We’re kicking off American Heart Month with a round-up of the best foods to keep your heart healthy and strong.
Now of course, we can’t guarantee eating these foods will mean you’ll never have heart problems because many factors can come in to play there, but we’ll be discussing plenty of other things you can do for optimal heart health throughout the month.
So in the mean time, let’s check out the top 8 essential heart-healthy foods you need to include in your diet:
1.) Whole Grains
Who doesn’t love a big bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast? Especially in this frigid weather!
Well, if this is your idea of a tasty way to start the day, you’ll be getting a great dose of antioxidants, phytoestrogens and phytosterols that protect against coronary disease, as well as fiber, which aids our cholesterol.
If oatmeal doesn’t sound so appealing, other whole grains include quinoa, brown rice, wild rice and whole-grain barley. You can also swap out white, bleached flour for whole-grain flour in various recipes for a healthier variation.
We’ve all heard of omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s those acids that make fish such as salmon and tuna a great source of protein.
Omega-3s lower levels of triglycerides in the blood that can contribute to clotting and they also play a role in lowering blood pressure. Salmon also contains selenium, an antioxidant that research has shown to boost cardiovascular protection.
For a simple and healthy dinner, grill some salmon with fresh herbs on top and serve with wild rice and sautéed spinach for an incredibly heart-healthy meal.
Low in saturated fats, and high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, nuts such as walnuts, almonds and peanuts should definitely be in your snack arsenal.
Try creating your own heart-healthy trail mix with a combination of your favorite nuts as well as raisins, which contain antioxidants that have been shown to reduce inflammation. Adding in a little bit of dark chocolate has also been shown to increase trail mix deliciousness.
Tomatoes are about as good as it gets in terms of healthy produce choices.
Between the Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and fiber tomatoes contain, tomatoes are a healthy choice, but with the addition of lycopene (which works with all of the combined vitamins and minerals to help prevent cardiovascular disease), tomatoes are a heart-healthy powerhouse.
The best part is, cooking with tomatoes actually increases their heart-health benefits since lycopene becomes more available through the heating process.
Add diced tomatoes in to chicken dishes or roast some cherry tomatoes with herbs for a simple and tasty side dish.
Turns out an apple day actually could keep your doctor away.
Due to the strong antioxidant flavonoids as well as high levels of the soluble fiber, apples are an ideal food for reducing plaque build-up in arteries, inflammation and cholesterol.
Try packing up apple slices with a bit of all-natural peanut butter for a great go-to afternoon snack that packs a punch of fiber and protein.
Berries such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries have been found to contain a variety of polyphenols that help to keep your cholesterol and blood pressure in check.
These berries are great on their own, especially during the summer when they’re in season, but you can still get your berry fix in the winter with the frozen variety. Blend them in to smoothies for a great addition to your breakfast or a post-workout shake.
7.) Olive Oil
We know you’re not going to be guzzling olive oil with your meals, but it was worth including since cooking with olive oil makes a huge difference in terms of healthier cooking.
Extra virgin olive oil contains mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids that can lower your risk of heart disease by minimizing other risk factors such as cholesterol and blood clotting.
Although you can’t make an unhealthy food suddenly healthy with olive oil, using EVOO (as Rachael Ray affectionally calls it) is a better alternative to butter or margarine.
8.) Red Wine and Dark Chocolate
You didn’t think we would leave out arguably two of the best edibles on the planet did you?
Many people have heard that red wine and chocolate are heart healthy, but there’s a key to unlocking their benefits. If you want to get health benefits with your indulgence you have to look at the variety.
Red wines such as cabernets and pinot noirs have higher levels of procyanidins, an antioxidant that improves cardiovascular and arterial health.
And if chocolate is your vice, make sure to stick to the dark stuff with a higher precent of cocoa content (we’re talking 70 percent or above). More cocoa content means more flavanols and antioxidants that help to lower blood pressure and boost circulation.
What are some of your favorites on this list? Have any favorite recipes using these ingredients to share?
If you feel like you need a complete diet and nutrition overhaul, get in touch with VIDA’s registered dietician, Cat Taylor. She’ll get you eating heart-healthy (and loving it) in no time!
And don’t forget to check back next week for:
– 5 (non-treadmill) Workouts to get your Heart Pumping
– Your Must-Know Personal Stats for Heart Health
– 10 Lifestyle Changes Your Heart Will Thank you For