Eating heart-healthy foods doesn’t have to be a punishment. Here are ten favorite foods and a couple of easy recipes that will put a smile on your face and help lower your heart disease risks.
Why eat heart-healthy foods?
Every 36 seconds, a person in the United States dies of heart disease. Many of these deaths are due to poor dietary choices. Americans consume, on average, 3,600 calories a day which is roughly 1000 calories more than our average daily requirements. These extra calories–often from unhealthy foods–helps to contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Making healthy food choices not only puts the right nutrition into your body but, by default, reduces your caloric intake. When you combine healthy food choices with activities that improve your health, you are setting yourself up for success and will improve your heart health.
Free from fat but still has a cost.
Even with healthier food choices, you can overeat and become overweight. Remember, in the late 1980s, when we were introduced to “Fat-Free,” and everyone jumped on the bandwagon? Consequently, people continued to gain weight. They didn’t realize they were substituting fat (and the flavor attributed to fat) for other unhealthy ingredients, like sugar, sodium, and artificial flavoring. Additionally, we began eating more because, well, it’s “Fat-Free,” assuming they were lower calorie. But the reality was, the food had the same if not more calories as the full-fat versions. Remember Snackwell Cookies?
Heart-healthy foods: Calories are not created equal.
Not all calories are created equal. Some foods are highly caloric and therefore pack a lot of energy (calories) into a very small amount of food. Still, your body interprets that large volume of calories in a short period as “surplus” and stores the energy in the form of body fat. For instance, 100 calories of Apple is about one medium apple. But, 100 calories of potato chips is about nine chips! Who eats just nine chips?
Ten heart-healthy foods
Meals don’t have to be boring and tasteless. Our top ten foods for healthy hearts can be incorporated into countless recipes that yield amazingly tasty dishes. Word to the wise, portion control is also important when eating healthy foods. Eating a whole box of Ghirardelli dark chocolates is not going to move you toward a healthy heart. So practice moderation
An Avocado isn’t a fruit or a vegetable; it’s classified as a berry! It’s also very good for your heart. Avocados are high-calorie. Most of their calories come from the higher fat content (30 grams per serving). Fat in avocados is healthy when consumed in moderation. Avocados are a great source of natural fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.
Beans, legumes, or Edamame (soybeans)
Beans are an excellent food source. Beans naturally resist digestion and ferment in our digestive tract. This fermentation process aids in the breakdown and metabolizing of beans. The fermenting process improves our digestion and the microbiota that live in our guts.
There was a study done that tracked the cholesterol in participants’ blood. Participants who ate pinto beans saw a significant reduction in serum TC and LDL-C.
Soybeans, or Edamame, are rich in isoflavones that help reduce cholesterol levels. Soy is also a good source of dietary fiber and antioxidants.
Berries are a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Also, berries are packed with antioxidants like anthocyanins that help reduce inflammation and heart disease. Another study showed that eating strawberries helped reduce LDL Cholesterol levels.
Decadent Dark Chocolate!
Another healthier dessert or treat choice is dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has antioxidants that help reduce the risk of heart disease. The downside to chocolate is it usually comes with high sugar and calorie counts and should be eaten in moderation. If you have diabetes, consult your physician before incorporating dark chocolate into your diet.
Fatty fish is a good dietary option for improving their heart health. Fatty fish is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and many vitamins and minerals. How you prepare your fish can neutralize the health benefits if you choose to fry fish in oil or serve it with decadent sauces like Hollandaise. Fish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, halibut, and trout.
Green Leafy Vegetables
“Eat your vegetables!” Leafy vegetables like kale or spinach are full of beneficial vitamins and minerals considered heart-healthy foods. Green leafy vegetables are a healthy source of fiber and help contribute to the sensation of being full–thus reducing our caloric intake. Making a salad for a meal is a wonderful way to incorporate leafy vegetables into your diet so long as you go light on the cheese, croutons, and dressing!
Nuts like Walnuts and Almonds
Nuts are a great energy source (high calorie) and should be eaten in moderation. Studies have shown that tree nuts have a positive impact on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Nuts are full of healthy fats, minerals, and nutrients attributed to healthy heart care. Did you know that just ten almonds can equal close to 70 calories?
Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which contribute to heart health. This versatile oil can be used in cooking, baking, and even dressing your green leafy salad! Olive oil contains oleic acid, which is also beneficial to healthy hearts, and studies have shown it can aid in reducing heart disease.
Tomatoes are loaded with antioxidants and lycopene–a plant pigment with antioxidant properties. Along with vitamins and minerals, these nutrients help increase HDL (good) cholesterol and can aid in the reduction of free radicals in your blood system–helping to improve your heart health. Additionally, tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in home gardens!
Whole grains like whole wheat, oats, rye, barley, brown rice, and quinoa are good substitutes for refined grains. Whole grains are best defined as grains that still include their germ, endosperm, and bran. Their counterparts are considered processed grains like all-purpose flour and white rice. Whole grains provide fiber and protective coatings, which require our bodies to work “a little bit harder” to digest and activate the good bacteria in our system. Studies have been done that suggest eating whole grains can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 22%.
Final thoughts about heart-healthy foods.
No matter how old you are or your current heart health condition, it’s never too late to adopt healthier eating habits. Learning to substitute unhealthy options for healthy foods takes some time to adjust and build new habits, but the outcome is worth it. If you consider changing your diet, please consult your Primary Care physician first. They can ensure you are on the right path to a healthier heart.