February is American Heart Month, a designation given to the month by the American Heart Association. Unfortunately, heart disease is the leading mortality factor for both men and women in the United States, responsible for one in four deaths.
But the good news is that by committing to a healthier lifestyle, making smarter choices and managing personal health, risks of heart disease are cut significantly.
In honor of American Heart Month and the idea that even small changes can contribute to a lifetime of heart health, here are some crib notes on the foods that can deliver it to you.
Heart-Healthy Foods: The Fabulous 15
1. Asparagus Asparagus is a “super veggie,” packing in beta-carotene, fiber and folate. Better, and as with most vegetables, you can eat all you want, as asparagus clocks in at five calories per spear and 25 per cup.
2. Avocado No one is suggesting you pluck an avocado off the tree and chomp away. But there’s no reason that avocados can’t be a garnish or spread in many of your meals. For example, add a bit of avocado to a sandwich or salad to pump up the heart-healthy fats in your diet. Avocados are full of monounsaturated fat, which lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and raises HDL (good) cholesterol in your body. Avocados also encourage the absorption of carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene, which are crucial for heart health.
3. Berries Blackberries and blueberries are the best choice, but any berry you pick is full of anti-inflammatories and soluble fiber, reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.
4. Fruits Be mindful of overall sugar consumption, but in particular oranges, papaya and cantaloupes are rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium and beta-carotene.
5. Tomatoes From sun-dried to pasta sauce and all forms in-between, there’s almost no way to eat a tomato that won’t provide heart benefits. No matter how you slice them, tomatoes pack plenty of lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene, and vitamin C.
6. Broccoli You’re going to want to start chopping broccoli when you learn that the florets provide heaping helpings of fiber, calcium, folate, vitamins C and E, and potassium.
7. Legumes Lentils or chickpeas, black or kidney beans, no matter—all pack a huge punch of fiber, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, calcium and soluble fiber.
8. Nuts Almonds and macadamia nuts are loaded with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Walnuts bring omega-3 fatty acids to the table. All nuts increase fiber in the diet and are a fabulous source of healthy fat.
9. Oatmeal Eating oatmeal at breakfast or as a snack fills you with omega-3 fatty acids, folate and potassium. Also, it’s rich in fiber, which means you’ll feel fuller for a longer time. And as a superfood, oatmeal lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and keeps arteries clean.
10. Olive Oil Although olive oil is not a food per se, as an oil, it can factor into almost anything you eat. Like an avocado, olive oil is packed with monounsaturated fats to lower LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The wonders of olive oil were confirmed by the Seven Countries Study of heart disease, a study of populations throughout the world. The researchers discovered that Greek men had a predisposition for high cholesterol, but few died as a result because their diet consisted of heart-healthy fats like those found in olive oil.
Extra-virgin or virgin olive oils are the least processed, so use them instead of butter for cooking.
11. Red Wine Yep, red wine can help improve HDL cholesterol levels. But keep the pour light: up to eight ounces per day for men, four for women.
12. Salmon Chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids and the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, salmon reduces blood pressure and fights blood clotting. As little as two servings of salmon per week can reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack by 33 percent. Choose wild salmon over farm-raised, as factory fish can be infiltrated by pesticides, heavy metals and insecticides.
If wild salmon isn’t easily available, within your budget or to your taste, substituting other oily fish such as sardines, herring, tuna or mackerel will deliver similar boosts.
13. Soy Looking for a lean source of protein in a heart-healthy diet? Soy is where it’s at, low in saturated fat and thought to lower cholesterol. Soy is popping up more readily in restaurants and on grocery shelves in the form of edamame, organic silken tofu or tempeh. Soy milk is a won’t-notice switcheroo for skim milk, so go ahead and pour it over cereal or add it to oatmeal. Soy cheese can cut out the harmful animal fats, as can soy meats like veggie burgers or hot dogs.
14. Flaxseed A little dash of flaxseed provides a punch of phytoestrogens, fiber and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Grind or mill the flaxseed to provide the best health benefits, and from there, it’s a no-brainer. Sprinkle on top of cereal, oatmeal or salads.
15. Spinach Although spinach is much tastier out of the produce section or garden than a can, Popeye was onto something, for real. This leaf will make your heart go pitter-patter with plentiful potassium, fiber, folate and lutein.
But don’t just circle the spinach bin at the market—any vegetable is going to give your heart greater health. The Physicians’ Health Study tracked 15,000 men without heart disease over a 12-year period. Those who ate at least two-and-a-half servings of vegetables every day cut their risk of heart disease by 25 percent. Each additional serving of vegetables reduced risk by another 17 percent.
Grilled Ginger Salmon and Grape Rice Bowl
Makes 4 servings
-4 boneless salmon fillets (3 ounces each), skin on
-black pepper, freshly ground
-2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
-1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
-1 tablespoon honey
-2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
-2 cups mixed green and red California grapes, halved
-2 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
-4 cups hot cooked brown rice
-2 cups finely shredded green cabbage
-1 teaspoon sesame seeds
-soy sauce, reduced sodium (optional)
Heat grill to high, and oil grates. › Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper; set aside. › In small saucepan, combine rice vinegar, ginger, honey and olive oil, and bring to simmer over high heat. › Stir in grapes and scallions, and season with salt and pepper. › Set aside off heat. › Grill salmon, skin side up, 5-6 minutes. › Turn, and grill another 2-3 minutes or until salmon reaches desired doneness. › Divide rice among four bowls, and top with cabbage and salmon. › Spoon grape mixture over top, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. › Serve with soy sauce, if desired.
Ricotta and Fig Oatmeal
Recipe created by Foxes Love Lemons on behalf of Milk Means More
Makes 1 serving
-3/4 cup milk
-1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
-1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
-2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
-2 figs, dried and halved
-1 tablespoon sliced almonds
-1 tablespoon honey
In microwave-safe bowl, stir together milk, oats and salt. › Microwave on high 2 1/2 minutes or until oats are tender and most liquid is absorbed. › Remove bowl from microwave; stir in ricotta. › To serve, top with figs and almonds, and drizzle with honey.
Tuna Stuffed Avocado
Makes 2 servings
-1 ripe avocado
-1 can (5 ounces) tuna packed in water, drained
-1/2 cup finely diced celery
-1/2 cup grated carrot
-1/4 cup finely diced red onion
-2 tablespoons Nakano Rice Vinegar – Natural or Nakano Organic Rice
-Vinegar – Natural
-1/2 tablespoon olive oil
-1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
-1/8 teaspoon sea salt
-1/8 teaspoon black pepper
-16 brown rice crackers
Cut avocado in half, remove pit and scoop out flesh leaving thin wall of avocado. › Dice avocado flesh and set shell aside for serving. › In small bowl, combine tuna, celery, carrot, onion, vinegar, oil, mustard, and salt and pepper, and mix well. › Gently stir in diced avocado. › Scoop mixture into avocado shells, and serve with brown rice crackers.