Today’s segment features the top 10 heart healthy items to put in your grocery cart. The American Heart Association and the Academy for Nutrition and recommend these top performing foods. They are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber and are low in saturated fat, sodium and trans fat-free. Pick a couple of tips to begin with and try adding one a month for a healthier heart.
The American Heart Association recommends we eat two or more servings of omega-3 rich fish per week. These types of fish lower the level of triglycerides in the blood that contributes to blood clots, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation in the blood vessels and throughout the body. Studies show that people who follow these guidelines have a 30% reduced risk of developing heart disease. Wild caught fish have fewer contaminants than farm raised and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
If you don’t like fish as an entrée, on salads or as a sandwich, try good food sources of ALA which is converted into omega-3 fatty acids in the body such as walnuts, flax-seed oil, canola olive and soybean oil.
2. Flaxseed (ground)
How is flaxseed good for your heart if 2 Tablespoons contain 60 calories and two-thirds of these calories are from fat? The combination of these 3 ingredients helps reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol.
- 2400 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids in 2 Tablespoons
- Lignans which have phytoestrogen and antioxidant qualities.
- 4 grams of fiber in 2 Tablespoons.
You do need to grind your flaxseed to activate its health benefit as whole flaxseed will pass through undigested. Add ground flaxseed to yogurt parfait, smoothies, breakfast cereal, breakfast breads, muffins and bars.
It’s been 17 years since the Food and Drug Administration approved the heart healthy claim for oatmeal and other foods made from whole oats such as oat bran and oat flour. “Soluble fiber from whole oats as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” The soluble fiber in oatmeal helps lower LDL cholesterol. It may also keep you fuller longer which helps promote weight loss, another heart healthy benefit if you are overweight.
You can’t find another breakfast cereal that has only 1 gram of sugar, 0 milligrams of sodium and 4 grams of fiber for only $0.08 per 1/2 cup serving! Grind oatmeal up in a blender and swap it out for ¼-½ your flour ingredients. It adds a sweet flavor and dense texture to your baked goods. Top this hot breakfast cereal with fresh berries and add iron, fiber rich raisins to your oatmeal cookies to increase the health benefits even more.
4. Black, Kidney, Pinto or Garbonzo Beans and Lentils
Beans are low-cost, good source of protein, potassium, soluble fiber and iron and contain no fat. Soluble fiber binds with cholesterol and help prevent it from being absorbed when we consume it in foods. One serving of beans provides 1/3-1/2 of your recommended daily fiber needs that range from 25-38 grams per day. Unfortunately, the average adult female consumes only 14.3 grams and the average male only 18 grams creating a big nutrient gap. Beans also contain heart-protective chemicals called flavonoids, those same compounds found in red wine, berries and chocolate helping to reduce blood stickiness. Smart, health focused restaurants have been adding beans and lentils to their meals to “extend the plate” at a very low-cost. An entire bag cost $1.15 and contains 14 servings. That’s $0.08 per serving.
Give your soup, salad, dips or rice dishes a nutrient boost by stirring in a few beans. Black beans have 10 times the amount of antioxidants as oranges!
Nuts provide protein to rebuild muscle, heart healthy monounsaturated fat, antioxidant rich Vitamin E, potassium for muscle contraction and blood pressure regulation, fiber and phytochemicals making them a nutrition powerhouse. According to the Food and Drug Administration “1 ½ ounces of nuts per day may help reduce the risk of heart disease, when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.”
Mix a few almonds (and berries) into low-fat yogurt, trail mix, or fruit salads. A small handful as a mid afternoon snack is also a great way to take the edge off your dinner hour hunger.
6. Berries (Strawberries, Cranberries, Raspberries, Blueberries)
The colorful compounds in berries are a good source of Vitamin C, potassium fiber and antioxidant rich, polyphenols. Polyphenols raise nitric oxide, relaxing blood vessels and as a result lower blood pressure. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study of 72 middle-age people who ate one cup of berries every day for 8 weeks. Participants had higher levels of heart healthy “good” HDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
Add them to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, trail mixes, muffins, salads or serve them as a berry salsa on meats!
7. Potassium Rich Foods (Potatoes, Tomatoes, Bananas, avocados, Oranges and Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes)
Many people know that lowering their sodium intake is important for their heart health, but few know that increasing their potassium intake through foods is important as well. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps regulate blood pressure, bone density, nerves, muscle contraction including the heart and more. American males consume only 64% and women 49% of the daily recommended daily intake for potassium. This is largely due to our fruit and vegetable poor diet. Strive for Five-A-Day.
8. Tea particularly black or green teas.
Tea contains heart healthy catechins and flavonols. Scientists have found that participants who drank 12 ounces or more of tea a day were half as likely to have a heart attack as non-tea drinkers. Other research identified that green tea drinkers lowered their risk for gum disease which reduced inflammation. People with gum disease are twice as likely to suffer from various forms of heart disease.
Drink your tea and see your dentist for an annual checkup.
9. Margarines fortified with stanols, sterols, omega 3, flax seed and olive oil.
Benecol, Take Control, Smart Balance These brands of margarine contain sterol and stanol esters that come from plants and help prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that people who have high cholesterol get 2 grams of sterols or stanols per day. As often as we use margarine throughout the day, it makes sense to buy a brand that has added some heart health to the spread.
10. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There’s no difference in calories or total grams of fat between different types of oils. They all average 120 calories per Tablespoon (1 Thumb Tip) and 14 grams of fat. Each contain a blend of monounsaturated (heart healthy), polyunsaturated and saturated (heart clogging) fat. Here’s a comparison:
- Crisco Solid Shortening – predominantly saturated fat
- Vegetable Oil – Soybean – 62% polyunsaturated, 15% saturated
- Sesame Seed Oil – 40% monounsaturated, 46% saturated
- Peanut Oil – 49% monounsaturated, 33% polyunsaturated
- Canola Oil – 62% monounsaturated, 7% saturated
- Smart Balance Omega – 50% monounsaturated, 36% polyunsaturated with added omega 3
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 77% monounsaturated
Monounsaturated fats not only lower LDL blood cholesterol but raise healthier HDL cholesterol. Omega 3 reduces inflammation, blood pressure and helps prevent blood clots so use extra virgin olive oil as your oil of choice.
In addition to these top 10 tips, don’t smoke, drink alcohol in moderation, exercise daily and find healthy ways to manage chronic stress, it’s good for your heart.