It’s never too early (or too late) to begin embracing a healthy lifestyle, and there’s no question that the foods we eat play a central role in health. For example, choosing the healthiest foods for your heart can help prevent heart disease and reduce your stroke or heart attack risk.
Your heart pumps nutrient-rich blood throughout your body, supplying oxygen and supporting overall good health. A healthy heart can even contribute to a thriving immune system. It’s the center of your cardiovascular system and critical for overall health.
For most of us, supporting better heart health doesn’t mean making drastic, immediate changes. Choosing the healthiest foods for your heart can involve adding or subtracting a few things from your diet each week or month. You set the pace and decide what’s comfortable for you. In support of that, we’ve put together a guide to help you identify and incorporate the healthiest foods for your heart to support your overall health. Keep reading to find a list of foods to limit, foods to embrace, a few cooking tips, and a simple shopping list to help you keep the right foods top of mind at the grocery.
Eat This, Not That: Healthy Foods for the Heart
Eating foods that can help support your heart health doesn’t have to mean giving up all the foods you love. Unless you have specific dietary needs as outlined by your doctor, simple moderation and making healthier choices like choosing lower-sodium and no-sugar-added options are significant steps in the right direction.
Below, we’ve outlined some foods you should limit, and highlighted the healthiest foods for the heart that you should be sure to add to your grocery basket.
Limit These Foods
Did you know adults should eat less than 2300 milligrams of sodium daily? You may need to limit your sodium even more if you have high blood pressure. Start by choosing low-sodium, reduced-sodium, and no-salt-added foods whenever you can. For example, choosing low-sodium options can help you stay within your sodium limits, and they still taste delicious. Of course, we recommend making as much food as possible from scratch. Cooking your own food at home makes incorporating the healthiest foods for the heart easier. Here are a few more tips for limiting your sodium intake:
- Flavor foods with herbs and spices instead of salt. Lemon, lime, and vinegar can also be effective for adding flavor.
- Choose fresh, frozen, or no-salt-added foods instead of pre-seasoned, sauce-marinated, brined, processed foods, and premade sauces/mixes or instant products.
- Limit condiments like mustard, horseradish, and ketchup.
- Use even low-sodium versions of soy sauce and teriyaki sauce sparingly.
- Rinse canned foods like tuna and beans to reduce the amount of sodium.
- When dining out, research the restaurant’s menu beforehand, and don’t be afraid to make special requests. You can ask that your meal be prepared without added salt or MSG, and remove salty additions to entrees like bacon and pickles.
Saturated fats are often called the “bad” type of fat, while unsaturated fat is considered healthier for your heart. You’ll find saturated fat in animal products like butter, cheese, and fatty meats. For a heart-healthy diet, these should make up less than 10% of your daily caloric intake.
To decrease the amount of saturated fat in your diet:
- Eat leaner, lower-fat, and skinless meats.
- Choose lower-fat dairy products instead of whole milk.
- Use vegetable oils low in saturated fat, like olive and canola, instead of butter or lard.
- Avoid coconut and palm oil, which are high in saturated fat.
Some foods that are healthy for the heart, like fruit, contain natural sugars. Added sugars are instead added to products to sweeten them. Most added sugars consumed in America are in sweetened drinks like soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, etc. For a heart-healthy diet, avoid sweetened drinks and snacks. Instead of choosing cake or cookies for dessert, try fresh fruit and low-fat plain yogurt. You may be surprised at how fresh and flavorful a heart-healthy dessert can be and how much better you feel after consuming this healthier option.
Try to reduce these common added sugars:
- Brown Sugar
- Corn Syrup
- Fructose / High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- Raw Sugar
Alcohol can raise your blood pressure and the number of triglycerides in your blood (triglycerides are a type of fat.) It can also add calories to your daily diet, encouraging weight gain, contributing to or worsening heart failure for some, and even raising the risk of other diseases like cancer. Your doctor can help you determine whether you should reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, but limiting this vice is generally a good idea.
Healthiest Foods for the Heart
Fresh Vegetables and Fruits
It’s no surprise that fresh vegetables and fruits are some of the healthiest foods for the heart you can find. Fresh veggies like tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, and leafy greens like Romaine, spinach, and kale add fiber and a whole host of heart-healthy vitamins and minerals to your diet.
- If you opt for canned veggies, make sure they are low-sodium or no-sodium-added.
- The same is true for canned or dried fruit — avoid fruit products with added sugars.
- Frozen fruits and veggies are also a great source of nutrition when you avoid added butter or sauces.
Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, plain yogurt, and cheese. An easy switch to make is from full-fat mayonnaise to a light or fat-free version. If you buy soy milk, look for added Calcium, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D.
Look for 100% whole grain products, and check the ingredient list to make sure ‘whole wheat’ or another whole grain is listed first. Also, look for whole-grain products with no added sugar.
Skinless poultry, seafood, eggs, and lean meats are all great sources of heart-healthy animal protein. Other protein-rich healthy foods for the heart include unsalted nuts and seeds, Tofu, beans, peas, and lentils like black beans and chickpeas. Chickpeas are a great source of protein beloved by vegetarians and vegans as they are versatile and can be seasoned in many different ways. Make delicious homemade hummus with your favorite herbs and spices, or roast them for an on-the-go snack.
Healthy Fats and Oils
Vegetable oil like canola, corn and olive oils are better choices for your heart than butter, coconut oil, or palm oil. Look for oil-based salad dressings like balsamic vinaigrette instead of creamy dressings like ranch or honey mustard. Margarine and other spreads may have less saturated fat than butter, but always check the Nutrition Facts to be sure.
Healthy Heart Cooking Tips
Preparing meals at home is the best way to ensure you support your health with smart choices. Here are a few tips for cooking healthy foods for the heart:
- Skip the butter and instead use vegetable oils like canola or olive.
- Choose lean cuts of meat and remove the skin from poultry.
- Check the labels on ground meats and poultry and select those with lower saturated fat.
- Serve fish instead of meat or poultry once or twice each week.
- Include two or more vegetarian (meatless) meals each week.
- Aim to fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with fish, lean meat, poultry, or beans.
- Add extra vegetables to casseroles, pasta, and stir-fry dishes.
- Choose whole grain foods to get more nutrients like minerals and fiber.
- If you are allergic to nuts, use beans or seeds like sunflower, flax, or sesame seeds.
Healthy Foods for the Heart Shopping List
Next time you head to the grocery store, bring this list of healthy foods for the heart with you to help you make healthy choices. And don’t forget — farmers’ markets are a great way to find healthy, locally-grown food. Here’s a list of markets in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area.
Vegetables and Fruits
- Leafy greens (spinach, Romaine, collard greens, kale, cabbage)
- Broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, avocado
- Apples, oranges, bananas, pears, peaches
- Low-sodium or no-sodium-added canned vegetables
- No-sugar-added canned, frozen, or dried fruit
- Frozen vegetables with no added butter or sauces
- Fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Plain yogurt to avoid added sugar
- 100% whole grains/whole wheat only
- Plain oatmeal and cereal to avoid added sugars and sodium
- Brown rice instead of white
- Whole-wheat pasta instead of plain
- Seafood like fish and shellfish high in Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, trout)
- Lean meats (at least 93% lean) like pork tenderloin, skinless chicken and turkey, pork shoulder, beef sirloin, lean ground beef
- Beans, peas, lentils
- Unsalted nuts, seeds, and nut butters
Oils and Dressings
- Canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean oils are all high in the “good” fats
- Oil-based salad dressing
Meadowell: Embracing Six Dimensions of Wellness
At Meadowood, we call our singular mission to embrace wellness “Meadowell.” Meadowell is not a program or a plan but a way of life. It focuses on the seven dimensions of wellness we espouse:
While this blog focuses on the physical dimension, it’s important to remember that everything you do, every day, encompasses at least one of these dimensions of wellbeing.
To learn more about Meadowell and how we are committed to supporting every dimension of wellness, request a brochure. You can also schedule an in-person visit and see our incredible campus for yourself — we can’t wait to meet you!