A healthy diet is a useful and effective tool in preventing cardiovascular damage and slowing your progress along the cardiovascular continuum. Healthy eating should focus on reducing the three main risk factors: high salt, which can lead to hypertension; high blood cholesterol, which can lead to atherosclerosis; and high caloric content, which can lead to excess weight and further stress on the cardiovascular system. Start by reviewing all the foods you regularly consume during the course of a week, and rate the items for their nutritional value. By doing so, you can make decisions about how best to change and improve your diet. In general, processed and fast foods are poor choices as they are high in salt, calories, triglycerides, and saturated fats - a form of fat that is usually solid at room temperature. All animal fats are saturated and can increase blood cholesterol levels. It is always a good idea to read the packaging labels and be more aware of your choices; most brands offer low-salt, low-sugar, and/or additive-free options. Alternatively, use fresh ingredients and prepare the food yourself so that you can control the portion size and the nutritional content. Instead of getting protein from red meat, which is high in cholesterol and saturated fats, consider substituting poultry, legumes, soy products, or fish. Fish such as trout, salmon, tuna, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which make blood less likely to clot, thus lowering the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. Omega-3 fatty acids also lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and increase "good" HDL cholesterol levels.