Putting heart health on the back burner when life gets busy is easy to do, particularly when it feels like there are not enough hours in the day, the kids need to get to their appointments or activities, and the boss keeps piling on the workload.
It can be challenging to find time to exercise, practice self-care, and cook well-balanced meals – even though we know full well that our overall health is just as important as all the things we need to do and all the places we need to be.
However, our hearts work so hard for us every minute of every day and, just like car engines, can start to struggle if they don't have clean fuel or if we let gunk build up in all the lines! Our fast-paced society and the forever increasing demands on our time, attention, and energy understandably make fast food, freezer meals, and highly processed snacks seem like ideal options, but today is a great day to start putting better fuel in your body to support heart health! Learn more below about how you can protect your heart with healthy foods!
Why Prioritize Heart Health
Our hearts are pretty hardy organs, but if we neglect them too long, our tickers can start to show signs of trouble. Poor diet, stress, excess weight, and living with high blood pressure can eventually lead to heart diseases such as Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), stroke, Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD), aortic disease, arrhythmias, cardiogenic shock, and even heart failure.
While heart disease can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication, your best bet will always be to take a proactive approach to caring for heart health - and your overall health - by exercising regularly, practicing self-care, managing any current diseases, taking all your medications as prescribed, and eating a heart-healthy diet.
To learn more about heart health overall, the causes of poor heart health, and what you can do to protect your heart throughout your life, take a look at our other Heart Health blog post that covers multiple topics in greater detail! To learn more about incorporating more heart-healthy foods into your diet, continue reading below!
Tips for Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet
Before jumping into our heart-healthy foods list, there are a few "golden rules" for eating for heart health that you should remember when meal planning.
Following these tips will help set your heart up for success and make navigating a lifestyle change easier. For a list of heart-healthy foods, continue reading below!
Foods That Support Optimal Heart Health
Eating a variety of nutritious foods is essential for overall health but it is especially essential if you are trying to follow a heart-healthy diet as a proactive approach to reducing heart disease, as a way to lower cholesterol, or to heal after a heart attack. No matter your reason for following a heart-smart diet, we are happy you have found your way to our heart-healthy food list!
Our list of the most heart-healthy foods includes:
You’re sure to find something on our list of best foods for your heart and arteries below!
Heart Healthy Vegetables
Vegetables are very supportive of heart health because they are packed with so many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also offer high levels of nitrates that help oxygen-rich blood reach your heart more easily. In addition, they tend to be lower in calories and higher in dietary fiber than other food categories.
Generally, dark leafy greens are a safe bet when shopping for vegetables that are good for your heart. Look for swiss chard, collard greens, lettuce, spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, and arugula. Asparagus, broccoli, and carrots are also heart-smart vegetables.
When shopping for heart-healthy vegetables, look for fresh, frozen, or canned options. If opting for canned vegetables, be sure to check the sodium content on the nutrition label and opt for low-sodium options only. Avoid all vegetables with creamy sauces, or processed vegetables that are fried or breaded.
Heart Healthy Fruits
Like vegetables, heart-healthy fruits are a great choice for improving or protecting your heart health. They are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that reduce inflammation that can contribute to heart disease development.
Heart-healthy fruits include cherries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Apples, bananas, pears, oranges, prunes, and grapes are other great choices. In addition, tomatoes are also considered a heart-healthy fruit – even if you would strongly debate that they are more of a vegetable!
When shopping, steer clear of coconuts and coconut products as they are high in calories and saturated fat, which is not supportive of cholesterol levels. Canned fruit packed in syrup or frozen fruit that has a lot of added sugar should also be avoided. Instead, seek out fresh, no-sugar-added frozen options, or canned fruit packed in water or juice.
Heart Healthy Protein Foods
Next up on our list of great foods for heart health are protein foods! Protein foods cover multiple types of delicious and nutritious foods such as dairy, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, and soy and soy products.
When shopping for heart-healthy groceries, look for low-fat dairy options when purchasing milk, cheese, and yogurt. Opt for lean meat (like pork tenderloin), skinless chicken or turkey, and cold-water fish like salmon. You can also enjoy eggs as a great source of protein. Eat peas, beans, and lentils for low-fat and no-cholesterol proteins.
The key to remember in the protein category is that you should avoid full-fat options, processed meats, high-salt proteins, organ meats, processed foods, and fried or breaded meats. This part of a diet and lifestyle change can be one of the trickiest adjustments, but focusing on what you can have versus what you can't often makes it easier to build up a list of heart-healthy proteins to incorporate into your meal plan.
Whole Grains for Heart Health
Whole grains play an important role in regulating blood pressure, making them a key part of heart health! Whole grains are full of fiber and other nutrients, and you would be surprised how easy it is to incorporate more of them into your heart-healthy diet - simply substitute whole grains for refined grains!
Refined grains are abundant in convenience foods, bread, desserts, and even some crackers! White bread, frozen waffles, muffins, cakes, pies, doughnuts, biscuits, and cornbread are some of the most common refined grain products that are great for a busy lifestyle but not so great for heart health. Therefore, try to avoid these products as much as possible or reserve them for occasional treats or special occasions.
Instead of consuming refined grains, opt for whole wheat flour (100% whole wheat is ideal), whole grain pastas, high fiber cereals (watch the sugars), and unsweetened oatmeals. Brown rice, buckwheat, and barley are other heart-healthy grain options to experiment with.
Healthy Oils and Fats
While it is a common misconception that all fat in our diets is bad, there are actually many sources of healthy fat in food that support heart health when consumed in moderation. These healthy fats are called monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, and they play an important role in maintaining our body's cells. They also provide nutrients and can help reduce heart disease when eaten in place of saturated fat (bad fat).
Healthy fat sources include avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, certain fish, and some margarines. These healthy fat sources can be used in place of saturated fat sources like butter, lard, bacon fat, cream sauces, gravy, hydrogenated margarine, and coconut. Just remember that moderation is still key for healthy fats, as they are higher in calories than other food types.
In conclusion, there are many delicious and nutritious foods that you can easily incorporate into your diet if you are seeking to adopt a heart-healthy food plan. Eating more heart-healthy foods is an effective way to better support your body if your ticker is showing signs of trouble. A heart-healthy diet is also part of a proactive approach to heart health.
Incorporating heart-healthy foods into your lifestyle is completely doable with vegetables, fruit, protein foods, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats. Remember to do your best to reduce sodium, limit convenience foods, increase fiber, manage portion sizes, and eat a variety of delicious foods.
If you are not sure where to start with adopting a heart-healthy food plan, your local pharmacist can help! Find a Cook’s Pharmacy near you in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Wellesley, or New Hamburg, or give us a call! Our pharmacists are happy to help you create a heart-healthy food list and set you up for success!