Regardless of your age, it’s important to protect your heart health. Doing so will lower risk of various diseases, such as heart disease and stroke. But you’ll also feel more ready to engage in other healthy stuff, like exercise and a good night’s sleep.
Eating smart for your heart is one way you can improve your health starting today. Why is food such a big deal?
“We want to control blood pressure; keep cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. And eating healthfully will also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can help fend off a host of health complications.
The good news is that by adding just a few foods to your diet, you can improve your heart health while also taking in good nutrition overall.
More good news: Heart-healthy foods also happen to be delicious and versatile, so you can use them in several ways for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and never get bored. So, it’s a win-win to incorporate them into your diet and lifestyle.
Plus, a healthy heart also protects against aging and can lead to greater longevity, so you’ll reap the short-term benefits of bodily fuel from these nutrient -ense foods as well as the long-term benefits with regards to health as you age.
Here are 10 heart-healthy foods to stock up on this week and keep in your pantry and fridge as go-to staples.
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“Beets contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, including heart-healthy potassium, but they really shine due to their high dietary nitrate content,” says Kelly Jones, M.S.,R.D. Dietary nitrates from beets are converted to nitric oxide in the body, which helps to dilate blood vessels. This takes stress off your heart and can improve blood pressure.
“While beet juice is an easy way to get concentrated nitrates and you can certainly cook them yourself, Love Beets has pre-cooked beets in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and a beet powder that provides the nitrate benefits you want when you’re in a rush,” says Jones. You can just add it to smoothies or oatmeal.
Tart cherries are rich in polyphenol antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. A 2019 study showed that regular tart cherry juice intake has a positive effect on blood cholesterol levels, too. “If you don’t want to drink the juice, consider frozen tart cherries for smoothies or dried tart cherries to pair with nuts as a snack,” says Jones. “Eden Organics has a dried variety sweetened with apple juice concentrate rather than refined sugar,” she adds, for another option.
Nearly 90 percent of the fats found in pistachios are the better-for-you mono and polyunsaturated types, and each serving also provides 3 grams of fiber. “For an even more satisfying snack experience, try Wonderful Pistachios chili roasted and honey roasted varieties,” Jones says.
“In general diets that incorporate whole grains regularly may reduce the risk of heart disease. We see this through well-researched diets such as the DASH and Mediterranean eating patterns, and a new study showed replacing refined grains with whole grains to reduce total and LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides,” says Jones. You also don’t need to stay away from gluten unless you have Celiac disease.
“In fact, studies show gluten has no association with heart disease risk, but eliminating gluten may impact risk since it is associated with reduced intake of heart healthy whole grains,” she says.
“When it comes to heart health, potassium intake is important for blood pressure, and potatoes offer more potassium per serving than you’ll find in a banana (with creamer potatoes offering more than a russet),” says Jones.
They’re also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. If you think they take too long to cook, microwaving potatoes is a game changer. “Little Potato Company makes microwave ready kits that cook in just 5 minutes and come with seasoning, too,” she says.
“Soluble fiber found in whole grain oats and oat bran can help lower LDL, or the ‘bad’ cholesterol,” says Harris-Pincus. Three grams of soluble fiber in addition to a diet low in saturated fat may reduce the risk of heart disease, she explains. One ½ cup serving of old fashioned oats contains 2 grams of soluble fiber, so enjoy a standard bowl of oatmeal or toss some in your smoothie or overnight oats and add some extra bit of fiber with healthy toppings, like nuts, seeds, and berries.
The American Heart Association recommends including mono and polyunsaturated fats when possible and limiting saturated and trans fats. “Avocado is primarily monounsaturated, which, when eaten in place of high-saturated-fat foods, can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels,” says Harris-Pincus.
Most people don’t consume the recommended two servings of fatty fish per week to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. “Enjoy salmon, herring or sardines twice per week for an omega 3 boost. Even tuna cooked in the can (some brands do this) provides a few grams of omega 3 fatty acids,” says Harris-Pincus.
Think outside the box and try fish in new ways. “A whole grain cracker topped with avocado, sardines, and a squeeze of lemon is delicious,” she says. And don’t forget about canned salmon! It’s available any time, is affordable, and is so easy to incorporate into salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes and more.
“Flaxseed is high in fiber, omega 3 fats and phytochemicals called lignans which may also help lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Harris-Pincus. Include ground flax seed on yogurt, cottage cheese, or in smoothies, muffins, pancakes and waffles for extra fiber and a little protein.
These nutrition powerhouses are loaded with fiber and heart healthy nutrients like folate, magnesium and antioxidants that can help to lower blood pressure. “Fiber also promotes healthier blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and beans are amazing in soups, salad, chili, dips, and so much more,” says Harris-Pincus.
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