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The heart of your home

The food in your kitchen affects your heart health. Here's what you should have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer

You have a living room, family room and formal dining room, and yet everyone always seems to gather in the kitchen. You may call it the heart of your home, but is your kitchen healthy for your heart?

You know that homemade meals are generally healthier than the ones you'd find in restaurants, but that doesn't mean everything that comes out of your oven is nutritious and heart-healthy. The key to preparing low-fat, low-sodium meals is stocking your kitchen with healthy ingredients.

According to nutrition experts, people who have ingredients on hand that can be used to make a meal are typically less tempted to buy fast food or eat out. To help you resist, here are some items you should always have in your kitchen.

Pantry

CEREAL Low in fat, cereal is a great snack or meal anytime of day. But some cereals contain lots of sugar. Choose varieties that have fewer than 15 grams of sugar and more than 4 grams of fiber.

CANNED GOODS Plenty of nutritious foods—soups, vegetables and sauces—come in cans. Just beware of too much sodium.

OIL Choose varieties, such as extra-virgin olive oil, that are rich in monounsaturated fat, which has been found to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol.

SNACKS Heart-healthy options include unsalted almonds, popcorn and dried fruit. But remember that even good-for-you snacks can rack up the calories if you eat too much. Read the label, parcel out individual portions and limit yourself to only one serving at a time.

Refrigerator

DAIRY Choose low-fat varieties of milk, yogurt and cheese, and manage portions.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES Fill your fridge with produce representing each color of the rainbow. If your favorite fruits and veggies are out of season, check the freezer section.

CONDIMENTS Marinades, dressings and sauces can allow you to take the skin off meat and still add flavor. But look out for high amounts of sodium and fat.

DRINKS Opt for sugar-free beverages like iced tea and club soda. And don't forget the obvious: plain old water. If that's too bland, then flavor your H2O with fruit juice.

EGGS Surprised to see them on the list? Don't be. Healthy individuals can have up to one egg yolk per day. They're a good source of nutrients and protein, and they're inexpensive.

Freezer

LEAN MEAT Buy meat ahead of time and freeze it to ensure you always have dinner on hand. Chicken breasts and turkey sausage are lean options that thaw quickly.

FROZEN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES Frozen fruits and vegetables contain the same vitamins and nutrients as fresh. And they're convenient, especially when certain fruits and vegetables are out of season.

CONVENIENCE FOODS You'd be hard-pressed to find a freezer in America that doesn't contain at least one microwaveable meal. Choose brands that are low in fat and sodium. Better yet, make your own. When cooking dinner, make extra servings and freeze leftovers in individual containers.

TREATS Eating for your heart doesn't mean you can't also appease your sweet tooth. Buy individually frozen fruit bars or reduced-fat ice cream or yogurt. Freeze grapes or berries for a sweet summer snack.

Spice Cabinet

FROM TARRAGON TO THYME Using spices is a great way to flavor food without adding fat or sodium. Including a variety of them will help perk up healthy foods that people might not otherwise eat.

BLENDS AND RUBS Be cautious about using these prepared flavor enhancers. They can contain a lot of salt. Look for low-sodium kinds and use them sparingly.

Breadbox

WHOLE GRAINS From buns to bread loaves, be sure they're all made with whole grains. Whole-grain products are rich in fiber, which has been found to improve heart health by lowering cholesterol.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009