For many people, a diet that helps prevent heart disease may sound like a guarantee that the food will be bland, flavorless, and dull. Delicious food doesn’t have to be full of fat, sodium, sugar, and other unhealthy ingredients in order to be flavorful. On the contrary- knowing how to combine flavors, how to bring out the best of each ingredient is the way to enjoy flavorful, savory dishes without sacrificing your health and diet. Here are foods that can help prevent heart disease and benefit your overall health, while also providing loads of flavor. Check out our recipe compilation at the end for how to incorporate all these foods into delicious meals!
Breads don’t necessarily need to be cut out of a diet, it’s knowing which to reach for that can help you meet health and weight loss goals, that make all the difference. Highly processed grains like white bread have greater incidence of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, poorly controlled type-2 diabetes, and can make weight loss difficult. On the other hand, whole grains have higher nutritional value, more vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber than processed grains and can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend 1-3 cups of grains per day, with at least half of the allowance being whole grains.
Whole grain breads are a delicious addition to any meal- and can be topped with other healthy, heart healthy ingredients like avocado, unprocessed nut butters, berries and low fat Greek yogurt, and many other options. Whole grains like quinoa and barley make great salad toppers, are delicious in soups, making them more hearty and will keep you full longer.
Fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. Fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Fish are commonly part of a Mediterranean diet, which includes low amounts of dairy products, red meats, and processed items. Olive oil is the principal fat in a Mediterranean diet (read more about the difference between dietary fats, here), and is a top choice when cooking fish. The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fish (particularly fatty fish) per week. A serving is 3.5 ounce cooked, or about ¾ cup of flaked fish. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish can be made in many ways, including in salads, tacos (using corn tortillas, to get a serving of healthy grains!), sandwiches, soups, and so much more.
Fruits and Vegetables
Dietary guidelines recommend that half of any meal consist of vegetables and fruits. Participants in the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, who had the highest intake of fruit and vegetables- more than five servings per day, had a 30% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who only ate one and a half servings (or less), per day.
That’s a significant reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease, and yet many people don’t get nearly the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day (9 servings per day). If you add them to meals in a variety of ways, it’s more likely that you will eat enough fruits and vegetables, and that you’ll find the different flavors are more enticing than a heaping bowl of vegetables (although that’s pretty good, too!).
Nuts and Seeds
Eating a handful of almonds, walnuts, peanuts, flaxseeds, or chia seeds on a regular basis may help prevent excessive weight gain and even lower the risk of obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Nuts contain unsaturated fats and many nutrients, making them an excellent tool in any weight loss journey, and can even help reduce inflammation that may impact those with chronic pain.
Research suggests that eating nuts may:
- Lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which play a major role in the buildup of deposits called plaques in your arteries
- Improve the health of the lining of your arteries
- Lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease
- Reduce the risk of developing blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack and death
Keeping nuts available as a snack can help you avoid eating unhealthy options and can keep you full until your next meal. Nuts have many benefits, but pay attention to the serving size as they are calorie-dense.
One study found that people who ate more yogurt, ate less processed meat and refined grains. Yogurt eaters ate more fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and other healthy foods, and therefore had higher levels of potassium, vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other micro nutrients, all which benefit your heart health.
When choosing yogurt, reading labels is crucial as you want to avoid those that contain high levels of sugar. Select yogurt that contains live cultures, which benefit your gut health (read more about how probiotic rich foods benefit your overall health, here).
Yogurts can be enjoyed with other heart healthy foods like fruit and chia seeds as a breakfast parfait or used as a healthy substitution in sauces, dressings, and dips. The possibilities are endless!
Fresh Herbs and Spices
Using a variety of herbs and spices in your food has many benefits, including delicious, amplified flavors. Seasoning foods with herbs and spices instead of with the salt will benefit your heart health too. Consuming excessive amounts of sodium increases blood pressure by holding excess fluid in the body, creating an added burden on the heart.
Finding creative and delicious ways to season food is not difficult, and having herbs on hand is quite easy as well- try growing them yourself with these easy tips!
Check out this informative graphic on how to incorporate herbs into your recipes:
The bonus? Many herbs and spices have also been found to reduce inflammation and pain.
Eating beans as part of a heart healthy diet and lifestyle may help improve your blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease. Adding beans to your diet may help keep you feeling full longer.
Drain canned beans in a colander and rinse with water to remove some of the excess salt. Beans are packed with heart-healthy nutrients. Folate, antioxidants, and magnesium can help lower blood pressure. Their fiber helps control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Add beans to soups and salads, or try making this delicious “Cowboy Caviar” that works as a great dip, or a side to fish or chicken. It’ll satisfy your hunger, and provide plenty of vegetables and beans that benefit your body. You can make your own dressing for the recipe, or select a low-fat option at the store.
All fruits are excellent for your health, containing vitamins, minerals, and many have a high water content, helping keep you hydrated. Oranges also have the cholesterol-fighting fiber pectin as well as potassium, which helps control blood pressure. In one study, 2 cups of OJ a day boosted blood vessel health. It also lowered blood pressure in men.
Orange juice can be incorporated into a diet in a variety of ways. Try blending the juice with Greek yogurt and fruit for a delicious smoothie. Use it as part of a salad dressing or marinade.
You’ve probably noticed that we have shared how many of these foods are also best for a well-rounded diet that promotes weight loss. Coincidence? Nope! Maintaining a healthy weight goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a healthy heart, which all of these foods support. Do you have any creative ways of incorporating these heart healthy foods into recipes? Share in the comments below!