Cooking a heart-healthy meal is a great way to nourish our bodies. It’s also a great way to regroup, reconnect, and show love to our minds and hearts after a long day.
Hectic schedules and daily stressors can sometimes make shopping for and preparing food feel overwhelming, leading us to make choices that may not support our healthy living goals. The good news is that there are lots of delicious, everyday foods that are good for your heart that you can include as a regular part of your diet!
While you really want to look at your overall lifestyle to maximize your heart health, there are a few key ingredients we recommend including in your diet to get started:
Beans, tree nuts, and seeds
Yes, they are high in fat. But—surprise!—they are super-nutritious and associated with lower cholesterol and reduced risk of heart attacks. Most tree nuts are rich in MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids), as well as fiber, potassium, selenium, and other important minerals. They have also been known to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Beans are very high in fiber, which may be protective in terms of supporting a good balance of bacteria in the gut. They are excellent sources of protein, especially for people trying to limit their intake of animal foods.
Lean meats & poultry
Beef and pork are much leaner today than they were 25 years ago. We do, however, want to limit our intake of red meat to two or three times per week since new studies show that meat products can increase the risk of heart disease.
The best choices for beef and pork are cuts that have the words “loin,” “chop,” “chuck,” or “round” in their names. These meats are naturally low in saturated fats and calories. You do not need to go super-low-fat with beef since you’ll likely end up with tasteless, dry meat that no one will eat. Pork can also be a great choice. Both beef and pork are great sources of vitamins and minerals like potassium, which helps to lower blood pressure.
Fish and other seafood
The very best fish sources of beneficial fatty acids are the ones from the cold-water ocean. Great choices include tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, halibut, salmon, and anchovies. You may not like all of them, but depending on your personal tastes, I’m sure you can find the right ones to enjoy!
If you aren’t sure how you feel about fish, perhaps start with species that taste meatier. You can start with swordfish, which has a meaty flavor and meaty texture. Then move on to tuna steaks. Same benefit. In no time you will learn to love the taste and texture of fish.
Just because we specifically want to include fish with omega-3 fats doesn’t mean other types of fish and seafood aren’t good or should be excluded. Lower-fat fish can also be very healthy, as they are lean, protein-rich foods. You have lots of fabulous choices, including tilapia, whitefish, mahi-mahi, crustaceans like shrimp and lobster, and mollusks like oysters, clams, and scallops.
Full color spectrum of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are core promoters of good health. They are chock-full of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The more different colors you choose, the more health benefits you will reap.
You can choose fresh, frozen, or canned (preferably fruits in low-sugar syrup, or low-salt vegetables) if that fits better into your budget. Berries are especially wonderful in heart health. Those intense reds and blues are associated with the very powerful antioxidant anthocyanin.
Stone fruits (peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, pluots) are very rich in soluble fiber, which slows your absorption of fructose (the fruit sugar) and nourishes good bacteria in your gut. These fruits also contain anthocyanin.
Citrus fruits are rich in carotenoids, along with vitamin C. Orange-yellow fruits and vegetables have lots of beta-carotene, along with other powerful antioxidants. Green leafy vegetables also contain lots of carotenoids, although they are hidden by green chlorophyll. Tomatoes, red bell peppers, and watermelon are rich in lycopene which helps improve heart health and lower the risk of certain types of cancer.
Fermented dairy foods, whether Greek yogurt or mozzarella cheese, are easy for most people to digest. The lactose in yogurt or cheese is converted into lactic acid, which is what provides the thickening. The straining process that concentrates Greek yogurt reduces its lactose content even further.
Many people even find that their tolerance for dairy improves if they consume more yogurt. In cheese-making, almost all residual lactose gets removed when the liquid whey portion is separated from the solid curds. There are so many important nutrients, such as high-quality protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin D, in dairy foods, so don’t forget to include them in your diet.
Dark chocolate is super-rich in antioxidant polyphenols. Studies in several countries have shown that people who have a cup of hot chocolate daily are less likely to have issues with heart disease and blood pressure.
Studies of people all over the world have shown cardioprotective benefits for people who have moderate chocolate intake. Polyphenol-rich chocolate has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve vascular function, have a vasodilatory effect, reduce oxidative stress, increase mitochondrial function (associated with the capacity to burn off excess energy), reduce platelet stickiness (associated with blood clots), and improve the ability to respond to insulin and metabolize glucose properly. Choose mostly really good dark chocolate, in smallish portions, and enjoy!
Do you know more heart-healthy foods? Share them with us in the comments section!