After sharing the facts about heart health and diet with you yesterday, I wanted to give you some practical tips. It's all about starting small and incorporating more healthy foods in your diet. For example, you don't have to go vegetarian to reap some of the heart healthy benefits of a meat-free diet. A popular movement is Meatless Mondays. By going meatless at least one day a week, you are increasing your vegetable intake and lessening your carbon footprint. Check out the Meatless Mondays website for lots of great recipes!
The following are a few heart healthy foods to add to your shopping list:
- Nuts or nut butters: Nuts are high in poly- and monounsaturated fats which are part of the reason the Mediterranean diet is so heart healthy. Walnuts especially are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower stroke risk. In addition to fat, nuts and nut butters are high in protein. Add some nut butter to your cereal or smoothie or snack on nuts at work. Try: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, sunflower seed butter, peanut butter
- Fresh fruits and vegetables: You can never eat too many vegetables! Every week, I usually include a bag of salad in my cart – make sure the greens are darkly colored; iceberg lettuce doesn't have nearly as many nutrients as the darker greens! Fresh is best, but frozen and canned can be alternatives too. If buying frozen, pass up the ones that come with sauce packets to mix in. Give canned vegetables a good rinse before cooking to remove some of the salt.Don’t be afraid to try something new every week or two! The variety of different fruits and vegetables is endless! Next time you go to the store or market, pick up a fruit or vegetable you are unfamiliar with and Google a recipe when you get home! That's how I discovered delicata squash.
- Olive oil, full fat salad dressing, coconut oil, and butter: There is no need to be afraid of some fat! Olive oil is great for sautéing vegetables for a stir fry. You aren't doing yourself a favor by choosing low-fat dressing- it is often full of sugar. Plus, a recent study indicated that you absorb more healthy antioxidants from your salad if you top it with a full fat salad dressing or oil (source). Saturated fat is no longer the enemy – so feel free to use butter or coconut oil to add some flavor to your vegetables; remember a little goes a long way!
- Quinoa, wheat berries, whole grain products: Step out of the whole grain bread/pasta box and try something new! Quinoa is high in protein and cooks up quick! It is a great addition or base for salads and can be used in place of rice. Wheat berries are chewy and have a subtly nutty flavor. They go great is soups or can also be used for rice!
- Fish (fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines): In order to better meet your Omega 3 requirements, it's best to eat fatty fish at least 2 times per week. I admit, this one is tough for me too! I try to buy tuna frequently and toss it on salad for a quick and easy dinner.
- Beans, lentils: Beans and lentils are high fiber, high protein, and low calorie foods! Incorporate more of these nutrient powerhouses into your day! I often cook up a big pot of lentils over the weekend to eat throughout the week.
- Dark chocolate: Choose bars labeled as 70% cocoa or higher as they are higher in antioxidants which have a slew of healthy benefits not only for your heart but also cancer prevention.
Foods to leave at the store:
- Sodas and fruit juices: Cutting back on caloric beverages is an easy way to limit excess calories in your diet. Both soda and fruit juice contain a lot of sugar and calories with little additional nutrients. (Ok, you get a few vitamins from fruit juice, but none of the healthy fiber!)
- Sweets (ie. candy, ice cream): These are best left at the store. Instead of bringing temptation home with you, plan to go out for a sweet treat once a week and really savor it. If you do need a little bit of something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit or some dark chocolate (see above).
- Processed snack foods (crackers, chips): You'll benefit much more from choosing snacks with a little bit of protein (ie. nuts, trail mix, yogurt, veggies and hummus, or string cheese) rather than just salt and carbohydrates. The extra protein in smart snack choices makes you feel much more satisfied for longer. Things like chips offer a lot of calories with little satisfaction. Plus, with a slogan like, "You can't eat just one!" means you are bound to overeat!