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From a Dietitian: Top 5 Foods to Fuel Your Heart


One of the most important lifestyle factors that you can manage to improve your overall heart health is your diet. Including foods that nourish your body in your diet can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. This includes limiting the amount of processed foods you consume and instead, including a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.

Amy McCallister, RD, LD at AM Nutrition Services, surveyed 45 dietitians in her practice to capture their votes on the Top 5 heart healthy foods. Their results, along with some ideas on how you can incorporate these foods into your diet are included below:

1. Salmon

This “fatty” fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy fats that can be harder to find in the American diet. These fats may support heart health by helping your body regulate the contraction and relaxation of the artery wall and may reduce inflammation. Amy said two servings a week of fish, especially salmon, is considered heart healthy!

Meal Ideas for Salmon / Omega-3 Fatty Acids

2. Avocado

Amy says just one serving, which is one third of a medium avocado, has as much as 20 percent of your daily recommended fiber intake. Diets rich in fiber may lower risk of heart disease by close to 30 percent. Avocados are also packed with monounsaturated fat, which can keep LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in check and HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels higher to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Meal Ideas for Avocados

  • Spread on your sandwiches or chop up on your salad

  • Make guacamole or put avocado in a taco bowl with seasoned beef or chicken, rice or sweet potatoes, grilled onions and bell peppers for an easy, 20-minute dinner

  • Spread on your morning toast with eggs, sausage, and ‘everything’ seasoning

Click here for more avocado recipes.

3. Beans and Lentils

Amy shared that we now know that including more plant-based eating into our American diet has multitudes of health benefits. She says there is no easier way to eat more plant-based foods, than bringing beans and lentils into meal planning. These protein packed vegetables have long been studied for heart health and one study showed that eating just ½ cup of beans per day was associated with a 38 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack). Beans are loaded with the gel-like soluble fiber, which helps lower LDL cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Beans and lentils are a key component of the D.A.S.H. (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, which for decades has proven to lower blood pressure.

Meal Ideas for Beans

  • Toss them into classic chili or soup recipes

  • Make a lentil soup

  • Have a side of rice and beans with your meal

  • Toss chickpeas with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, parsley and a Greek-style vinaigrette

Click here for more bean recipes.

4. High Fiber Fruits (Apples and Pears)

The fourth food from Amy’s list is high fiber fruits, such as apples and pears. Amy says a diet high in fruits and vegetables is rich in dietary fiber and provides major cardiovascular disease prevention.

Apples and pears contain this wonderful substance called pectin, a form of soluble fiber, that has been shown to boost heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Pectin can slow gastric emptying, keeping us fuller, longer, and slows blood sugar absorption. More research is also showing that pectin helps promote healthy gut microbiota, which we are learning more and more that improved gut health leads to improved overall health, including cardiovascular health.

If you ask any dietitian about other favorite fruits for preventing heart disease, they will also mention blueberries! Blueberries are a super powerful antioxidant-filled fruit known to also slow the development and progression of cardiovascular disease.

Meal Ideas for Apples, Pears, and Blueberries

  • Put blueberries in a yogurt parfait or smoothie in the morning

  • Munch on apple slices with peanut butter OR drizzle honey and sprinkle some cinnamon on apple slices as an afternoon snack

  • Dice up apples or pears on a salad

  • Use pears as a way to sweeten a beef bowl (see recipe here)

  • Elevate your sweet treats by including pears and apples in tasty desserts

5. Green Vegetables (Spinach and Broccoli)

Amy says the impact of spinach and broccoli on cardiovascular health has been studied extensively. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, are rich sources of glucosinolates and isothiocyanate. These two cardioprotective compounds shield the heart from damage. In addition, broccoli is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich and fiber-rich, all supporting heart health. Spinach is another heart healthy super food that contains nitrates for lowering blood pressure. One study out of Australia showed that a handful (one cup) of spinach per day cut heart disease risk by up to 26 percent!

Meal Ideas for Broccoli and Spinach

  • Roasted lemon-garlic broccoli as a side dish

  • Include broccoli in chicken or beef fried rice

  • Throw spinach in your smoothie, soups, or even scrambled eggs in the morning

  • Be creative by sneaking chopped spinach into everyday recipes

Need More Nutrition Support?

Amy McCallister, RD, LD at AM Nutrition Services is an in-network nutritionist for members of Arizona Care Network (ACN). If you are struggling to incorporate heart healthy foods in your diet, you can also reach out to our care coordination team by calling 602.406.7226 or emailing members@azcarenetwork.org for help scheduling an appointment, finding additional resources, or locating an in-network nutritionist near you.



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