By Don Vaughan

The human heart is a remarkable machine, pumping blood through our bodies at an astonishing 85,000 beats a day. But like all machines, the heart must be well-maintained to function properly. Without care, heart disease becomes a very real possibility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 27.6 million adults have been diagnosed with heart disease in the U.S. and nearly 610,000 people die from it every year, making it the No. 1 cause of death in both men and women. However, there are several steps you can take to maintain your heart health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, no matter your age.

Be aware of when you eat.

Research by the American Heart Association (AHA) strongly suggests that when we eat matters just as much as what we eat (diet is one of seven factors that can make or break your heart health) when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart. The reason? Our organs have their own “clocks,” which might affect how our bodies process food throughout the day, explains Marie-Pierre St-Onge, lead author of the AHA scientific statement.

The AHA recommends you consume a good amount of your daily calories in the morning. This makes sense because several studies have found breakfast eaters tend to weigh less, have better blood pressure, and have a lower risk of heart disease and other illnesses than those who skip breakfast. For best results, pile your breakfast plate high with fresh fruit, whole grain bread, low-fat yogurt, and other healthful items, while keeping the bacon to a minimum.  

Eat nuts.

Not only are nuts tasty, but they're also rich in unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and other healthful compounds, all of which work together to reduce your risk of coronary heat disease, stroke, and other health issues.

Researchers with Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted a meta-analysis of 29 existing studies from around the world and found that as little as 20 grams of nuts a day - equal to a handful - can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 30 percent, the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21 percent, and the risk of all cancers by 15 percent. Tree nuts - including almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, and walnuts - are your best bet. Peanuts, which actually are legumes, also are a good heart-healthy choice. Because nuts are high in calories, make sure to consume them in moderation and stick to the recommended serving size.

Add red cabbage microgreens to your diet.

Microgreens are seedlings of edible plants such as basil and kale that, until recently, primarily were used as garnish in fancy restaurants. We now know microgreens are packed with essential nutrients such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, and that red cabbage microgreens in particular might be able to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave red cabbage microgreens to mice that were fed a high-fat diet and saw a significant reduction in circulating LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad” cholesterol that can boost one's risk of heart attack and stroke. The microgreens also reduced levels of dangerous triglycerides in the liver, the researchers reported.

Watch your consumption of saturated fat.

Americans love their saturated fat - the kind found in butter, red meat, lard, and dairy fat - even though it can raise our risk of coronary heart disease significantly. However, you can reduce that risk by as much as 8 percent simply by replacing 1 percent of saturated fat with healthier fats, whole grains, and plant proteins, report researchers with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

According to senior author Dr. Qi Sun, assistant professor in the school's Department of Nutrition, the findings of the study corroborate current USDA guidelines regarding the consumption of saturated fat. Healthful alternatives include vegetable cooking oils rich in polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats and low-fat dairy products.

Go back to school.

According to researchers with the Sax Institute in Australia, there is a significant link between lower education and a higher risk of heart attack or stroke. Analysts followed 267,153 men and women over age 45 for five years and found the heart attack rate among those without a college education was more than double that of people who had a university degree. The risk was around two-thirds higher among subjects with intermediate levels of education.     

How can graduating college help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke? By influencing the type of job you have, where you live, what food choices you make and other life decisions, reports Kerry Doyle, CEO of the Heart Foundation New South Wales in Australia.

Need a little extra help tracking and understanding your hearth health? Then check out these 12 heart health apps.