts. Exercise, a peaceful home environment, enjoyable recreation, and meaningful work all contribute to keeping our hearts young and healthy.

And our diets are one of the primary ways we can affect our heart health. Here are some plant-based foods that will help your heart stay vital and strong.

1. Olive Oil

Olive oil helps protect the heart by raising HDL cholesterol levels the kind we want more of in our bloodstreams and lowering LDL levels the kind that create blocked arteries and weaker hearts.

2. Apples

Apples are like superhero fuel for the heart. In the multi-decade Iowa Womens Health Study, apples were found to lower the risk of death from both heart disease and cardiovascular disease.

Apples provide pectin, a kind of soluble fiber that draws cholesterol out of the body so it cannot be absorbed and cause trouble. They are also infused with antioxidant flavanoid compounds such as quercetin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, and kaempferol, which keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. It is oxidation that causes LDL to transform into the plaque that builds up in arteries.

These flavanoids also reduce inflammation and protect the heart from free radical damage.

3. Yams

Yams, along with carrots and other yellow-orange foods, provide carotenoids. Carotenoids help protect the heart from cholesterol. Chopping and cooking these foods makes the carotenoids more bio-available, as does consuming them with fat.

Yams are also very high in potassium. Potassium is essential for maintaining normal heart function and sodium levels. It helps the kidneys release excess sodium, which maintains healthy blood pressure.

4. Nuts

Nuts, especially raw soaked walnuts and almonds, support the heart with a variety of phyto-sterols, magnesium, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

5. Black and Kidney Beans

Dark colored beans contain flavanoids that inhibit adhesion of platelets in blood. This means there is a reduced likelihood of blood clotting and artery blocking.

Beans are also high in B complex vitamins, niacin, folate, and soluble fiber. In addition to drawing cholesterol out of the body, soluble fiber can actually inhibit formation of cholesterol in the first place as it ferments in the intestines.

6. Cacao

Raw cacao is high in catechins, which boost nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels and interferes with the inflammation process, especially in the gums. Protecting the gums is a crucial part of protecting the heart, as gum disease is a major contributor to heart disease. Green tea is also high in catechins.

A little goes a long way with both of these medicinal foods. Just one cup of green tea or a few ounces of pure raw cacao powder daily provides plenty of these catechins, without too much caffeine stimulation.

7. Tomato

Tomatoes are high in the carotenoid lycopene, which directly contributes to heart health. They are also high in vitamins C, A, potassium, and fiber.

8. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, which help lower LDL levels and raise HDL levels. They also decrease triglyceride levels and lower blood pressure. They can even inhibit the growth of arterial plaque.

Other land sources of omega-3s include flax seeds and walnuts, but the foods with the highest concentration of the omega-3s we need the most EPA and DHA come from the sea.

9. Berries

Berries are so good for us for so many reasons. In addition to being full of an array of vitamins, they contain polyphenols such as ellagic acid and flavanoids like anthocyanins. Polyphenols relax blood vessels, which lowers blood pressure. Cranberries, blueberries, and black raspberries have the highest antioxidant activity, though pomegranates rate even higher.

In truth, many plant foods contribute to heart health. The key is to fill your plate with a variety of color from living foods, eating primarily fresh whole vegetables, fruit, soaked raw nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and some whole grains. Remember to relax, get plenty of exercise, and make time for laughter and play.

Staying young at heart is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. If you are truly enjoying life and nourishing your body and spirit in all ways, then your heart is much more likely to remain strong and vibrant.