Heart related diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol may not be discussed often but these issues are more prevalent than you’d think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. No matter your age, it’s never too early or too late to begin making healthier choices that may prevent or reduce your chances of heart related diseases and medical issues (like obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity).
After losing my father to heart related disease, I researched both sides of my family’s medical history and examined my eating habits to see if I was at risk for any of the illnesses that plagued my family. I also scheduled an appointment with my doctor to voice my concerns. Although I do not have any signs of heart disease or diabetes, I still took matters in my own hands by trying to eat foods with nutrients that will supplement my body’s makeup.
After researching some heart healthy foods and speaking with my local dietician, I wanted to share a list of the healthiest foods (along with meal ideas) for the heart in hopes you can incorporate these items into your daily life as well.
“It’s never too early or too late to begin watching our health,” said Lori Graff, a registered dietician and licensed dietician for Hy-Vee. “Start by avoiding empty calorie foods like sugars, fast food, refined, or processed foods that have no nutrients.”
1. Fruits and Vegetables
Source: The Green Life
The American Heart Association recommends at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day. This may sound like a lot, but think of the many ways you could eat more fruits or vegetables throughout the day—it’s eaiser than you think! Incorporating fruits and vegetables into your daily life can lower your risk of heart disease and strokes, in addition to many other health benefits.
In particular, these fruits and vegetables are especially high in antioxidants and are very heart healthy:
• apples, bananas, blueberries, blackberries, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, oranges, pineapples, raspberries and strawberries
• carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, red, yellow, orange and green peppers, corn, spinach, kale
– Add chopped vegetables to your omelettes; sauté and add to your breakfast sandwich; eat them in a rice/breakfast bowl
– Add whole or diced fruit to Greek yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal; add them to a smoothie; eat them plain as a side
• Bircher Muesli via Lauren Caris Cooks
• Berry Smoothie Parfait + Quick Stovetop Granola via The Green Life
• Maple Spiced Chia Overnight Oats via Whole Food Bellies
• Classic Omelette with Vegetable Fillings via Epicurious
• Brussels Sprout Breakfast Hash via How Sweet Eats
For lunch or dinner:
– Adding vegetables to your lunch or dinner is extremely easy to do. Add them to your sandwiches, soups, and most obviously, salads.
– Add fruits as a healthy side to your lunch or dinner dishes or add them to salads.
• Summer Panzanella Salad via Goop
• Winter Salad with Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes via Eat In Eat Out
• Honey Mustard Brussels Sprout and Broccoli Salad via The Whole Bite
• Roasted Garlic and Tomato Lentil Salad via Wendy Polisi
• Easy Mediterranean Kale Farro Salad via Bessie Bakes
2. Whole Grain, Fiber, and Nuts
Source: Fogwood & Fig
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, corn, and other cereal is a grain product. Whole grain foods are made from the entire grain (bran and germ), where refined grains have been milled down and during the process, the bran and germ is removed. Many whole grains are a great source of dietary fiber, which may help improve blood cholesterol levels and help lower heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes if part of an overall diet.
According to the AHA, dietary fiber is classified as insoluble or soluble. Soluble fiber has been associated with decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fats and trans fats. Insoluble fiber has been associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and slower progression of cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals. A serving size of whole grains per day depends on your age, weight, and health, but the AHA recommends that at least half of the grains you eat are whole grains.
• whole wheat / graham flour
• oatmeal / whole oats
• brown / wild rice
• whole grain breads and pastas
Soluble / Insoluble Fibers:
• legumes, peas, beans
• wheat, rye, rice
– Incorporate whole grains into your breakfast by adding a slice of whole grain bread, whole oats, or using whole wheat flour to make pancakes, waffles or muffins.
• Spelt Pancakes, Anise and Berry Sauce via Fogwood & Fig
• Savory Winter Breakfast Bowl with Sausage, Swiss Chard + Soft Boiled Egg via A Better Happier St. Sebastian
• Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins via Back to Her Roots
• Avocado Toast with Turkey and Egg via The Lemon Bowl
• Whole Wheat Waffles with Caramel Poached Apples and Nuts via A Cupcake for Love
For lunch and dinner:
– Use whole wheat breads and pastas and whole grains to make a heart healthy lunch and dinner.
• Chicken Farro Salad with Apples and Walnuts via Gather and Dine
• Farro Salad with Fava Beans and Corn via Last Ingredient
• Turkey Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwich via Gal Meets Food
• Turkey, Avocado and Goat Cheese Panini via Once Upon a Cutting Board
• One-Pot Weeknight Meatballs and Pasta via Homemade Nutrition
3. Meat, Poultry, and Fish
Source: MJ and Hungryman
Cholesterol and saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol and make heart disease worse. Red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) typically contain more cholesterol and saturated fats than fish or poultry. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, while chicken has less saturated fats than red meats. According to the AHA, you should be consuming about six ounces of cooked shellfish, fish, poultry, and trimmed lean meats per day and at least two servings of baked or grilled fish each week.
• shrimp, crayfish, salmon, mackerel, trout, albacore tuna, and more (take note of mercury levels and dietary restrictions)
• skinless chicken and turkey; ground turkey
• lean beefs (round, sirloin, chuck, loin)
• lean ground beef (no more than 15% fat)
• lean ham, lean pork (avoid bacon and Canadian bacon because of high sodium levels)
• processed sandwich meats (low-fat turkey, chicken, ham—be sure to check sodium levels)
• meat substitutes: dried beans, peas, lentils, or tofu (soybean curd)
• Sweet Potato and Chicken Sausage Hash via Eat.Drink.Love
• Healthier Chicken and Waffles via Chocolate and Carrots
• Baked Eggs with Shredded Chicken and Salsa by Real Food by Dad
• Spicy Chipotle Chicken Breakfast Chilaquiles by Boulder Locavore
• Polenta Breakfast Bowl via Hapanom
Lunch and dinner recipes:
• Browned Butter Shrimp Scampi via Cafe Delites
• Soy Glazed Salmon and Rice Bowl via Bourbon and Honey
• Fat Tuesday Jambalaya Soup via Soup Addict
• Mussels with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Chorizo via Mid-Life Croissant
• Gluten-Free Chicken Ramen Soup with Eggs and Bean Sprouts via Avocado Pesto
4. Nuts and Seeds
When eaten in moderation, heart healthy nuts like almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts can help you feel full and provide fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Chia seeds are high in soluble fiber and sesame seeds are rich with linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that may help control harmful cholesterol. Eat nuts or seeds whole as a snack or add them to your morning oats, homemade granola recipes (like the superfood granola bars shown above), or add them to your smoothie bowls.
Source: Eat In Eat Out
According to Graff, herbs are a great way to add additional vegetables to your diet—a hidden vegetable. “Herbs are packed full of nutrients and are a super easy way to incorporate vegetables into each meal,” she said. Try adding herbs like garlic, rosemary, lavender, hawthorn, and ginseng when prepping meals.
Adding These Foods to Your Daily Diet
These foods are easy to add throughout your daily meals and are easy to substitute in recipes. “Find [the foods] you enjoy and build on the meals you love,” said Graff. “It becomes easy when you work with foods you love. Write out a list of the foods you love and work your meal planning process around them.” Graff suggests pureeing vegetables together, chopping them up, or using chopped up cilantro or parsley in meats. To make life easier and for a quick dinner, she suggests using frozen vegetables to add to hearty soups, stir fry, or other meals.
Graff also suggests cutting back on sugar and to set realistic goals for yourself. “Reducing your sugar intake is just as important as reducing fat intake. Starting with small goals, like drinking your coffee black instead of loaded with sugars, are a great way to start. Also, moving your body to avoid being sedentary is just as important. Our bodies weren’t designed to sit; they were designed to move. Try to make an effort to stand up or walk around the office to get your body moving.”
So what does this mean for you? It’s never too late to get into healthier habits now. If you have someone in your life that is trying to be heart healthy due to necessary lifestyle changes or medical reasons, make a habit of checking in with each other to maintain your progress.
What are the ways you try to eat heart healthy?
Sources: Whole Grains and Fiber; Eat More Chicken, Fish and Beans; Meat, Poultry and Fish; Best Nuts For Your Health; Heart Disease Facts; NIH Vitamin C; Super Seeds with Health and Body Benefits; 8 Most Effective Herbs for Heart Health