by Lisa Shettle, MS, RDN, CD-N
While the death rate from heart disease has dropped in recent years, it is still the leading cause of death in the U.S.1
February is American Heart Month, and we can reduce our risk of heart disease by eating a heart-healthy diet, reducing stress, and getting more exercise and sleep.
A heart-healthy diet is rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (fish, legumes); and low in highly processed foods, added sugar, and saturated fats.
When I counsel patients on heart-healthy eating, we find heart healthy foods they enjoy and can ADD to their current diet to promote health.
Here are 10 foods your heart will love:
Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber and contains beta-glucans, which may lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Fiber also promotes satiety because it delays gastric emptying.
Chickpeas are legumes that contain protein, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals including folate and iron. They can be used to make hummus or added to savory meals like stews, chili, and stir fry dishes. They can also be added to salads and provide a crunchy bite when roasted.
Lentils can be a perfect meat alternative since they contain 18g of protein per cup combined with 15g of fiber! They are also a good source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and potassium. They contain protective plant compounds called phenols that boast an antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effect. Try them in soups, chilis, and stews.
Tomatoes contain vitamins and minerals which are good for the heart including the antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C and the mineral potassium. Tomatoes also contain fiber and are naturally low in sugar and salt. When buying jarred tomato sauce, be sure to read labels and check the sugar and salt content.
Blueberries are often called a “superfood” because they are low in calories and loaded with nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, K, and manganese. Their anti-inflammatory properties come from anthocyanins that may improve blood vessel function which can help lower blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease. A bonus is that they freeze well so you can always have them handy in your freezer!
Salmon along with other fatty fish contain heart healthy fats know as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides and decrease the risk of plaque in the arteries. The American Heart Association advises eating fatty fish twice a week to promote heart health.
Cauliflower is everywhere these days. It is a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the brassica family alongside broccoli and Brussel sprouts. It is a nutrition powerhouse, full of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It is also an excellent source of potassium which is good for the heart. Try making mashed cauliflower as a side dish or riced cauliflower in stir fry dishes.
Almonds contain protein, the antioxidant vitamin E, and heart-healthy fats. They are also rich in the minerals calcium and magnesium which can help lower blood pressure. Almonds can add great flavor and crunch to yogurt, cereal, and salads and are a perfect portable snack when you’re on the go.
9) Olive Oil
Olive oil is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. It also contains antioxidants, including vitamin E and polyphenols, which protect blood vessels of the heart. All oils are calorically dense so portions should be considered when adding to foods or cooking with it.
And, in honor of Valentine’s Day, also in February, indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate every now and then. It may even be good for your heart.
10) Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains two to three times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids compared to milk chocolate which is a huge health benefit for your heart. Flavanols are related to the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes your blood vessels and improves blood flow. In turn, this also lowers blood pressure. So, indulge this Valentine’s Day!
Want some heart-healthy recipes?
CELEBRATE AMERICAN HEART MONTH BY PRIORITIZING YOUR NUTRITION
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR PREVENTATIVE HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS & MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH ME
A registered dietitian provides medical nutrition therapy and is your best source of reliable and evidence-based nutrition information. An RDN can also help you determine measurable and achievable goals within your individualized plan for your best health outcomes.
BONUS: Services are covered by most health insurance plans!
1) Martin et. al. 2024 Heart disease and stroke statistics: a report of U.S. and global data from the American Heart Association. Circulation. Published online January 24, 2024. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001209