Keep Your Heart Strong with these 3 Foods. Expert Tips for February: American Hearth Month

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, with half of all Americans (47%) qualifying for at least one of the three key risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking cigarettes). The good news is that you can manage two of these risk factors — high blood pressure and high cholesterol — by making a few simple adjustments to your daily diet, without missing out on flavor.

One of the risk factors for heart disease is eating a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Red meat is associated with an increased risk of total cardiovascular disease, but substituting other healthy protein sources has been shown to lower mortality risk. In general, red meat (beef, lamb, pork, processed meats) has more saturated fat than other protein options.

Fortunately, people can diversify their diets for heart health with a wide variety of plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Our Meatless Monday team reached out to Sharon Palmer, registered dietitian and author of four plant-based books, for some tips on what foods to eat for better heart health. Palmer, aka the Plant-Powered Dietitian, recommends eating a wide variety of plant-based foods, and not being misled into thinking you need to eat meat and animal products for adequate protein.

“It’s easy to get enough protein on a plant-based diet. Eating plant-based foods will get you there and protect your heart along the way, as plant-based proteins, like beans, lentils, soy foods, nuts, and seeds are rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals linked with disease protection,” Palmer notes.

“You can use a simple strategy like having a Meatless Monday to begin making small changes in your dietary habits to include more healthful protein sources in order to help manage your risk for heart disease,” she adds.

Palmer recommends these three best foods to reduce your risk of heart disease:

  • Pulses, such as dried beans, lentils, and peas are good sources of protein, plus they are fiber kings and queens, which can lower your blood cholesterol levels, and help boost your gut microbiome for heart health, lower inflammation, and immune health heath.

For convenience, readily available canned beans help save time in preparing a heart-healthy meal. They come in low-sodium varieties to provide all the health benefits of beans with less sodium and help fight high blood pressure. Consider that a single half-cup serving of beans impacts six key heart disease and stroke risk factors, including exercise, body weight, diet and blood cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. This amount provides 18-23 g of carbohydrates to fuel heart-healthy exercise. They contain zero cholesterol and are rich in soluble fiber, which helps control “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

  • Nuts and seeds, like pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and peanuts (actually a legume) provide good sources of protein, healthy fats, and fiber that are linked with reduced risk of heart disease. Eat a handful a day of nuts and seeds for heart-healthy snacks.
  • Soy foods, like tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and soybeans, are good sources of high-quality protein, which are linked with heart health. Rich in protein, fiber, and phytochemicals, eating more soy foods is a great way to take the place of animal foods on your plate.

In addition to reducing your risk of heart disease with these healthy foods, Palmer shares these additional tips.

  • Use healthy fats like canola and olive oil for cooking.
  • Eliminate high sugar, high-calorie junk foods such as potato chips, cookies, candy.
  • Limit alcohol beverages – no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for a man.
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages like juices, soda, and energy drinks.

For easy heart-healthy meal plans, get recipes from the Meatless Monday website.