Nine Foods to Love Your Heart
The heart has long been credited as the source of love and affection. As we celebrate Food Is Love Month, we encourage you to show your heart (and brain and vessels) some love by giving them what’s good for them. We’ve put together a list of nine foods that will keep your heart beating strong for years to come. Chef Jacques Torres is credited with the saying, “Life is short. Eat dessert first.” So, as we count down our list, we feel it best to start there too.
Yes, that’s right chocolate is a heart-healthy food! You have to keep a few things in mind though. First, it needs to be plain, dark chocolate (70 percent or more) and it doesn’t take much to do the job, just 1-2 ounces per day. Next to wine, chocolate is one of the most naturally complex foods in the world, full of antioxidant compounds that make your blood vessels delightfully stretchy and reduce inflammation among other things. To learn more, because this really is fascinating stuff, visit Healthline’s article on the subject.
A little powerhouse of nutrition, tree nuts are full of protein and healthy fats. Their unsaturated fats are the kind we need to eat more of and can help fine tune the balance between LDL and HLD cholesterol. Just like with chocolate, a little goes a long way. It only takes about 1 ounce to get the benefits and eating much more could mean too many calories for the day. Ge the low down on cholesterol from the American Heart Association.
It’s good for everything, isn’t it? Water is a significant factor to blood volume and blood pressure. Many people are not drinking enough water and have some effects of dehydration. Without enough water in your blood, your heart has to work harder and that’s not good for it. We’ve all been told to drink eight glasses a day, but water needs vary a lot from person to person, the Mayo Clinic has some great recommendations to help you figure out what might work for you.
This is one of those areas where the “rules” are changing. Dairy has long been thought to have too much fat to be good for your heart. More recent research is beginning to shed light on the surprisingly complex relationship between this food and how our bodies use it, and the results are promising! Whether you choose to drink dairy or not, ultimately, the key benefit is from the calcium and potassium, which are the minerals responsible for your heartbeat. Every time you move a muscle, you’ve put calcium and potassium to work, so make sure you’re getting enough.
5. Fruits and Vegetables
First of all, fruits and vegetables are full of fiber and water. Both are very good for overall health, but together water and fiber keep your digestion working at its best, which can help keep cholesterol in check. However, fruits and vegetables are full of so many other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that all work together for a healthy heart. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but what we do know is that all the different colored fruits and vegetables have different phytonutrients inside. Check out this chart that shows what’s what with phytonutrients and how it benefits your health.
They’re well known for their magical…”musical” properties, but they’re often underappreciated for how great they are for you. Just like fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes are full of fiber, protein and other nutrients. They’re also great for what they don’t have—lots of fat, like animal proteins do. Extra tip: if you’re watching your sodium intake and using canned beans, rinse them under running water for 3-4 minutes to reduce sodium by up to 40 percent!
3. Whole Grains
All grains actually start out as whole grains with three edible parts. When we process them, just one part is left and it has a lot fewer nutrients. So, at least half of the time, choose whole grains over their refined counterparts. Just like fruits, vegetables and beans, whole grains are packed with fiber. They also have some protein, depending on variety, and a small amount healthy fats. Oats, except for instant, and popcorn are two popular foods that are always whole, but there are many others that are becoming popular. The Whole Grains Council is a great place to learn more about grains and has some very tasty recipes too.
2. Lean Protein
Yes, this is where boneless, skinless chicken breast comes in, but that’s definitely not the only option. Pork is now leaner, beef offers some great lean cuts, and then there’s fish, shellfish, eggs, yogurt, nuts and beans! Lean proteins are everywhere. Protein is what the heart is mostly made of, so you have to give it the raw materials to remodel itself. Along with protein you get B vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium, all of which serve a variety of functions in the body. You’ll get some of these nutrients from say, bacon and hotdogs, but the problem is those foods typically come with too much saturated fat. Find out more at MyPlate.
1. Healthy Fats
For so long the health message was to eat a low-fat diet. In the past couple of decades we’ve learned that the type of fat is also very important. Your body needs fat to function—even some cholesterol—but when we get too much (or too much of the wrong kinds) it causes serious problems. There are four kinds of fats: saturated, trans-fat, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. We need less of the first two and more of the second two, relatively speaking. By keeping them in balance, and not eating too much overall, we’re more likely to prevent or delay heart disease and some other diet-related illnesses. You can find more information on this topic by visiting the American Heart Association.
Ready to take action for a healthier heart?
We’re ready to help! Join us for one of our cooking classes that will help guide you in eating more deliciously and nutritiously. We offer Cooking Matters classes in various locations throughout the community that covers how to shop, cook and eat the MyPlate way. We also offer our Kitchen Garden Cooking School once a month in our Demonstration Kitchen, where we teach plant-based eating. Visit our Eventbrite page to register for upcoming classes.
By Micheline Hynes
Nutrition Services Manager, Tarrant Area Food Bank