Whether you’ve got a family history of heart disease looming in the background or you’ve already gotten the speech from your doctor concerning your blood pressure and/or cholesterol level, you might be starting to think about changing up your diet to include more heart-healthy foods. Of course, the best place to begin when it comes to taking control of heart health is to cut out the items that are likely to cause the most problems, including foods high in salt, fat, sugar, and chemical preservatives. In short, you’ll need to cut back significantly on fast food and pre-packed, processed, and microwave meals. And snack foods are probably on the chopping block, as well. This is no easy feat. However, you’ll find that when you replace these items with heart-healthy choices, you’ll not only start to feel better immediately (and probably lose some weight, especially if you’re also practicing portion control), but you’ll start to prefer the healthy options to the junk you were eating before. And here are just a few amazing foods that could make your transition easier.
- Red wine. Okay, let’s be clear. This isn’t open season on downing your favorite vintages. But studies have shown that a moderate amount of red wine (about a glass a day) can actually be good for your heart.
Although you’ve likely heard about the benefits of resveratrol, the truth is that polyphenols are where it’s at when it comes to vino, and these compounds help to keep your blood vessels supple (as opposed to cholesterol, which causes them to harden). However, you need to consider that wine is alcohol, and it therefore comes at a relatively high caloric cost. So fit it into your diet accordingly.
- Salmon. This fatty fish may turn you off when you see the calorie count, but there are so many health benefits to be gained from eating it that you’ll soon find yourself reaching for the chopsticks at your local sushi bar to sample some (or cooking it with a little olive oil and lemon juice at home).
In truth, it is the fat in this fish that’s good for you thanks to omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to many bodily functions (but that our bodies don’t produce naturally). This unsaturated fat has not only been found to reduce inflammation, but it may also trim triglycerides and even lower your blood pressure. In short, you should strongly consider replacing other meats with this healthy alternative at least once or twice a week.
- Oatmeal. In my house, this breakfast food used to be known as glorp due to its bland appearance and taste. But thanks to the rising popularity of steel-cut oats, not to mention the addition of soymilk and fresh fruit to the equation, glorp has become a preferred favorite in the A.M.
Not only does it fill you up, but soluble fiber can lower your LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and provide you with vital nutrients. And throwing in some soymilk and blueberries can multiply these benefits.
- Nuts. You don’t necessarily want to go nuts with the nuts, considering they’re pretty high in fat (albeit healthy fat).
But a handful of walnuts or almonds here and there could help to reduce cholesterol and keep your blood vessels in ship shape, thanks to polyunsaturated fats.
- Dark chocolate. This is the icing on the cake, perhaps literally. You’ll want to opt for products that are 70% or more dark in order to get the most heart-healthyflavanols (often lost through the processing required for milk chocolate) and keep blood vessels healthy.
And cutting out the “milk” in your chocolate can keep you from ingesting fat as you enjoy your cocoa. So when you mix up your protein shakes for weight loss, add a scoop of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder for extra flavor. Or simply reach for a couple squares of the dark stuff. Keeping your heart healthy could mean giving up a lot, so you’ll be glad to hear that chocolate isn’t off the table completely.