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heart healthy foods

The American Heart Association recommends a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, non-tropical oils, low fat dairy and lean proteins such as skinless chicken and fish for lowering the risk of heart disease.  While no one food or nutrient has the ability to prevent heart disease, the following foods can boost cardiovascular health, when eaten as part of a healthy diet.

Fruits and Vegetables

According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the minimum recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables pack a heart healthy punch because they are high in potassium, soluble fiber and antioxidants. These nutrients fight inflammation, lower cholesterol, and can contribute to a healthy weight. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. Here are some tips and tricks to get more fruits and vegetables into your day.

  • Start your day off with a green smoothie or a scrambled egg or egg whites with spinach, peppers and onions.
  • Pack a salad, vegetable soup or leftover roasted vegetables with lunch.
  • Snack on fresh fruit or raw carrots and cucumbers with low fat dip or hummus.
  • Eat a small baked potato or 1 cup of roasted potatoes with dinner instead of pasta or rice.
  • Be sure to include at least one cup of cooked vegetables or 2 cups of raw vegetables at dinner. Try steaming, sautéing or roasting vegetables with a heart healthy oil for enhanced absorption of vitamins.
  • Have fresh fruit, like berries or melon, for dessert.

Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes are high in fiber, protein, and minerals, and contain no dietary cholesterol and very little fat, making them one of the heart healthiest alternatives to meats.  Meals don’t have to be meat based to be satisfying and filling. Replacing red and processed meats with beans or legumes can help increase your daily fiber intake and reduce your consumption of artery clogging fats. Try going meatless at least one or two nights per week, and include beans and legumes in your lunches. Need some inspiration? Here are some tips. An added bonus for eating more beans and legumes is that they are a very budget friendly option!

  • Swap out ground beef for black beans in tacos or try a black bean burger.
  • Pack vegetarian chili or a hearty bean soup for lunch.
  • Try tofu instead of chicken in stir fry.
  • Top salads with roasted garbanzo beans (chickpeas), or dip veggies in hummus.
  • Try lentils warm in lentil soup or cold in a lentil salad.

Whole grains

Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, not just the starchy part typically found in products made out of refined grains, such as white bread or white pasta.  Eating more whole grains can help you feel full longer, which can help you eat less and decrease your waistline. Whole grains are also a good source of fiber and phytochemicals, which support healthy cholesterol levels and help protect against disease.  For a heart healthy diet, aim to make most of your grain choices whole grains throughout the day.

  • Try oatmeal or a cold cereal made with whole grains for breakfast.
  • Swap out white bread for 100% whole wheat bread or a whole wheat wrap for lunch.
  • At dinner, forget the white pasta and white rice and try quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat, cracked wheat or barley.
  • Snack on air popped popcorn (hold the butter) for a whole grain snack.
  • If you like to bake, substitute up to half the white flour in recipes for whole wheat flour.

Healthy Fats

In general, liquid oils and plant based fats, such as olives, olive oil, most nuts, seeds, and avocados contain a heart healthy mix of unsaturated fats. Diets higher in these fats have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. To make your diet heart healthy, replace butter and shortening with cooking oils such as canola, olive, peanut or safflower oil. Just remember portion size matter for all fats, even the heart healthy ones! Keep servings of nuts to 1oz or less, and limit cooking oils to 1-2 teaspoons per meal.

  • Spread peanut butter or almond butter on whole grain toast for breakfast.
  • For a filling snack, munch on 1/3 cup peanuts, cashews, almonds or pistachios.
  • Stir 1-2 tablespoons of chia, flaxseed or walnuts into oatmeal, non-fat yogurt or a smoothie for a boost of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds on salad.
  • Try making your own salad dressing with avocado or flaxseed or olive oil.
  • Cook with olive oil, and bake with canola oil.

Want more comprehensive advice on how to lower your cholesterol with a heart healthy diet? Schedule an appointment with our Registered Dietitian, Joanna Eaton, by calling 301-288-1319. Now accepting most health insurances!